The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tradition is a sure best-seller in Indian public and commercial life, particularly as a wrapper for progress. So as Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu accumulates greater fame as the techno-savvy, cutting-edge policy chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, he also seeks to follow his late father-in-law’s footsteps by calling a “historic election” months ahead of schedule. The minor unpleasantness of Mr Naidu’s having taken over the party while N.T. Rama Rao lay secure and happy in hospital is just a blip in continuity — the father-in-law too had called for untimely elections in 1985 to consolidate the people’s mandate. Mr Naidu’s decision argues confidence, but it is his perfect timing that is most remarkable. He is unlikely to have it so good again before September 2004, when the assembly elections would normally have been held. There is the obvious sympathy factor — the state is still shaken by the extremists’ attempt to assassinate the chief minister. Although he has said this is not an election issue, he is certainly making extremist violence against development the Telugu Desam Party’s campaign plank. The idea is to display afresh the people’s support for the TDP to the opposition and to the extremists. The reflexive effect of the latter, with the people seeing themselves at war with destructive forces, might actually erode some of the People’s War’s power. To suggest that the extremists are determined to stall the progress of a fast-developing state is also to draw attention to Mr Naidu’s own achievements, which include the development of information technology industries, power reform and better standards of governance.

It is not one circumstance, but a concatenation of them, that is favourable to Mr Naidu. The rains have come at the right time. Poor cultivating conditions and suicides by farmers had made the agricultural sector Mr Naidu’s Achilles’ heel. Waiting on the whims of the weather gods till September next would have been much too risky. The other thorn in the chief minister’s side is the demand for statehood for the Telengana region. As long as the Congress and the Telengana Rashtra Samiti contest independently of each other, the TDP’s opposition is divided, although even their joining hands would mean support for the TDP from the Andhra and Rayalseema regions. But to join the TRS, the Congress would have to come out in support of separate statehood, a difficult decision at any time, and more so in the Congress’ present dishevelled condition in the state. With all this in favour, Mr Naidu’s canniness, punctuated with just the right doses of high-mindedness, might actually get him another five years.

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