The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Andhra reboots
Delhi scurries to rework sums

Hyderabad/New Delhi, May 11: Some time after N. Chandrababu Naidu put in his papers, power went off in his capital’s business district in symbolic acknowledgement of the possible reasons for his devastating defeat.

As the Congress steamrollered its way back to power in Andhra Pradesh after 15 years — as good as grinding Naidu’s Telugu Desam to dust — Delhi went behind closed doors with notebook and pencil to rework the numbers and formations of allies.

No opinion or exit poll had predicted, and the BJP had not feared nor the Congress expected, a rout of this nature where the victorious alliance piled up 234 seats and the losers were left counting their score of 50 on their fingers in a House of 294.

Leaders of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance met at the Prime Minister’s residence to weigh implications of the Andhra results. In talks prior to that with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes is believed to have received the signal to start negotiations with parties outside the alliance.

According to the BJP’s internal assessment, in the worst-case scenario the NDA would end up with a shortfall of 20 from the majority level of 272, which it believes it can make up.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said for public consumption: “There is no alternative (other than the NDA).”

In the Congress camp, the immediate tendency appeared to be to interpret the Andhra results as an indicator of what is to come in the rest of the country.

“Here on, we and our allies should be in a position to form the next government at the Centre,” a Congress leader said.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is believed to have taken charge of contacting allies, current and potential. As the Andhra trend became clear, she drove down to meet CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who later spoke to Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, the hardest nut to crack among potential allies.

Back in Hyderabad, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy is expected to be the party’s nominee for chief minister. The Congress Legislature Party is meeting tomorrow to elect the leader. Fifty-five-year-old Reddy, the leader of the Opposition in the dissolved House, had vowed to take political sanyas if the Congress could not cash in on the grievances of the state’s people.

As the results came out, a 7.3 per cent swing away from the Desam pitchforked him to the chief minister’s chair, with just the formalities left.

In the first flush of victory, Reddy took care to calm nerves — reflected in a huge fall on the stock market — over economic reforms. He said: “The Congress is not against development. But we will take up development activities with a human face and with real concern for the poor.”

“It is the sufferings of the common man and the indifference of the Telugu Desam towards him that made him turn towards the Congress. We will see he does not regret his decision,” Reddy said.

He is setting for the party a stiff task because other than the anti-incumbency feeling, seen to be natural after nine years in power, Naidu’s perceived failure to address the plight of farmers reeling under four consecutive years of drought is cited among the key reasons for the cruel verdict. Chronic power shortage, after privatisation accompanied by increased tariffs, is another.

Naidu, straining hard to maintain at least a hint of a smile on his lips as he spoke to the media conceding defeat, described the results as unexpected, promising to play a “positive and constructive role” in Opposition, but said he was unrepentant about his policies.

“I worked hard to develop Andhra Pradesh as a model state. I have no regrets. I fully accept the people’s mandate and will support good policies of the new (Congress) government,” he said.

The “new government” will need some truly “good policies” because the first challenge will come from its ally, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti, which reminded the Congress immediately after the results were known about creating a separate state.

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