Will Chandrababu extract his pound of flesh from BJP?

Amaravati, Feb 11: TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu is considered a master strategist when it comes to drawing his ‘pound of flesh’ from the coalition governments at the Centre but this time he is finding the going tough.

For over three years, he could not exert pressure on his ally BJP to give into his demand as unlike the previous coalition governments he supported, the BJP-led NDA is not depending on him for survival.

Naidu, who could not emerge king maker in 2014 as BJP secured comfortable numbers in Lok Sabha on its own, was growing impatient over his long list of demands largely remaining unattended.

Despite meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his wish list and veiled warning to BJP that he will not hesitate to part ways, the Union Budget 2018-19 ignored Andhra Pradesh.

The TDP chief made no bone of his displeasure over the injustice and gone to the extent of declaring a war on the Centre. The raw deal meted out to the state pushed the alliance to the brink of breakup as TDP launched the protest in both the houses of Parliament to put pressure on Modi government.

The first phase of the budget session, which ended last week, was marred by disruptions by TDP. By asking his MPs not to spare even Modi by disrupting his speech, Naidu sent a clear message that he means business.

With elections to both Lok Sabha and state assembly due next year, Naidu had no option but to mount pressure. It was then no wonder that he continued giving directions to MPs even while travelling abroad.

The kind of pressure he tried to build seems to have yielded some results. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the TDP on the last day of the first phase of budget session that an alternative formula to special package will be announced in a day or two.

Jaitely also promised to address issues with regard to revenue deficit, funds for Polavaram project and the assistance through NABARD towards the externally aided projects in lieu of the special category status.

Naidu, however, is not ready to take any chances. No longer interested in assurances, he wants action on the ground. He asked his MPs to keep up pressure till the Centre actually releases the funds to fulfill its promises.

There is a feeling in TDP that the Centre has given nothing to the state except assurances and promises. It wants to see action to fulfill all commitments made in Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act.

Though the Left parties had called for a shutdown last week to protest raw deal to the state in the union budget and Congress and YSR Congress party supported it, the TDP also played its part in ensuring its success. A holiday was declared for all educational institutions and the buses of APSRTC were taken off the roads. By doing this TDP has sent another clear message to its ally, said a political observer.

Continuing his attacks on BJP, Naidu asked why the NDA government was not willing to allot funds for his state when it could spend lakhs of crores of rupees on a bullet train. He was referring to the proposed bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

With Jaitely reeling out figures in Parliament to show how much help the Centre has extended over last three years and the BJP’s state leaders also releasing the statistics, the TDP chief has asked his party men to be ready with the facts and figures to counter them.

He repeatedly said the Centre should do the handholding till the state overcomes the revenue deficit and lift to be at par with other southern states.

Whether Naidu manages to pressurize BJP to fulfill his wish list is still not clear. Political analysts say Narendra Modi would not like to lose an ally but the BJP would also not want to be seen as totally surrendering to him.

BJP leaders point out that they did not care when its key ally in Maharashra Shiv Sena announced that it will go alone in 2019 polls. As the stakes for BJP are not high in Andhra Pradesh, the political price it has to pay for not acceding to all the demands of TDP may not be high.

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