Naidu must leverage his past against Modi’s present

Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu must deal with the BJP from a position of strength—not weakness. Regardless of his travails in Andhra Pradesh, the TDP chief’s support for the saffron party is “invaluable” for enhancing Narendra Modi’s political acceptability.

The kind of avenues Naidu’s capable of opening for Modi wouldn’t be available to the PM aspirant while keeping company with the likes of Karnataka’s Yeddyurappa and Haryana’s OP Chautala. As the convenor of the United Front from 1996-98 and the NDA’s outside supporter from 1998-2004, the Andhra leader is no stranger to regional outfits with secular pretence. He’s well regarded and well-heard by all. He must cash on that gravitas.

To keep his credibility and lend a bit of it to Modi’s BJP, the TDP boss should predicate his support on a pre-arranged secular agenda. He might lack today the political strength he once had to keep afloat AB Vajpayee’s regime. But the BJP needs him as much to end the political isolation it invited by projecting Modi for the PM’s office.

Among other factors, it was Naidu’s restraining influence on the NDA that saw the Sangh’s divisive agenda put on the backburner. He needs the BJP in Andhra to beat back Jagan Reddy’s challenge in the State’s Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, sought to be bifurcated from Telangana. But what he can deliver in return to Modi before elections is currently unavailable in other secular quarters — the SP, BSP, Trinamool and BJD.

Naidu must leverage his past against Modi’s present. A crucial element in the strategy that’ll pay him dividends — by way of retaining a fraction of the Muslim base despite proximity to the Gujarat CM — could be a regret upfront for continuing support to the Vajpayee regime post the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Not only will an apology enhance Naidu’s stature, it will help him deal with Modi on equal terms, bring as it would a lot of pressure on the latter to follow suit. He’d be a loser all the way if he sews up an understanding without an inclusive programmatic tie-up of the kind he had with the NDA.

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