Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and BJP have parted ways, their members resigning from governments led by each other’s leaders, and the former would consider whether it would stay on in BJP-led National Democratic alliance (NDA).
This signifies a clear strain in their relations which, if it continues, could do damage to BJP’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections due in the beginning of summers in 2019. The NDA has 17 MPs in Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh and BJP alone has just two, the rest from TDP, the third largest constituent of NDA. Given the issue on which the split has happened, chances of BJP tying up with TDP’s rival YSR Congress are doubtful. There is, however, one full year to go before the Lok Sabha elections and that is a long time in politics. In today’s politics, it is a very very long time. In any case, the BJP, with 274 MPs in Lok Sabha, does not need any other party’s support for the survival of the government at the Centre.
For now, the TDP-BJP rift is out in the open. BJP Ministers in Andhra Pradesh government, Srinivasa Rao and T Manikyala Rao, submitted their resignations after Chandrababu Naidu announced that TDP members in the Union Council of Ministers will resign on Thursday.
Shortly after the resignations of BJP ministers in his cabinet, Naidu said that the two TDP leaders in Modi government, Aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Minister of State for science and technology YS Chowdary, too have submitted their resignations.
Naidu is yet to decide on whether his party will pull out of the BJP-led NDA Democratic Alliance completely.
While the two parties decided to snap ties, there was no bitterness in evidence. When the BJP ministers reached CM Office to submit their resignations, the TDP ministers hugged the quitting BJP ministers and also posed for cameras. The BJP members’ resignation letters were also appreciative of the CM and the chance to work under him.
Naidu’s move is being seen as forced on him by state politics ahead of the Assembly election next year. He is facing a lot of heat from the opposition YSR Congress which accuses Naidu of failing Andhra Pradesh by not ensuring special status for it as a partner at the Centre. Andhra’s political parties say nothing short of “special status” will do as that was promised to the state when it was bifurcated to carve out a new state Telangana, leaving what was left of Andhra Pradesh in a deep revenue deficit.
On Wednesday night, Naidu announced his decision to pull out TDP ministers from the centre, hours after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley ruled out “special status” for Andhra Pradesh. NDTV reported TDP lawmaker Ravindra Babu as saying that the next “logical step” is to exit the BJP-led national alliance NDA, but Chandrababu Naidu seemed to leave options open, saying he would “plan further course of action” based on the Centre’s reaction to his decision.
At an emergency press briefing on Wednesday night Chandrababu Naidu said the TDP has taken the “painful decision” to withdraw its ministers from the Centre in the interest of the state, as it was left with no other option. The TDP joined the NDA just ahead of the 2014 national elections.
“I went to Delhi 29 times, met Prime Minister and Central Ministers and requested them to fulfil our demands,” said Naidu, “When the intended purpose (of joining the Union Cabinet) has not been served, there is no point in continuing. For me the sole agenda is to safeguard the interests of the state.”
The chief minister also said he tried to speak to PM Modi on phone as a courtesy to inform him about the decision to pull out of the government. “It is my responsibility as a coalition partner to inform the prime minister about our party decision. My OSD spoke to his OSD but the prime minister did not come on line,” he said, according to media reports.
On Wednesday evening, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said the Centre was happy to give Andhra Pradesh funds, but said giving it “special category status” as demanded by Naidu was not possible. The reason cited, said a report in the India Express (IE), was the Constitutional limitation of 14th Finance Commission report: after the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission award, such a treatment was “constitutionally” restricted to just the north-eastern and three hill states.
At the time of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and birth of Telangana, a special category status could be given to AP as at that time, concept of special category states did exist. But when the 14th Finance Commission report came in, a constitutional award, they said there is no special category status that can now be given, the IE report quoted Jaitley as saying.
“We are committed to give monetary equivalent of a special status to Andhra Pradesh. We are awaiting response from the Andhra Pradesh government,” Jaitley said at Wednesday’s press conference. He also said that just because it is a political issue, the quantum of assistance can’t be increased.
According to NDTV, there was another statement from Jaitley that did not go down well with Naidu. Jaitley said, “The Centre cannot say now that all the funds that I have will now be given to the states and I have no money because after all the security of India is a Central responsibility.”
Chandrababu Naidu said Jaitley’s words were “hurtful and insulting,” alleging that they suggested that the TDP was “asking for money at the expense of the country’s Defence Budget… Jaitley spoke like we asked for all the money. We felt insulted.”
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