TDP celebrates 42nd Foundation Day on the cusp of make-or-break phase

After four decades of its existence, the TDP, under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu, is on the cusp of a make-or-break phase, bracing for critical battles in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

TDP celebrates 42nd Foundation Day on the cusp of make-or-break phase

HYDERABAD: Celebrating its 42nd foundation day at the Nampally Exhibition Grounds in Hyderabad on Wednesday, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is looking to turn a new leaf in Telangana and capitalise on a perceived resurgence in Andhra Pradesh. The party, founded exactly on this date in 1982 in Hyderabad in the undivided Andhra Pradesh by charismatic Telugu actor, the legendary NT Rama Rao, marked a paradigm shift in Indian politics in the years that followed. Enduring numerous upheavals and weathering the test of time in a 41-year-long journey is no mean feat for a regional political entity like the TDP.

After four decades of its existence, the party, under the leadership of Nara Chandrababu Naidu, is on the cusp of a make-or-break phase, bracing for critical battles, both in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

TDP, the game-changer

The TDP took its birth under extraordinary circumstances: It is surmised on the popular perception of a ‘bruised Telugu pride’, a coinage popularised to the hilt by its patriarch NTR who not only broke the hegemony of the Congress thriving on the servitude of its regional figureheads but also emerged in the later years as the harbinger of opposition unity in the country. As a party that sprouted from a historic necessity of a strong political alternative, the TDP had its own unique slices in history with many firsts.

It would be remembered as perhaps the only party in Indian political history to have ridden into the corridors of power within nine months of its inception, of course propelled by its proverbial pied piper, the legendary NTR. The party notched up handsome victories in three out of four attempts at the hustings under its patriarch in 1983, 1985 and 1994. The 1989 election turned out to be a forgettable aberration. In all the three victories under NTR, the TDP was one of the very few parties that bagged 200 or more seats in the Assembly. It was the only party that survived the overwhelming nationwide sweep by the Congress in 1984 elections in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

By winning 30 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the undivided Andhra Pradesh in that election, it emerged as the first regional entity to be recognised as an opposition party in the Lower House of the Parliament. Thanks to the relentless initiatives of NTR, the TDP also goes down in history for forging opposition unity in the country in the 1980s’ under the banner of National Front to signal the end of Congress party’s stranglehold at the national level.

Revolts within

In an irony of sorts, the party that hogged the limelight at the national level was left to suffer a few implosions, thanks to the revolts led by Nadendla Bhaskara Rao in the 1980s’ and then Chandrababu Naidu’s infamous August coup against NTR in 1995. With a valiant fight against his ouster, NTR was able to overcome the Nadendla episode and force then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to reinstate him.

But the second upheaval of 1995 saw the patriarch being ‘ostracised’ by the party that he floated and marked the beginning of a post-NTR sojourn of the TDP. Having grabbed the party and the state’s power from his father-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu was able to win a second term in 1999, riding high on the TDP’s alliance with the BJP and the nationwide charisma of Atal Bihari Vajyapee. The revival of the Congress under YS Rajasekhara Reddy kept the TDP out of power in Andhra Pradesh for two successive terms in 2004 and 2009. In the post-bifurcation scenario, the party won the 2014 elections in alliance with the BJP and the Jana Sena of Power Star Pawan Kalyan before losing out to YS Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSRCP in 2019.

Compulsions of alliances for survival

That ‘Brand NTR’ continues to be its sole breadwinner (read votes), even decades after he was unceremoniously thrown out of his own party, best describes the dichotomy of the TDP. The party is on its last gasp to revive itself in Telangana after virtually being decimated in the post-bifurcation politics. Chandrababu Naidu’s ambiguous stance on Telangana’s statehood ensured that the TDP was projected as an antagonist of the popular sentiment. This antagonisation was only crystalised further with the TDP chief’s gamble to align with the Congress in the 2018 elections. This gave the ammunition to the rivals to cement the impression that the TDP of Chandrababu Naidu is never shy of hankering for opportunistic politics with unholy alliances to suit short-term conveniences.

Post 2018, the party was virtually wiped out in Telangana with its MLAs and leaders worth their name gravitating towards the ruling party. For well over three years, the party remained in oblivion despite having its cadre strength on the ground intact. Chandrababu Naidu is once again harbouring hopes of reviving the TDP in Telangana in the wake of changed political dynamics in the state with the TRS assuming a new national moniker, the BRS. The appointment of Kasani Gnaneswar, a strong and stinking-rich leader from the backward classes, as the TDP’s Telangana president, was a strong signal of this intent.

With the spending power considerably increasing in Telangana, Naidu is now looking to rejuvenate the party’s mechanism and reactivate the cadre before the elections that are due before the end of 2023. The party chief is said to be in mission mode to secure a few Assembly seats in 2023 elections, to say the least, to regain the foothold in the state. The party preferring Hyderabad for its 42nd Foundation Day celebrations comes as part of larger preparations towards this end.

Buoyed prospects in Andhra Pradesh based on perceived resurgence

Perhaps, for the first time since losing power in Andhra Pradesh in 2019, the TDP and its chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu appear to be going through the best of times currently. A series of humiliating defeats in the panchayat, local bodies, municipal and corporation elections since 2019 fomented the assumption that the TDP was on its last hurrah and that the 2024 elections would only test its survival skills.

But the opposition party has sniffed a high from the unexpected victories in the recent MLC elections. Winning three seats in the graduates constituencies and one under the MLAs’ quota, the party presumes it to be a clear sign of its resurgence and an all-pervading sense of disapproval against the YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP government.

More than the ground realities, the TDP appears to be currently focussed on taking its perceived resurgence strongly into the masses, of course, with the help of the influential section of media, the all-weather allies of Chandrababu Naidu. All this comes amid allegations against the TDP of influencing a few ruling party rebel MLAs to cross-vote for its candidate with heavy monetary enticements in the MLC elections.

Undeterred, the TDP is stepping up its belligerence in attacking the YSRCP, which is clearly palpable. The opposition party hopes to translate the MLC election exploits into larger gains in the Assembly elections too. But, the chinks in its armour still remain as Chandrababu Naidu is not ready to commit to a solo fight against the YSRCP in the coming elections. The TDP veteran on one side claims a steep fall in YSRCP’s popularity ratings and an overwhelming support from the people to his party. But, on the other hand, he keeps harping on the necessity to fight the YSRCP only in an alliance of opposition parties like the Jana Sena, which exposes the deeply-embedded fears in the process.

So far, Naidu has managed to keep Pawan Kalyan and his Jana Sena firmly in his grasp with an eye on the 2024 elections. Jana Sena, along with a few other like-minded parties like the CPI, is the best bet available to Naidu, especially after realising the reluctance of the BJP to side with him. The ruling YSRCP is looking to take advantage of this sense of fear in Chandrababu Naidu to drive home the message that the TDP’s resurgence is a mere figment of an imaginative narrative being peddled by the opposition party and its friendly media.

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