Though there was no official confirmation from either the NDA or the YSR Congress, speculations gained credence in the wake of Reddy’s meeting with the prime minister hardly two weeks after he met Union home minister Amit Shah. Incidentally, it is the second time Jagan happened to meet the prime minister this year after his interaction with the latter on February 12. A PTI report quoted YSRC’s chief whip in the assembly, G. Srikanth Reddy as saying, “The ruling YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh is open to a dialogue on joining the NDA at the Centre if the special category status to the state was accorded and all promises made in the AP Reorganisation Act are fulfilled.”
The need for power-sharing
Narendra Modi and Jaganmohan Reddy, with the overwhelming mandate they secured in the 2019 elections, are sitting pretty in Delhi and in Andhra Pradesh respectively, without any instability in their governments. Yet, the duo seemingly gravitates to each other for power sharing for a variety of reasons.
K. Nageshwar, a Hyderabad-based analyst, told The Wire that certain expediencies have been forcing Modi and Jagan towards power sharing. “The BJP is desperate to refurbish its image as a party that can attract allies. Besides, Y.S. Jagan’s vulnerability is the persisting cases and the notoriety with which Modi dispensation uses the central agencies for a political project. Obviously, he needs Centre’s cooperation to get a breather from cases and fix his rival Chandrababu Naidu.”
Of late, the BJP has been suffering trust deficit as its allies began to slip out of hand one after the other in jittery over its politics of “cannibalism”. The latest exit of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab and the break-up of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh in the past serve as a grim pointer. Currently, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United (JDU) is jittery over prospects of reducing itself to a junior partner in view of the BJP’s hawkish postures and Lok Janshakti (LJP) acting as a spoiler for Nitish allegedly at the instance of the BJP in the current state elections in Bihar. After it began to play second fiddle to the BJP with its dwindling seats and vote share, Shiv Sena switched sides to the Congress to form the government.
To meet this perception challenge, BJP is trying to attract Jagan’s party, observes Nageshwar.
Suicidal for YSRCP politically?
Jagan continues to be more loyal to the NDA more than its partners from outside in supporting almost all the bills. They include the bills with an adverse bearing on the Muslim minorities who form his party’s core voter segment like the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), abrogation of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and criminalisation of triple talaq. Besides, Jagan’s party also backed the electricity amendment bill 2020 regardless of the fact that it would have a debilitating impact on the promise of free power for agriculture, a brainchild of Jagan’s father Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy.
Members of the YSR Congress, representing a state that is the largest producer of food grains next to Punjab and Haryana, even supported the farm bills, unmindful of their adverse implications over the procurement process. Andhra Pradesh, with two major delta regions of Godavari and Krishna river basins and 70% small and medium farmers, produces 1.8 crore tonnes of food grains annually. The government can procure only 20% of the produce. If the official agencies like the Food Corporation of India (FCI) are eliminated from the procurement process, distress would hit the growers hard, says peasant leader Akkineni Bhavani Prasad.
“By remaining outside, Jagan Reddy has been appropriating almost every decision of the NDA. The bonhomie can well be described as a live-in relationship that hurts the interests of Muslim minorities deeply,” says Mohammed Farooq Shubli, a spokesman of AP Minorities Hakkula Parirakshana Samithi from Vijayawada. In an apparent bid to give his government a minority face, the YSRC chief accommodated six Muslim representatives – two MLCs and four MLAs. One of them has been made deputy chief minister.
Given the hardship that the BJP has been facing in the passage of key bills in Rajya Sabha, the party is compelled to search for potential partners with more numbers in its camp. And, the way how the saffron party employed its hardest maneuvering skills to pass the controversial farm bills in the Rajya Sabha showed its bitterness.
Jagan’s party currently has six MPs in the Upper House and the numbers will go up to 10 in the next two years. Thus, BJP needs Jagan more than Jagan needs it, says Raka Sudhakar, a political analyst.
A liability or an asset?
On Jagan’s home turf, BJP is just a liability. BJP’s poor vote share and little popularity were evident with its poor show in the previous general elections. In spite of the Modi wave that swept across the country in that election, BJP ended up with just a 1% vote share, which was equal to none of the above (NOTA).
The dismal show was attributed to its failure to keep its promise of special category status for the truncated state. The saffron party is currently trying to cut into Jagan’s Hindu votes by demonising the “Christian” government led by him and alleging vandalism of Hindu religious symbols across the state.
It is a question of credibility for Jagan Reddy if he joins the NDA without taking a commitment from it on realising the promise of special category status. Reddy’s party rode to power by blaming Naidu for compromising with the NDA on special category status. The NDA then backed out from announcing special status for Andhra Pradesh, fearing it would be obligated to concede similar demands coming from other states, like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.