Ongole: Setting the pitch for the 2024 Andhra Pradesh assembly elections, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief, Chandrababu Naidu raised the slogan of “Quit Jagan, Save Andhra Pradesh”, at last week’s ‘Mahanadu’ — an annual plenary event organised by the TDP for its cadre.
The two-day event — attended by 1.5 lakh people according to party sources — after two years of virtual meetings owing to the pandemic, was termed a “success” by the party and a “huge boost” to the spirits of the TDP cadre.
Naidu, a former Andhra chief minister, also announced at the event that 40 per cent of party tickets for the next assembly elections will be given to the youth — those below 40 years of age. He further said that it has been decided by the TDP top leadership to not give tickets to those who have lost three consecutive elections.
Dispelling concerns about his own age impacting his ability to lead the party, the septuagenarian leader shared with ThePrint his plans to make the party “more visible” on the ground, following two years of predominantly virtual engagement with the public.
“I will also be on the ground from now on and tour at least two districts every month. Our cadre has also been instructed to become visible and get on the field now,” Naidu said.
Naidu had earlier said, “Nothing to worry about my age. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi is of the same age. What matters is the performance. Thirty-year-olds cannot work as much as I do.”
Naidu’s confidence seems to have rubbed off on party members. “Our leader is forever young at heart and as long as he is there, the party will survive,” Buchaiah Naidu, a TDP leader from Guntur, told ThePrint at the event.
The former CM’s son, Nara Lokesh — a former state minister — is also set to start a mega walkathon (padayathra) in October, which will continue until the 2024 assembly elections, TDP sources told ThePrint.
According to sources in the TDP, the party chief told leaders at the ‘Mahanadu’ to focus on “local issues” in their own consistencies, rather than highlighting broader problems. This is expected to make a better impression on local voters.
“We have asked every candidate to focus on their constituency and the MLA there to highlight issues, corruption allegations pertaining to local leaders only. This way, voters will respond better,” TDP leader Pattabhi Ram told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, a competitive show of strength has started between the TDP and rival YSR Congress Party, presently in power in the state.
Ministers in CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government held a four-day ‘Bus Yatra’ last week, — coinciding with the TDP ‘Mahanadu’, to build awareness about the Chief Minister’s welfare schemes among the people.
Both parties have bragged about the success of their respective events, but large crowds at functions may not necessarily translate into votes — especially for the TDP, which had lost to the YSRCP by a huge margin in 2019.
“It is not surprising that the TDP got a good response for Mahanadu. In fact it would have been surprising if they hadn’t. But… there are instances where despite amazing crowd turnout parties still lost — West Bengal election is a good example. Lakhs of people attended Narendra Modi’s meeting there. They even got 40 per cent of the votes but they could not form the government with just 70 plus seats. So we cannot say anything looking at the crowds,” senior political analyst Nageshwar Rao said in a YouTube commentary.
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TDP vs YSRCP
Talking about the 1.5 lakh attendance at the ‘Mahanadu’, TDP leaders said the number was “unexpected”, but not “surprising”.
“We are not entirely surprised with the turnout, though the number was large. The ground cadre is extremely frustrated because they’re being harassed by local police filing petty cases against them during the YSRCP governance. Their movements are being curtailed,” TDP leader Pattabhi Ram alleged.
He added: “All of this has pushed them to come out and show that they’re ready to fight. Moreover, they were seeing their party chief after two years, so this turned out to be a huge boost to their motivation.”
A TDP leader speaking on condition of anonymity told ThePrint that while the party was expecting a crowd strength of about 15,000 a day, “at least 40,000 people attended the event on both days.”
On its part, the YSRCP too has its ‘Bus Yatra’ event was a success and promoted the party’s ideals. Speaking to mediapersons ahead of embarking on the journey, Social Welfare Minister Merugu Nagarjuna had said: “Social justice is possible only because of Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy,” adding that the Cabinet had “17 SC, ST, BC, and minority ministers”.
Both parties have also written off the supposed success of their rival.
While, TDP’s Ram said the ruling party’s Bus Yatra was a “flop”, Andhra Pradesh government advisor Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy claimed that the Mahanadu was little other than an attempt to propagate false information about Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and the state government.
He also alleged that Naidu did not have the courage to win any election without an alliance. The TDP had contested the 2019 parliamentary and assembly elections independently, reportedly for the first time in 37 years. It had alliances with both the BJP and the Congress in the past.
According to a senior YSRCP leader, internal surveys conducted by the party showed that there are at least 70 constituencies in Andhra where the TDP does not have strong faces to contest elections.
Experts say, however, that the TDP cannot be written off completely, since the party still has a strong network of cadres at the village level, while there are murmurs of dissent within the YSRCP owing to lack of development in the state under Reddy. The Andhra CM’s tenure has been characterised by welfare measures under Direct Benefit Transfer schemes.
“There is dissent against the YSRCP [government] and it may be because of power crisis, issue of power meters in agricultural fields, among others. Point is, YSRCP must recognise this, rather than banking just on welfare schemes. If YSRCP does not recognise this, it will become an advantage for the opposition,” Rao said.
Political observer Palwai Raghavendra Reddy said that too much couldn’t be read into the turnout for the Mahanadu, but that it was a “good sign” for the TDP.
“Presence of cadre at Mahanadu cannot be an indicator for TDP’s re-emergence. After virtual meets for two successive years, this year’s Mahanadu had to be well attended. However, Chandrababu Naidu is still showing signs of putting up a fight, which is a good sign for TDP,” he said.
Sentiments against the YSRCP, he added, could work in the TDP’s favour. “Jagan’s overreliance on welfare schemes, and not talking about development will provide much needed ammunition to the Yellow Party (TDP),” Reddy said.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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