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Friday the 13th could spell ill for BJP in Andhra's muddy waters

A Saye Sekhar | Updated on: 13 May 2016, 15:07 IST

The special category status to Andhra Pradesh (AP), promised by then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, has turned out to be a major source of embarrassment for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It literally caught the BJP in paraskevidekatriaphobia (parasakevi is Friday and dekatria is 13 in Greek). Western superstition holds Friday, the 13th as the unluckiest day of a year.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which is a trusted partner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in which the BJP is a senior partner, has virtually turned the tables against the ruling party at the Centre on the conferment of special category status to truncated AP.

KVP Ramachandra Rao, Congress member in the Rajya Sabha and a trusted lieutenant of the late Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, has caught the BJP on the wrong foot by moving a Private Member Bill in the Upper House of Parliament.

13 May, that is today, happens to be a Friday when the private member bill is likely to come up for debate. If necessary, division and voting as well, unless the Government manages to have the House adjourned without letting the Bill take its natural course and reach a logical end.

Former union minister and architect of AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, Jairam Ramesh, told Catch that Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu would resort to all possible tricks up his sleeve to scuttle the Bill. Naidu had demanded the special category status for AP during the debate on the AP Reorganisation Bill in Rajya Sabha.

Arun Jaitley, along with Naidu, strongly demanded that the Central government come to the rescue of AP. AP is facing a terrible financial crisis subsequent to bifurcation, including a Rs 16,000-crore revenue deficit.

U-Turn by Centre

Today, the Centre's take is different and the views of Jaitley and the BJP have taken a u-turn after coming to power.

Venkaiah Naidu, however, has been occasionally kowtowing to the idea of special category status, at least overtly, to please his BFF (best friend forever) N Chandrababu Naidu, the AP Chief Minister.

However, Venkaiah Naidu makes sure he is not too explicit either; and is often caught scrambling for a dignified escape route.

He has two tasks cut out for him right now:

  1. To come up with a face-saving plan;
  2. The bigger responsibility of extricating his party from the political quagmire, and potential landmine.

Dr. KVP Ramachandra Rao, who moved the Bill on 16 March, 2016, has marshalled all his strengths to enlist support from as many members and political parties as possible. The Congress is working overtime to ensure the passage of the Bill in Rajya Sabha so that procedurally it would have to go to Lok Sabha.

That said, the Congress member is not so naïve to believe the Bill would be passed in the lower house. The Congress has so far effectively implemented its game plan, forcing the TDP to turn hostile to its partner, the BJP.

Precisely for this reason, the BJP doesn't want the Bill to come up at all. Whether it comes up or not, it indeed makes hardly any difference for it cannot change the course of governance nor will it earn the special category status to Andhra Pradesh.

"If the Bill is taken up for debate and voting," Dr. Ramachandra Rao told Catch, "the Congress would press for a division and headcount".

The very fact that the TDP would stand up in support of the Bill would surely mortify the BJP.

TDP against the BJP

"My intention is to ensure the implementation of the promise made by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on 20 February, 2016 on the floor of the Rajya Sabha that Andhra Pradesh would be given special category status."

Dr Ramachandra Rao, in the statement of objects and reasons for the Bill said, "The-then Prime Minister announced specific steps to address the concerns of all regions during bifurcation, particularly of Seemandhra, including special category status to the successor state of AP for a period of five years. Post-bifurcation the residuary state of AP has lost significant resource base and therefore remains at a disadvantageous state when compared to neighbouring revenue surplus states. The fund crunch and resource-wise disadvantage are not the making of AP".

He further went on to state, "It was assured by the government that necessary grants would be provided in the current budget which has not been done in spite of assurances to support AP state on several fronts, including bridging revenue deficit, providing industrial incentives, special development package for backward areas of Rayalaseema and northern coastal Andhra, assistance to state capital development, railway zone for the state and special category status. Hence this bill."

But demoing his political astuteness, Dr Rao foresaw the possibility that the BJP would water down the prospect of taking up or the passage of the Bill, instead of letting the discomfiture peter out over the time.

However, Jairam Ramesh said. "If the Bill is passed in Rajya Sabha, there is great moral and political value. The TDP has promised to support, so the Bill will probably pass in the Rajya Sabha."

Aside from the political ways out that the BJP would work on, 13 May happens to be the last day for Rajya Sabha, which was expected to have been adjourned sine die on Thursday, 12 May, itself.

Monsoon session; BJPs ace up its sleeve?

The BJP may ensure adjourning the House sine die leaving the fate of the Bill hanging. The next session is likely to change the arithmetic in the Rajya Sabha and the NDA may have more aces on its side.

Dr. Rao wrote to the AP Chief Minister seeking support of the TDP members in the Rajya Sabha for the Bill. Naidu, who dextrously evaded replying to the MP's letter, however, surreptitiously instructed his party MPs to cast their vote in favour of the Bill.

Chandrababu Naidu breathed life into the NDA, led by an asphyxiated Narendra Modi, who was seen as a political outcast by many until then, by becoming a credible partner to the Alliance on the eve of the 2014 election.

Chandrababu Naidu coming out with a dual benefit?

Now, Chandrababu Naidu feels let down by the BJP. He wants to scoop out dual benefit with the single stroke of supporting the Bill. He wants to tell Modi that the TDP is completely cut up and doesn't mind walking out of the marriage of convenience. At the same time, he wishes to portray to the people that his party is willing to go to even the extent of supporting the Congress to protect the interests of the State.

This tectonic shift in the party's stand is politically astute, because it is essentially fighting YSR Congress in AP, a state which became Congress-mukth in 2014 elections.

Edited by Sahil Bhalla

First published: 13 May 2016, 15:07 IST