Chandrababu Naidu’s Hunger Games


Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party supremo Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s 68th birthday is devoid of sweets. The celebrations are amid orchestrated eulogies, stretching to the extent of sycophants describing him as the Messiah of Andhra Pradesh and panacea of all problems confronting the state.

Naidu’s birthday amid about a lakh people — thronging the “Dharma Poratam” venue at the Indira Gandhi Municipal Stadium in Vijayawada — is aimed at getting several speakers through the day to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party for “meting out injustice” to the state.

As people holding placards in support of Naidu and against the Centre and Modi, walk past the CM seated at the centre-stage on a decked-up dais, he greets them with a wide grin. He received the “support humbly”.

Naidu had only recently criticised Modi for undertaking a day-long fast on April 12 in protest of disruptions in Parliament. He had said: “Have you ever seen a Prime Minister going on hunger strike in the history of the country? He is trying to blame it on the people of the state for his inability to run the Parliament. He is trying to instigate his party cadre against us and gain political mileage.”

And now Naidu himself has undertaken a day-long fast in his capacity as the CM.

Incidentally, the legendary N T Rama Rao, founder of the TDP and Naidu’s father-in-law, too, first squatted and then spread his kanduva (long towel) on the road and slept on it in as a surprise protest on the main road in front of the State Secretariat in Hyderabad on the State Formation Day on November 1, 1988. NTR, who was the Chief Minister then, actually surprised protesting Congress leaders, led by YS Rajasekhara Reddy.

The question is who exactly is Chandrababu Naidu aping? Is it Modi or NTR? Actually, neither.

While it was business as usual for Modi, who attended to work and inaugurated the Defence Expo in Chennai on the day of his hunger strike, NTR did not plan the protest. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

However, Naidu created a high-octane publicity blitzkrieg for his 12-hour-long hunger strike from 7 am to 7 pm. Detractors pegged the expenditure for the “fasting” at Rs 25 crore.

In the run-up to the fast, Naidu has not minced words in his criticism for Modi stating that a person of the Prime Minister’s stature “should not go back on his words, but he is fomenting hatred among people”. Naidu, during his recent visit to Singapore, too, held Modi guilty of failing to keep promises made to Andhra Pradesh.

Growing bitterness with BJP

The day-long fast by Naidu is aimed at protesting against “the Centre’s non-cooperation” in granting the contentious special category status to the truncated Andhra Pradesh. Other demands include compensating the state’s revenue deficit, releasing funds for the construction of multi-billion-dollar Polvaram multi-purpose mega irrigation project and also liberally assisting the state in building the new capital city. This was promised by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the floor of Rajya Sabha while passing the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill on February 20, 2013.

Fissures began surfacing between the BJP and TDP for quite some time, especially after Venkaiah Naidu was elevated to the position of Vice-President. The BJP veteran used to broker peace whenever there was a rift and also lobbied for the state so long as he was in the Union Cabinet.

The alliance only became wobbly after the denial of the SCS. BJP leaders are going about town trying to tell people that the Centre is not averse to giving the state a liberal dole and also listing out the accounts of funds already released. But their feeble campaign cannot match the orchestrated canvassing by the powerful Naidu-friendly media.

Fasting goal

Invitations to the hunger-strike were extended on behalf of the Telugu Desam Party supremo to at least 70 opinion makers from various political parties, people’s organisations and other interest groups and influencers.

While about 10,000 people were seated in specially-erected pandals in the sprawling Indira Gandhi Stadium, over 200 leaders sat on the dais. The entire official machinery made arrangements for the chief minister’s hunger strike. Students from universities, colleges, women self-help groups, farmers who “donated” lands for the capital city, and people from different walks of life were invited to take part in the strike.

These people from different places were transported in hundreds of Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation and private buses. While the representatives of people’s organisations began criticising the BJP and the Centre for “betraying the state”, drinking water, butter milk sachets and a large number of air-coolers were arranged as part of the lavish arrangements for the hunger strike. While some of his Cabinet colleagues joined him at the hunger strike, other ministers and MLAs organised day-long hunger strikes across all district and 175 Assembly constituencies in the state.

Opposition leader Jaganmohan Reddy, who is currently on a padayatra, dubbed the hunger strike a gimmick at the expense of the state exchequer. He sought to know as to why Naidu did not support the hunger strike by MPs of YSR Congress by ensuring that the TDP Lok Sabha members too joined them in the stir recently in Delhi.

Meanwhile, Vijayawada is turning out to be the dais for a Chief Minister’s hunger strike, with all TV cameras of Telugu channels focusing only on the Deeksha