Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has sparked off fresh speculation about his YSR Congress party joining the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with two high-profile meetings in two weeks. Jagan Mohan met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday after having met Union Home Minister Amit Shah on September 23-24.
The meetings have come at a time when the BJP is looking for allies in the wake of crucial losses of two of its oldest allies in the form of the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). For Jagan Mohan, it is a difficult time to manage finances of the state, and as his principal rival Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu says, there are cases against him under investigation by the central agencies.
Andhra Pradesh politics is undergoing a churning since Jagan Mohan registered an overwhelming victory in 2019 winning more than 150 of 175 seats in the state assembly. Powerful rivals in the TDP and the Congress were crushed by Jagan Mohan’s party.
The BJP has stitched an alliance with actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan, whose Jana Sena Party could win just one seat in the assembly polls. But Pawan Kalyan has his own following in the state that makes the BJP keep the ties alive.
There have been reports that Chandrababu Naidu has been cosying up to the BJP seeking to make amends after he took an extreme position in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. However, the party has only three seats in the Lok Sabha and one in the Rajya Sabha besides 23 seats in Andhra Pradesh Assembly.
In contrast, Jagan Mohan’s YSR Congress Party has 21 seats in the Lok Sabha and six seats in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led NDA does not have a majority of its own. Jagan Mohan has on previous occasions voted for the government in the Rajya Sabha.
The YSRCP has, however, dismissed speculation of it joining the NDA fold despite whispers in the power corridor saying that the BJP is ready to offer a cabinet rank and an MoS rank to Jagan Mohan’s party if he joins the ruling alliance at the Centre.
The dominant explanation from the YSRCP is that the party favours a friendly relation with the party ruling at the Centre as it helps it carry out development schemes smoothly. This is particularly crucial for Jagan Mohan when his government like many other state governments facing an acute shortage of revenue due to Covid-19-induced lockdown and loss of businesses.
There is another impediment to Jagan Mohan joining the NDA. In the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Jagan Mohan had spelt out his conditions of supporting the coalition or party at the Centre which grants special status to Andhra Pradesh.
Special status of Andhra Pradesh has been an emotive issue in the state politics. The state was bifurcated in 2014 carving out a separate Telangana state out of it. The then Manmohan Singh government had promised special status to Andhra Pradesh.
It was on the issue of special status that Chandrababu Naidu walked out of the NDA in 2018 a year ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and Andhra Pradesh Assembly election. It was in this background that Jagan Mohan set special status to Andhra Pradesh as a pre-condition.
The BJP-led government at the Centre has refrained from granting that status as it faces a similar demand from Bihar, where it is in alliance with the JDU of Nitish Kumar. And, joining the NDA without getting the special status for Andhra Pradesh would diminish Jagan Mohan’s political position.
There is one more factor that may hold Jagan Mohan from joining the BJP-led coalition. The BJP has a strong base of Hindutva vote bank dominated by the upper-caste and OBC communities while Jagan Mohan has created a vote bank of Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Christians and Muslims in Andhra Pradesh.
Joining hands with the BJP may create a fresh political problem for Jagan Mohan Reddy especially when he can enjoy the goodwill of the BJP by simply voting for the government bills in the Rajya Sabha as it did in the case of controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), the three farm bills and election of Harivansh as deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
On the other hand, if the BJP succeeds in bringing Jagan Mohan to the NDA fold, it would help the party keep Pawan Kalyan in check in Andhra Pradesh, ignore Chandrababu Naidu’s comeback attempts and compensate the losses caused by the departure of the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal.