A day after he announced his party’s decision to walk out of the government at the Centre over the denial of special category status to Andhra Pradesh, TDP leader and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday evening and, shortly thereafter, two TDP ministers submitted their resignations. But there were indications that the TDP had not burnt bridges or severed all links with the BJP and the Prime Minister. After resigning their posts, Union civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju and minister of state (science and technology and earth sciences) Y Satyanarayana Chowdary were careful with their statements and did not target the Prime Minister. Their tone was was very different from that of Chandrababu Naidu on Wednesday evening. While announcing his party’s decision, Naidu had called “the attitude of the Centre towards Andhra Pradesh… very hurtful and insulting” and warned that “resignation of the two Union ministers is the first step… We will take a call on whether to stay with NDA as a partner or not when the time comes.
We have always cooperated with the Centre but the spirit of cooperative federalism is missing”. But Gajapathi Raju and Chowdary treaded carefully Thursday evening, calling the developments “unfortunate”. Chowdary said even the Prime Minister called their decision unfortunate. “We will be happy when marriages happen, not when divorces happen. It is not a good move but unfortunately, due to unavoidable circumstances, we had to take this move. We are stepping down as ministers, but our president has said we will be continuing as part of NDA,” Chowdary told reporters. The beauty of democracy, he said, was to bring unanimity and make everyone happy and this was the BJP’s responsibility. “When they are in responsible positions, they will have to balance such things and during the process of balancing, they will have to face such situations.” The TDP has 16 MPs in Lok Sabha. Asked about Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s offer of granting special status to Andhra Pradesh if the party were to come to power, Chowdary said it was a “hypothetical” situation. Gajapathi Raju blamed the “unscientific division” — bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 — for the many troubles the state was going through. “The division was done unscientifically. This is told today by even those who did it. And it needs corrective action. That is what we are requesting now,” he said.
BJP sources said the Prime Minister was keen to retain the alliance with the TDP — he has a comfortable understanding with the TDP leadership and the BJP is keen to nurture strong allies in the south where it is yet to come up as a formidable force. But Naidu’s move Wednesday, sources said, did not go down well with the BJP leadership. A section of the BJP was also of the view that any anti-incumbency factor against the TDP would also impact the BJP in the assembly and general elections of 2019. Sources attributed the softening in the TDP stance Thursday to a 10-minute conversation between the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister. Sources in the TDP said while Naidu tried to reach out to the Prime Minister twice, Modi spoke to him on Thursday evening on his return from Rajasthan. Both Raju and Chowdary wanted to submit their resignation letters in the morning but were asked to wait until evening, sources added. The TDP, one of its MPs said, preferred to see the problem as an issue between the state and the Centre, not between the TDP and BJP.