Chandrababu Naidus Political Gamble

Updated: Nov 17 2003, 05:30am hrs
While meeting a delegation from car maker Volkswagen recently, Andhra Pradesh (AP) chief minister Chandrababu Naidu gave them a personal assurance that the Naxalite problem in the state was under control and restricted to a small area.

A few months and an attempt on his life later, Naxalite violence and the serious threat that it poses to the progress of the state has become the reason for an early election. This drastic change in the Telugu Desam Partys (TDP) risk perception of the Naxalites is, no doubt, in line with its game plan of maximising the sympathy factor in favour of Mr Naidu, post-Tirupati attack.

It also reflects the compulsions faced by political leaders in India, however reformist they may be. Mr Naidu, whose passion for developing Andhra Pradesh into a frontline state in the country is unquestionable, has adopted a poll strategy which may attract votes but scare away future investors, thus damaging the states investment climate.

By deciding to fight the elections on the plank of Naxalite violence, the TDP has demonised a small group of extremists and has given the issue national/international focus. Investors, both within and outside India, are sure to take note of this, and when the next government is formed, Mr Naidu or his successor would have a lot of explaining to do to convince them that AP is, indeed, a safe place to invest.

While some attribute the TDPs decision to call for snap polls 11 months in advance as a brave move, its desperation to benefit from the sympathy factor and thereby neutralising the anti-incumbency factor can also be interpreted as a case of insecurity. Instead of taking on the menace of Naxalites in the remaining 11 months and approaching the people with its overall achievements at the scheduled end of its second te-rm, the TDP government under Mr Naidu has decided to convert its inability (to put an end to the problem in the last seven years) into an opportunity.

The TDPs move also gives credence to reports that Mr Naidus high-decibel reforms are Hyderabad-centric and are not cutting ice with the people in rural areas where successive years of drought have led to starvation and large-scale migration of workforce.

What clearly comes out of the events that have taken place in the last couple of months is that the TDP has been worried, for some time now, over the anti-incumbency factor and its impact on the partys strength in the next Assembly a weak Congress and a divided Opposition notwithstanding. Also, its alliance with the BJP gives it an arithmetical edge across the state, especially in the Telangana region where the latter has made significant inroads. When the Tirupati att-ack on Mr Naidu took place, the party decided to cash in on it with the hope that dissatisfaction against the government would take a back seat and the party could return to power wi-th greater majority or at least w-ith its existing numbers intact.

The Election Commissions (EC) stand that it would not be able to hold the elections by February, as requested by the TDP, may not be to the partys liking as a longer gap would mean the Tirupati attack would fade away from public memory.

As the campaign unfolds over the next few months, one only hopes that irrespective of who wins the elections Andhra Pradesh, which has made remarkable strides since the mid-90s as an attractive investment destination, does not end up a loser.