Bengaluru: Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, his son and several leaders of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) were put under house arrest Wednesday amid cries of a witchhunt from the political outfit. But old-timers were far from surprised.
The action was taken at the behest of the Jagan Mohan Reddy administration to scuttle a planned protest over alleged attacks by the workers of his YSR Congress Party on members of the TDP. This rivalry has animated Andhra politics for years now.
Naidu was, by his own admission, good friends with Jagan’s father, the late chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, curing their days together in the Congress (which Naidu quit in the early 1980s). However, they subsequently became bitter rivals.
Observers of the local political landscape cite an instance from 2007 to emphasise the rivalry.
During an assembly session, as the TDP alleged police atrocities against party workers, YSR shot back. The retort, delivered in Telugu, could be roughly translated in English to convey that the “womb from where you have been born will regret giving birth to you”.
His statement, which the opposition saw as a below-the-belt jibe, created a ruckus in the assembly, but YSR later said he had in no way attempted to target Naidu’s mother.
“This is a fight that has continued through a generation. Anything that one does is bound to be opposed by the other,” said a retired civil servant who has served under both Naidu and YSR. “It happened during the days of Reddy senior. It is continuing now. The only constant is Chandrababu.”
Back and forth
The rivalry is such that anything one does, the other has to erase it. When Naidu became CM in 2014, he unleashed a campaign to change several schemes and projects named after the Nehru-Gandhi family by the preceding Congress government (YSR had won the election for the Congress in 2009, but died in an aircrash soon afterwards).
If Naidu wanted to build a brand new capital for Andhra Pradesh after Telangana claimed Hyderabad, Jagan plans to have a capital for each region of the residual state.
One of the first things Jagan did after taking office as chief minister this May is tear down a sprawling Rs 9 crore auditorium-cum-conference-hall Naidu had built in Amaravati.
From scrapping the Naidu government’s farmer benefit ‘Annadata Sukhibhava’ scheme and replacing it with his Rs 13,000 crore ‘Rythu Bharosa’, to stopping funds or reversing tenders, Jagan, TDP leaders claim, is on a mission to destroy his predecessor’s legacy.
Jagan, who is facing graft cases himself, has made corruption allegations against Naidu, claiming that he siphoned off up to Rs 1.34 lakh crore while processing different projects.
Other assaults, say TDP leaders, include a shrinking of Naidu’s security cover, and allowing him to be frisked at the Vijayawada airport earlier this year.
Naidu, who survived a Maoist attack in 2003, is a Z-category protectee, but claimed in court this July that the Jagan government had, in phases, cut protections offered to him and his family. The house arrest, TDP leaders add, is only the latest such move.
“This government is violating human rights and fundamental rights. I am warning the government,” Naidu told reporters at his home while observing a fast between 8 am and 8 pm. “I am warning police also. You cannot control us by arresting us.”
TDP insiders say Jagan is irked by the rehabilitation centres set up by the party in various districts for workers to register “attacks by YSRCP workers”.
The YSR Congress Party, however, said Naidu’s statements should not be given much credence.
“It was a law and order issue (the planned protest, ‘Chalo Atmakur’ rally) and so it was handled by the government,” YSRCP spokesperson Vijay Sai Reddy told ThePrint.
“Naidu may call it anything he wants (referring to Naidu’s statement on Jagan’s ‘vindictive politics’), he should not be taken seriously. There is no political vendetta behind this,” Reddy said.
Andhra Pradesh director general of police Damodar Goutam Sawang said the arrest was preventive custody.
“It has nothing to do with the opposing policies of the ruling government in the state. The TDP had not been given permission to take out the ‘Chalo Atmakur’ rally (in Palnadu district) and yet several TDP leaders were on their way to Naidu’s residence,” a second YSRCP leader.
“It would have caused a law-and-order issue. So they were stopped by police and taken into preventive custody.”
Political analyst Palwai Raghavendra said this kind of vindictive politics was expected, pointing out how, in January 2017, Jagan was detained at the airport and not allowed to enter Visakhapatnam, where he planned to hold a rally seeking special staus for the state.
“Since the change of regime in AP, the factional fight between the TDP and the YSR Congress Party has unfortunately reached a new level,” he said, “Naidu recently accused the YSR Congress Party of resorting to targeted killings… (While in opposition) YSR Congress leaders accused CBN (Naidu) of arrogance and misuse of power… The TDP is doing the same against Jagan now.”