Andhra Pradesh politics is on the cusp of a decisive change with the rightward shift by its former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu. A combination of national, regional and local dynamics is catalysing this politics of religious identity. BJP’s dominance of national politics, its surge in neighbouring Telangana, and CM Jagan Mohan Reddy’s take-no-prisoners approach to TDP, coupled with a series of temple desecrations since last September, have introduced this new axis for political mobilisation. For Andhra politics, seesawing between TDP, Congress and its offshoot YSR Congress since 1983, with their competitive welfarism and caste coalitions, the late traction for Hindutva three decades after its nationwide splash is a novelty of sorts.
While BJP is yet to notch a noteworthy electoral victory in AP like Telangana where it supplanted Congress as the main opposition, the defection of four TDP MPs to BJP in 2019 set the alarm bells ringing. Of late, Jagan has toned down the aggression against TDP, perhaps sensing that BJP posed a greater threat to his dominance. Nonetheless, Naidu is using the respite to claw back while adding a Hindutva edge against Jagan, which he hopes will also prevent a greater TDP exodus to BJP in future. From development messiah to moving in and out of NDA, Naidu’s challenge is to sell this latest of many such posturings to bemused voters.
Both TDP and BJP are gunning for Jagan over the 20 or so cases of temple desecrations, citing these as his disregard for Hindu sentiments. Jagan’s adherence to Christianity is also being weaponised by his opponents, prompting the CM to take countermeasures. The government has announced reconstruction of nine temples demolished during TDP’s tenure and appointed a 16-member SIT to probe the desecrations, even while alleging a TDP conspiracy. Meanwhile, BJP is targeting the forthcoming Tirupati Lok Sabha bypolls, which it projects as a direct clash with YSRCP.
The communal dimension to political discourse in a state that is already sharply polarised imperils social cohesion. Focus on industrialisation is urgently needed to overcome the Hyderabad loss, the Amaravati fiasco, and difficulties in funding the large welfare apparatus. Doughty campaigners like Jagan and Naidu signalling they won’t cede the notional Hindutva political space – untested in AP – to each other or to BJP sets the stage for a great political contestation. The first signs of changing political winds, if any, could blow from south India’s most famous temple town Tirupati.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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