Andhra Pradesh: Pawan Kalyan Remains Elusive Even as TDP Anxious to Finalise Alliance

Chandrababu Naidu's party is wary of contesting alone against YSR Congress Party. In case the TDP and JSP work out a deal, then it is to be seen if the BJP is also a partner. That will have implications for state polls as well as national elections.

Hyderabad: With state and Lok Sabha elections just about a year away in Andhra Pradesh, the main opposition, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), is quietly trying to come to an understanding with the Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena Party (JSP) in the hope of avoiding another heavy defeat like last time around.

Knowing that he holds the key to the TDP coming back to power, Kalyan is playing hardball – as so far, the TDP and JSP have not come to any understanding for an alliance. As of now, the actor-turned-politician Kalyan reportedly met former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu more than once to discuss terms for an alliance, but so far nothing has been announced.

TDP insiders confirmed that aside from one official meeting between their party head and Kalyan, another also transpired. “The issue is mostly about seat sharing, over which discussions are ongoing. It is too early now to announce anything, but allying with JSP will definitely help us in districts like Ongole, Guntur, East and West Godavari,” said a TDP leader, not wanting to be quoted.

The Wire has learnt that the JSP asked for about 60 seats in the state polls. However, both sides did not comment officially when asked. While the TDP is the bigger player, it knows that victory in 2024 will be elusive if the two parties contest individually.

“Our surveys indicate that we can win about 120 seats easily with the alliance. Jana Sena can sweep both East and West Godavari districts due to support from the Kapu community,” said the TDP leader. Kalyan hails from the numerically powerful Kapu community – believed to be a little over 20% of AP’s population – and hence holds the key to the TDP’s fortunes next year.

TDP’s rout in 2019

The TDP, led by former AP chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, suffered one of its worst defeats in the 2019 state and Parliamentary polls after it decided to contest on its own. It managed to win just 23 assembly constituencies (out of 175) and three Lok Sabha seats (out of 25).

Though the JSP did not win anything, it dented the TDP’s vote base, influencing the results in at least 40 assembly seats. The JSP managed to get a vote share of 5.5%. The Congress and BJP – both contesting on their own – could muster just around 1% of the vote share each in the state polls.

The ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), which is sitting cosy currently, won 151 seats in the state legislature and 22 in the Lok Sabha. It is being helped by the Prashant Kishor-led Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC). When contacted, a YSRCP functionary, who did not want to be quoted, said his party is expecting to win around 120 seats even if the TDP and JSP come together.

The TDP and JSP fell apart in 2018. Though the TDP broke off its alliance with the BJP because the party backed down from the promise of granting Special Category status to the state, Pawan Kalyan shocked Naidu in 2018 by censuring the latter in public. This prompted the TDP to call off its alliance with the JSP, which proved to be a fatal mistake in the 2019 elections.

N. Chandrababu Naidu. Photo: Facebook/tdp.ncbn.official

Playing hardball 

Pawan Kalyan, on his part, is keeping his cards close to his chest. While he has publicly mentioned that he may enter into an alliance for the next polls, he has not formally said he will go with the TDP. However, all indications from JSP and TDP are that some sort of deal is being cobbled up informally.

At a public meeting to commemorate 10 years since JSP’s formation in Machlipatnam, Kalyan told his cadre that no “secret” pact was made with the TDP or Naidu. He however went on to criticise the BJP – his current alliance partner. In case Naidu and Kalyan work out a deal, then it is to be seen if the BJP will also be a partner. That will have implications for state polls and national elections.

When contacted, JSP spokesperson B. Satya however said that the TDP needs an alliance more than his party. “They want an alliance because without it they will get wiped out. It is a necessity for them, and we won’t lose anything [even if contesting alone]. We did not contest in 2014. If the TDP asks us to join and makes Pawan Kalyan the CM candidate, then that is fine,” he remarked.

TDP leaders however scoffed at the idea and said there is no scenario where they Kalyan would be the CM face of the alliance. “When Pawan Kalyan said votes should not split earlier, he meant it should be unitedly given to him,” JSP’s Satya added.

Professor E. Venkatesu, an analyst and a faculty member from the University of Hyderabad’s political science department, said that as things stand currently, there is no possibility for the TDP to win on its own. But he was also skeptical of the party’s ability to win in an alliance.

“If the TDP and JSP come together, they will increase their vote share but it won’t be enough to win. The ruling YSRCP’s welfare schemes and strong consolidation of power in AP are formidable. Even if JSP and BJP contest together, for a triangular contest, there is no scope. Naidu’s son Lokesh has undertaken a padayatra, but it has no clear agenda as well,” professor Venkatesh pointed out.

He added that the ruling YSRCP’s Village Secretariat system (to decentralise governance on the ground level) established by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy after he came to power has helped the ruling party develop a strong network. “On the government front, this has been helping them get information as well,” professor Venkatesu pointed out.