The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) completes 30 years today.
Apart from the victory and losses in the elections, I believe that there are three watershed moments/periods in this 30 year old journey by the TDP. We will first discuss those events and then briefly talk about what the future holds for the TDP now.
The 1984 Lok Sabha elections (and the 1996 elections)
The Congress swept the entire country except Andhra Pradesh. It won a whopping 404 seats out of the 491 it contested! The second largest party was the TDP! TDP swept the AP seats, winning 30 out of the 42 seats by itself. This meant that this is the first time a regional party got to play a major role in the national politics. This strength of the TDP ensured that NTR later went on to become the chairman of the ruling National Front government in 1989. The importance of this victory cannot be underestimated at all. It at once catapulted TDP to national significance. A similar situation arose in 1996 and 1998 when TDP played a pivotal role (this time CBN was incharge) in the formation of three central governments. Till 2004, perhaps no other regional party played such an important role in the national political developments. Post 2004, we see that they are playing a bigger role (most times, a destructive role, but that discussion is for a later point of time!)
The 1995 August coup.
The next watershed moment in TDP's 30 year old political journey was August, 1995 when a massive internal coup led by CBN and other family members of NTR (includes his sons, son-in-laws) unseated NTR from power. Popular perception now is that CBN "backstabbed" NTR for a personal gain. And the Congress party, whenever questioned about any failure, resorts to CBN's "backstabbing"! Anyways, coming back to the point :)Lakshmi Parvati was clearly acting as the de facto Chief Minister, and NTR just refused to budge. Newspapers at that time even published pictures of the her attending government review meetings along with NTR and other ministers. Her involvement was not just an open secret - it was open for all to see! Certainly, it would cause a lot of heartburn amongst elected representatives to take orders from this lady who came into NTR's life just 2 years back.
Her actions prompted the unthinkable to happen - a revolt against NTR! Almost the entire family was up in arms. Majority of the legislators were up in arms. Majority of his ardent supporters were up in arms. His support base amongst MLAs was just dwindling by the day. All legislators were put up in Hotel Viceroy (it is Marriott now, but for us it will still remain Viceroy :D), and within a few days, Chandrababu Naidu was sworn in as Chief Minister.
Unfotunately, NTR and CBN did not fight against each other in the electoral arena (NTR passed away in Jan, 1996). Crowd surges in meetings for Lakshmi Parvati made some believe that she will defeat the TDP but people just rejected her. And thereafter, it was CBN all the way with none to challenge him for the top most in the party. And the 1999 victory cemented his place.
This revolt and subsequent victory at the hustings meant that the TDP moved from a person centric party (it was NTR always) to a party that became performance centric (we will revisit this argument later again in the blogpost). This leadership change meant that young people (CBN was 45 when he took over as CM... majority of cabinet was young too) will bring in a fresh change and perspective. They were succesfull for a large extent before arrogance took over too :).
2008-2009 Tectonic shift in policy approachFrom “vision to television” was the joke going around about Chandrababu Naidu (CBN) during the general elections in 2009! Well, we have to give it to the person who came up with this slogan, for in 3 words he/she summarized the entire political career of CBN!
In these two years, the tectonic shift in their approach to policy making is too stark to be ignored. Till then CBN was perceived as the reformist that the country needed. Infact he was staunchly opposed to free power promised by YSR to the farmers in 2004. In the online world, we hear a lot of noise about the "center right economics" etc blah. Naidu's tenure as CM is a case study for such policies.
However, in the desperation to regain power and credibility amongst the voters, he made 2008-2009 as the year of unlimited promises that will put any socialist regime to shame! He saw that the free stuff being doled out by YSR was working out well. So much free stuff was promised to almost all sections of the society that you suddenly began to wonder if this was the same CBN who talked about a vision for the state and ushered in some much needed administrative changes. It was almost impossible to believe that this was the same CBN who was pivotal in the ushering of the IT revolution (which has benefited lakhs of people) and was the architect of some very innovative government programs. It was also during this period that the TDP said it was in favour of splitting the state. The reformist oriented TDP died along with these changes. Now, we are witness to purely populism oriented TDP.TDP in power
The TDP was in power for 16 years in the last 30 years ( 1983-1989 and 1994-2004). It came across as a whiff of fresh air all the time it won the elections. The blog post will become verrry long if we go into the successes and failures of the TDP when it was in power. An earlier blogpost details CBN's rise and fall in the eye of the electorate. Also, this post by KrishnaArjun in the Centre Right India portal details the evolution of NTR's first stint as the Chief Minister. It is a very good read to understand happenings during those times. Wikipedia link on NTR's tenure is also quite exhaustive.
TDP in opposition
TDP's first stint in opposition was quite uneventful compared to it's 2nd and 3rd. During it's first stint, the congress party was on an auto self destructive mode. All that the TDP had to do was take advantage of this. And with some dramatics thrown in (NTR refused to attend assembly for about 2 years!), they got back into power in 1994. Their 2nd stint was their hardest stint. And it was in this stint that their leader, CBN tried to connect back to the cadre and people. TDP was almost ready to give a tough fight to the Congress and that is when Chiranjeevi entered politics. This altered dynamics significantly. Coupled with some bad alliances, TDP again had to end up as the opposition party in 2009!Is TDP Nai"doom"ed?
The current stint as the main opposition party is turning out to be a bigger disaster than the previous one! YSR's death and the Telangana goof up by Sonia Gandhi put TDP in a piquant situation! Jagan is slowly emerging as the alternative force. So now TDP is compelled to share the opposition space with Jagan. Earlier in the 2009 elections, they had to share that space with PRP. The goof up by Sonia on Telangana meant that TDP also lost significant ground in the Telangana region. And therefore the immediate future certainly looks very bleak for the TDP.
TDP has the dubious distinction of being a cadre based one man party! NTR was president of the party for ~13 years. Naidu has been the president for the last 17 years. In this time, the cadre has stuck to him and helped him to regain some lost ground. However, with a stagnation of ideas and the penetration of other parties into the main opposition space, it does look like 2014 will end up as another disaster for the TDP. In the current political scenario (unless something drastically changes), it looks like TDP is heading to a Nai"doom".
I am an ardent supporter of the TDP (except from a deeply regrettable deviation towards PRP and then Lok Satta in 2009). NTR is equivalent to an icon for me, and CBN is someone I very deeply admire and like. It pains me and sometimes angers me too, when folks blurt out random statements like "he did nothing". Without some awesome grey matter, it is impossible to have sustained for so long in this field. Earlier blogs debate this issue. It is extremely painful to see him going down like this.
Would a new leader change the fortune of the party? Maybe. But there is no new leader on the horizon - after Naidu, we don't even know who is second in command. NTR's sons might be enthusiastic, but them leading will spell further doom to the party! Overall, it is sad to see the man and the party that dominated policy and politics of AP for about 2 decades go down like this.