The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was performing well in Andhra Pradesh till about 2018, suddenly appears to be in a precarious state. Once considered to be the king-maker, it is now isolated and is struggling to regain a foothold on its own.
In 2014, the BJP had a vote share of 7.22% across Andhra Pradesh in parliamentary constituencies. In 2019, this dropped to about 0.98%. In Assembly constituencies, its vote share was 4.13% in 2014 and dropped to 0.84% in 2019. The national party won four Assembly seats in 2014 and two Lok Sabha seats in the State, when it was in an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Jana Sena Party (JSP). But when it fought the 2019 polls on its own, it drew a blank. The situation has not improved since then. This was evident in the rout that the BJP faced in the MLC elections earlier this year.
Political scientists as well as parties with whom the BJP once shared a good bonhomie cite many reasons for the national party’s steady decline in the State. They feel that the BJP-led Union government has failed to fulfil the commitments made under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014.
When the United Progressive Alliance had said that Special Category Status (SCS) would be accorded to Andhra Pradesh post-bifurcation for five years, senior leaders of the BJP in 2014 promised to increase SCS to 10 years. But after coming to power, the BJP went back on its word and offered a special package to the State. The people of Andhra found this unacceptable. The BJP then blamed the Finance Commission, which stated that Andhra Pradesh does not qualify for the SCS as it does not fulfil some basic criteria. This was the major bone of contention between the BJP and the TDP, and the regional party walked out of the alliance. The people of Andhra reportedly view the BJP as giving step-brotherly treatment to the State.
This apart, despite the Government of India declaring Polavaram as a national project, political parties, including the TDP and the YSR Congress, say that funding has been inadequate. After agreeing to sanction over ₹12,000 crore for the project a couple of months ago, BJP leaders said that it was the State government that delayed its submission of reports regarding revised project costs. The National Democratic Alliance government had earlier floated the idea of creating a Special Purpose Vehicle for the project, but this was not accepted by Chief Minister Chadrababu Naidu, who wanted the State to handle funds directly.
The latest issue hurting the BJP is the Union government’s decision to opt for 100% strategic sale of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant.
Countering these allegations, BJP leaders assert that the party has kept all its promises. They argue that at least six national institutions — IIT Tirupati, NIT-Andhra Pradesh, IIM Visakhapatnam, IISER Tirupati, the Central University of Andhra Pradesh, the Indian Institute of Petroleum and Energy-Visakhapatnam — have been set up since 2014, and that more Central universities are coming up. They also claim that the State government had failed to provide land in some cases, on time. BJP leaders also claim that huge investments are being made under the PM Gati Shakti programme.
Though the BJP is in an alliance with the JSP, the president of the JSP, Pawan Kalyan, announced that his party and the TDP would ally for the 2024 polls. Whether he had consulted the BJP before taking this decision is not known, but many see this as an act of defiance against the national party and a consolidation of regional outfits which could further dent the already poor chances of the BJP.
The BJP also has internal problems. In the last three years, it has changed its State president thrice and is yet to field a strong contingent of MLA candidates. Party cadres say that while on the one hand the BJP is going hammer and tongs at the YSR Congress, on the other, it is still indecisive about its alliance with the JSP-TDP combine. This, they believe, is hurting the BJP.
It is crucial for the party high command to provide clarity on this aspect before the elections. Before taking a serious view on Andhra Pradesh politics, the BJP leadership is apparently waiting for the Assembly election outcome in five States: Telangana, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.