Three dissident leaders literally spoiled Telugu Desam Party boss and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s birthday party last week accusing him of not learning lessons from the electoral debacle last year and persisting with his dictatorial style of functioning.
For a party which prides itself for its ‘discipline’, the dissenting voices that echoed in NTR Trust Bhavan, the headquarters of the TDP, indicated all is not well with the yellow outfit after it lost power in the state 11 months ago.
The simmering discontent among the rank-and-file of the party came out into the open when three leaders apparently acting on their own launched a simultaneous attack on Naidu’s leadership.
A grim-faced Naidu utilised his 55th birthday fete to deliver homilies and a stern warning to party men to observe discipline and restraint or face a crackdown by the party.
He literally threatened to initiate disciplinary action against dissenters. He was particularly piqued by the verbal outburst by former minister Tummala Nageswara Rao at the party’s state executive meeting and the letters written by two other former ministers, Dr Kodela Sivaprasada Rao and Nallapareddy Prasanna Kumar Reddy.
Prasanna Kumar Reddy had started it all by writing an open letter asking Chandrababu to shift to Delhi to play a lead role in national politics for the revival of the Third Front and leave the state politics to his wife Bhuvaneswari.
To add to Naidu’s embarrassment, Nageswara Rao told the party boss that he had not atoned for his mistakes that led to the party’s debacle.
He expressed anguish that even after losing elections, Chandrababu did not change his style of functioning and instead sought to exonerate himself.
Rubbing more salt on the wounded ego of Naidu, Sivaprasada Rao also dashed off a letter, questioning the party chief’s reluctance to take disciplinary action against Guntur district TDP president and former member of Legislative Assembly Makineni Peda Rathaiah.
Rao alleged that Rathaiah had been making nasty comments but Chandrababu Naidu never bothered to discipline him.
Not used to such open defiance during his nine-year stint in power after he had toppled the party founder-patriarch N T Rama Rao as party boss and chief minister, Chandrababu thundered that the party would not tolerate anyone writing letters to the leadership and simultaneously releasing copies to the media.
Chandrababu maintains he believes in internal democracy in the party and the party leaders are free to raise and discuss intra-party issues in the party fora.
“In the past year or so, I have been easily accessible to people at the party headquarters. I am available in the party office the whole day. Anyone can seek a one-on-one meeting with me. There is no need for anyone to go to town or rush to the media to voice grievances,” he added.
Reacting to Prasanna Kumar Reddy’s sarcastic suggestion, Chandrababu made it clear that there was no question of his wife or his son Lokesh entering politics. He pointed out that Bhuvaneswari was not at all interested in politics, leave alone leading the party.
He also clarified that he would continue to concentrate on state politics even while playing a key role at the national level.
Prasanna Kumar Reddy later claimed he had made the suggestion in tune with the mood among the younger leaders in the party. His intention was not to create any confusion or controversy in the party or to cause insult and trouble to the party boss. He was not preparing to leave the party, he added.
Nageswara Rao also struck a conciliatory note and asserted that he had only conveyed to the party leadership the prevailing feeling among party cadres. “Our party is Telugu Desam and our leader is Chandrababu Naidu. I am not in the habit of going to the press for any reason. I have access to the party leader. My remarks at the party meeting have been wrongly interpreted in the media,” he claimed.
However, Sivaprasada Rao has stuck to his guns and he has not offered any clarification so far on his written outburst against the party chief. Known for his tough posturing on issues concerning his district, Sivaprasada Rao sometimes defied NT Rama Rao as well as Chandrababu. In fact, the party has been treating him with caution, lest it invites his wrath.
Quietly, though, many party leaders, including several former ministers and senior functionaries, endorse the charges hurled by the trio against Chandrababu but they do not want to cause pinpricks to the party boss by coming out with open criticism.
They also maintain that despite tough talk, Chandrababu has never initiated severe disciplinary action against any TDP leader who made dissenting noises since he took over the reins of the party on September 1, 1995.
At the most, Chandrababu summons the dissident leaders to the party office and gives them a verbal dressing down. He resorts to severe action only if the party leaders are involved in criminal cases. Former minister C Krishna Yadav was expelled from the party after the Maharashtra police arrested him in connection with the Telgi fake stamp paper scam in September 2003. Two ministers Pocharam Srinivas Reddy and Suddala Devaiah were dropped from his cabinet on charges of corruption and moral turpitude, respectively.
Syed Amin Jafri in Hyderabad