The ruling National Democratic Alliance is in a state of flux over the Telugu Desam Party's hesitation in leading the way for a decisive stand on the demand of some of its partners that the Bharatiya Janata Party sack Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
TDP chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu had virtually issued an ultimatum to the BJP leadership to sack Modi. He now seems to have retreated from his earlier position, where he gave sufficient indication that if Modi was not removed the TDP would withdraw its support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
"We are waiting for the TDP to lead the way," said Samata Party MP Prabhunath Singh. "Since it has 28 members [in the Lok Sabha], its position [on support or withdrawal of support] to the government will remove much of the [current] political uncertainty."
Conceding that the TDP's wishy-washy stand on Modi's resignation was costing the NDA allies more than just embarrassment, he said, "It has thoroughly emboldened the BJP leadership that Modi will stay."
He indicated that while the NDA allies' fight against a "blatantly communal approach" would continue, "the numerical strength of the government [with the promise of more support if the TDP were to withdraw] is intact for the time being".
Singh's contention dissipated much of the media hype that the TDP's ultimatum to Prime Minister Vajpayee had sealed his government's fate. "Let us wait and see, it [the government] is still under pressure," said Trinamool Congress politician Sudip Bandopadhyaya. "Our leader [Mamata Banerjee] has made our party's view clear that Modi should go."
Naidu's virtual volte-face, according to a senior TDP Lok Sabha member, came when the pro-Vajpayee lobby within the party convinced him that breaking away could have a crippling effect on the party. This lobby cited the example of the 1998 general election when the party contested alone and got only 12 seats in the Lok Sabha. But a year later, when it contested in alliance with the BJP, the TDP won 29 seats. Moral of the story: Hindu votes in Andhra Pradesh cannot be antagonised for the sake of those of the minorities.
Significantly, the TDP chief on Tuesday blamed parliamentary party leader Kinjarapu Yerran Naidu and general secretary Lal Jan Basha for giving him "an erroneous picture" which led to his virtual ultimatum to the BJP on Gujarat.
Observers believe Naidu's attempt at apportioning blame is an indication that he is trying to wriggle out of an embarrassing situation. But the drama is far from over. Yerran Naidu is in touch with the Janata Dal, United, the Samata Party and the Trinamool Congress in a bid to exert pressure on Chandrababu Naidu.
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