NaMo is in Nano form in rural Andhra Pradesh, literally cut to size as compared to his larger-than-life images in north India. He stands no larger than Chandrababu Naidu, Balakrishna (actor and N T Rama Rao’s son) and Pawan Kalyan (Chiranjeevi’s brother actor and founder of Jana Sena) on their posters together. In a state that loves abbreviations, NaMo has made way for MoNaBaPa.
Naidu has accompanied Narendra Modi in city rallies but in Srungavruksham village near the coast, he reserves the first Modi reference to the 23rd minute in a 25-minute address. It doesn’t get any response, nor when Naidu tries again a minute later. It’s when he refers to wild card Pawan Kalyan that wild cheers fill the air.
Thirty years after the TDP dramatically emerged the main national opposition to Rajiv Gandhi, and after 10 years out of power — with the BJP and away from it, and then with a tryst with the third front — Naidu is not taking any chances. After his hesitant days as backroom organiser 20 years ago when he snatched the reins of the party from NTR, his father-in-law, Naidu is today the biggest campaigner for his party and he gives it all he has, responding to comments, cheers and even barracking from the 500-odd-strong audience that has gathered in village Srungavruksham near Tuni, and has waited in the heat for almost two hours to hear ‘Babu’.
With Y S R Reddy dead and the Congress seemingly out of the fray, it should have been a cakewalk, but a very complex and crowded opposition space has made this a very difficult election for Naidu. Cyberbabu is throwing promises of agricultural loan waivers, licences coming home, an SMS safety service for women as well as high-tech infrastructure, and BC (backward community) status for the Kapus, an agricultural community dominant in these parts.
His campaign is pungent and aggressive. The desperation to claim the opposition space is reflected in his urging the people to stay angry and use their kopa (anger) skilfully. He goes as far as to call the challenger in this election, Jagan Reddy, “psycho”. It’s not a stray description but one he uses several times, as he says a vote to “psycho” Jagan would be a vote for the Congress. He berates the Congress but appears to take the “anger” against the Congress for granted and trains his guns on Jagan’s party. He terms YSRCP supporters thieves and warns the audience of loyalists that there may be some YSRCP “pickpockets” amongst them.
Naidu has swallowed a lot of pride to try and present the competent and stable coalition that Seemandhra needs. He has even patched up with Balakrishna, his brother-in-law, and tried to enforce a seamless connect with Pawan Kalyan, the crowd-puller.
P V Rangayya Naidu, 81, a former IPS officer, veteran Congressman and former union minister, sums up the rival party: “Chandrababu Naidu has taken a blood transfusion from the Congress, by admitting even 30-year veterans and giving them tickets. He has used the BJP as a crutch, hoping for some votes on a claim of having a line with who he thinks will win in Delhi. Let’s see what happens.”