Why did you wait for four years to snap ties with the BJP?
The only reason why I tied up with the BJP was that Andhra Pradesh wasn’t done justice during the bifurcation. The people have punished the Congress for that. They hoped the BJP would do justice. If I had reacted in a hurry, people wouldn’t have accepted it. My nature is to compromise and get things done for the state. It’s not that I have kept quiet during the four years. I have come here 29 times — I met the Prime Minister, all other ministers and the Finance Minister. Every time, they cited elections — be it in Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat. They would explain this over a (cup of) coffee. At the same time, I did not want to deviate my energy and resources from the state’s issues also — it was a new state and it had its own issues. I worked hard and made a double-digit growth for the state possible. But even in the last Budget, the central government repeated the injustice. They said the 14th Finance Commission had done away with the special status, but the chairman and member of the committee denied it, saying their duty was the devolution of finance resources between the states and the Centre. Then they promised the Centre would give equal amount of funds. They talked about externally-aided projects (EAP) but no memo was issued. Then they said it will be given through banks and asked me to form SPVs. I asked for special status and they are offering me special purpose vehicle… I am a chief minister for nine years of combined Andhra Pradesh and I was responsible for the formation of NDA-I, United Front. You kept me waiting and gave similar benefits to 11 states. You wanted to make me a fool. What was your intention and hidden agenda?
You said you were responsible for the formation of NDA-I and United Front. How do you compare NDA-I and NDA-II in terms of addressing your demands?
Not only in the state’s interest, but for the nation’s interest… The open sky policy, greenfield airport, golden quadrilateral project, de-regulation of telecom sector — I was the co-chairperson of the task force — were all my ideas or I was a part of the policy formation. In the process, the state also benefited. NDA-I was a coalition government. NDA-II is a coalition, but the largest party has majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. During NDA-I, we gave so many ideas. This time, my suggestions were sought on only one or two issues — digital currency and Swachh Bharat. Whenever I have been asked to provide assistance or suggestion, I have given.
The issue here is non-fulfillment of commitment. We have no role to play these days. There were one or two NDA meetings, and I came for them. See, I supported digital currency and demonetisation. But with the new issues like PNB scam, currency is not available in the state. People are losing faith in the banking system due to security issues. The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill is still pending. The government should take responsibility for everything. It cannot allow any frauds to take place. Generally, there is a difference because the state is bifurcated. People have faith in me because of my track record. People expect the Centre to support them because they are wounded soldiers. The feeling of hurt is there. You cannot give them more trouble. The implementation of the bifurcation Act and its promises are the Centre’s responsibility.
The Congress was rejected by the people of Andhra Pradesh, and you said the people have the same feeling towards the BJP. Is a government without these parties better for the country?
I do not want to talk about politics now. I am here to talk about the state. The Centre has failed to keep its promises. I am cautioning all the parties that you did bifurcation without proper scientific study. Is it not the responsibility of Parliament to see that the promises made on the floor of the House are kept ? You will have to answer. Otherwise, the sentiments of the people are going to be hurt. Earlier, we saw Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Assam etc have suffered. You want the same to happen to Andhra Pradesh? Why are you playing with their sentiments? Injustice has been done to them and their sentiments are hurt. This nation, through Parliament and through all political parties and media, will have to address the demands.
One argument is that Chandrababu Naidu is in Delhi and making this an issue because there is another party in his state forcing him to do so.
It’s a vicious propaganda. The same Opposition party (YSRCP) was there in 2014. Today, there are 11 chargesheets against that party leader. The CBI has fraud cases against them, and they go to court for hearing every Friday. The same people come to the PMO. What’s the message you are sending? You are creating a propaganda jointly with that party. You are in collusion with that party. They are in trouble, so you can control them. You cannot control me. Leaders have to respect each other. We are regional leaders and you are national leaders, but we should respect each other. You cannot tarnish my image. The PMO is shielding them. Why are you shielding criminals? What’s the message you are sending? How can you compare me, with my 40 years of experience, with that criminal?
But the BJP president said it was with their help that the TDP won elections.
There was a local body election — the results came later. We got more seats. I should not have formed an alliance (with the BJP). I did so for the interests of my people, hoping (the BJP) would help us.
What kind of a government do you envisage in 2019?
I don’t want to talk about it now.
Do you think the Centre is using its machinery for political advantage?
My track record is clear. They could find nothing against me.
How do you compare the Congress and BJP? How do you rate each of them?
People have seen one deceived them at that time, and the other promised to help, but has deceived them now. People remember what happened now. I do not want to rate them.
Do you think the Congress has learnt its lesson?
That’s why they are saying they will give special status if they come to power at the Centre. The future will tell you if they have learnt.
Do you think joining hands with the BJP has damaged your prospects?
When I did so, people believed that I did it to get some help from the central government. I have done extremely well in terms of governance and welfare of the people. But people are asking why the Centre has not kept its promises. Our per capita income is the lowest because of the central government.
All the chief ministers and regional leaders have grievances against the Centre. The Centre’s attitude has been an issue for Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik. Do you see this taking the shape of a government in 2019?
This present government does not like regional leaders. They have not been able to digest the federal leaders or regional leaders. They (BJP) want to have their own party everywhere. The regional leaders have their own party, and sometimes regional leaders are addressing the aspirations of the people in their regions. The central leadership is not liking this. The TDP has championed cooperative federalism. We were responsible for bringing the Sarkaria Commission. Now they talk about cooperative federalism. But in practical, it is not happening. Today, I cannot say how politics will take shape.
Is Andhra Pradesh going to attend the meeting called by Kerala Finance Minister T M Isaac over the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission?
Yes, the Finance Minister will attend the meeting.
You worked with leaders like Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who did not aspire to become the Prime Minister but wanted to bring in a coalition against the BJP. Do you see anyone like that in the present scenario, to bring together parties to form a coalition?
Well, even in Surjeet’s time, when we brought together parties, they forced me to consider becoming the Prime Minister twice. I suggested to the Left parties to consider Jyoti Basu as he had managed a coalition. Then they said they had a resolution against it.
Which the Left parties regretted later. Do you regret that decision not to accept the PM’s post?
No, I am not aspiring to be (PM). Everyone has to work together to bring in such a coalition. As of today, my concern is to get justice for my state.