Why a rebranded Chandrababu Naidu is taking a pro-temple position in Andhra Pradesh

Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu

N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party is playing by BJP’s play book to stop a potential saffron surge in Andhra Pradesh. Naidu, who once championed an anti-BJP alliance at the Centre citing its alleged ‘Hindu-centric’ politics which he saw as threat to secularism and democracy, is walking down that same path to save his own turf in the southern state now ruled by Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP. Naidu has been targeting Jagan for the recent attacks on temples and even termed him as a ‘betrayer of Hindus’.

The temple controversy began after the 400-year-old Ramatirtham temple of Lord Rama was found desecrated on December 28. Following the incident, Naidu along with senior party leaders marched to the temple and attacked Jagan saying that about 127 incidents of attacks on temples had taken place in Andhra in just 1.5 years of YSRCP rule but not one culprit was booked. He also said that Jagan may be a Christian but thinking that he could use power for converting Hindus was wrong. Naidu further said that if people in power resort to religious conversions then it amounts to betrayal.

Invoking Ram temple of Ayodhya to target Jagan, Naidu said the slogan Jai Shri Ram was resounding in Ayodhya and the Ramatheertham temple of Lord Ram had always been held in high regard in Andhra. “But now some miscreants have beheaded the idol of Ram in the same temple and the state is not making any efforts to catch the culprits,” the former chief minister said.

For some, Naidu is making this tactical shift in his politics for two reasons. His own party’s strength has come down in the state after humiliating loss in assembly as well as parliamentary elections and the BJP’s is rising in neighbouring Telangana. In 2019, the TDP won 3 of 25 Lok Sabha seats, down by 12 from what it had got in 2014.

In the assembly election, Naidu could win just 23 of 175 seats, 79 less than what it secured in 2014. Jagan Mohan swept the election by winning 151 seats, wresting the chief ministership from Naidu. Naidu was earlier with the BJP in the Centre but ditched the NDA right ahead of the Lok Sabha election over special status to Andhra. He then joined Congress-led UPA to build an anti-Modi front to dethrone BJP from the Centre. He, however, could not save his own bastion and lost badly in state and parliamentary elections.

Now that the BJP is growing in Telangana, Naidu is taking a pro-Hindu stance to prevent further erosion of his vote base in Andhra. The BJP has expanded its footprint in Telangana with an impressive performance in the recently held municipal election in Hyderabad. Replacing Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM as the second largest party in the historical city, the BJP emerged as the main challenger to K Chandrashekahar Rao. Naidu now fears the same fate in Andhra as the saffron party has started a massive membership drive in the state following the desecration of temples in Andhra. Naidu fears that the BJP might eat into its vote base if TDP doesn’t speak for Hindus on temple desecration.

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