The BJP has publicly called upon the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to merge with it. BJP leader G V L Narasimha Rao, who belongs to Andhra Pradesh, has twice asked the TDP whether it was ready to merge with the BJP, and offered to initiate talks if the TDP was willing.
Why has a party that won less than 1% of the vote in the Assembly elections of April 2019 asked the party that won just under 40%, and was ruling the state until then, to merge with it? It has got to do with the current state of politics in southern India, and the BJP's plan for its further expansion.
The situation in Andhra Pradesh
The BJP, which has failed to grow as a formidable force in the southern states except in Karnataka, sees an opportunity for itself as the TDP faces disintegration. It has been consistently trying to weaken the TDP, which was once part of the BJP-led NDA, but with which it had a bitter separation just ahead of this summer's Lok Sabha elections.
In the Assembly elections, the TDP, which was in power with 117 seats from 2014, came down to 23 seats in the 175-member state House. Its Lok Sabha tally fell from 16 to just three. The regional party and its once-influential leader N Chandrababu Naidu have been facing setback after setback after this poor performance in the electoral arena. The BJP recently roped into its fold three of the TDP's Rajya Sabha MPs, and the party's strength in the Upper House has now fallen to just two.
Also, the state government of Y S Jaganmohan Reddy is pursuing a number of cases against Naidu and several other leaders of his party. The TDP insists that these cases are false and motivated. Indeed, Naidu has been facing severe threats from multiple quarters after losing power.
The Congress, which dominated the politics of undivided Andhra Pradesh for decades, has also been reduced to a party with less than 2 per cent votes in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Interpreting Naidu's statement...
The BJP's apparently outrageous new posturing began after Naidu was quoted as saying in local papers that his party's decision to snap ties with the BJP-led NDA had backfired on it.
"We pulled out of the BJP-led government on the issue of special category status for Andhra, but the decision cost us dearly; not only did we lose economically because of subsequent non-cooperation from the Centre, but also politically as the TDP lost power and finished badly... We need to ensure that we do not make such mistakes in the future," Naidu was quoted as saying.
The BJP read this statement as signalling Naidu's willingness to return to the NDA fold -- and its leaders reacted by rejecting the perceived idea forcefully. "BJP doesn't need any tie-up with the TDP as the party lacks credibility and even ideology," Rao said. He said that if Naidu was ready to merge his TDP with the BJP, he (Rao) could talk to the leadership of his party.
The BJP has already made it clear that it would not accept another alliance with the TDP. Party national president Amit Shah has ruled out this possibility. The BJP's state leaders have conveyed to the central leadership that there should be no tie-up with the TDP.
...And trying to use it for itself
But BJP wants to cash in on the situation. It would help the party in presenting itself as a significant force that is coming up in Andhra Pradesh. By ruling out any possibility of an alliance in the state, in which the TDP would certainly have a larger say, the BJP wants to call the shots now. It does not want any alliance in which it is not the senior partner. This despite the fact that the BJP could not win a single seat in the 175-member Assembly while the TDP has 22 MLAs. In the Lok Sabha elections, its vote was just 0.96 per cent.
However, such a call from the BJP would certainly worsen the internal crisis and confusion in the TDP, whose leaders are facing fresh charges of corruption almost every day. The idea of a merger, floated by the BJP, has the potential to expedite the flow of leaders from the TDP to the BJP. "The storm has already set in," quipped a BJP leader.
The BJP's success story in Maharashtra, where it was a junior partner to the Shiv Sena till 2014, and in Haryana where it was a very small player until 2014 but won power with an impressive tally, has emboldened the party to attempt an ambitious pitch in Andhra Pradesh too, where it sees the main Opposition TDP crumbling.