New Delhi: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s daylong fast for his demand of special status to the state turned into a rallying point for opposition unity. He ended his fast with water offered by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda.
This was the second time when Naidu’s fast turned into show of strength by the opposition, which is making efforts to stitch the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) to take on the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut also made a surprise appearance at Naidu’s ‘Dharma Porata Deeksha’ (day-long protest for justice) that began at 8 am. Raut said he came to attend the event as a representative of the Shiv Sena, amid strains with senior ally BJP.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and TMC leader Derek O’ Brien were among other opposition leaders who visited Andhra Bhavan to express their solidarity with Naidu, the supremo of Telugu Desam(TDP).
During the 12-hour protest, the leaders made brief speeches mounting a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a range of issues, notably the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Kejriwal went to the extent of accusing Modi of behaving like “PM of Pakistan” and not of India in the way he treats state governments led by opposition parties.
Naidu, who is playing a pivotal role in bringing the anti-BJP parties under one roof, has over the last three months, held a number of meetings with opposition party leaders on forming an anti-BJP front. The TDP pulled out of the NDA government in March last year over its refusal to grant special status to Andhra Pradesh.
Demanding that the Centre fulfil promises made during Andhra Pradesh’s bifurcation in 2014, the TDP president alleged that Modi was not following ‘raj dharma’ by denying the state special status.
“(Former PM) Atal Bihari Vajpayee said ‘raj dharma’ was not followed in Gujarat (during the 2002 post-Godhra riots). Now, ‘raj dharma’ is not being followed in the case of Andhra Pradesh. We have been denied what is rightfully ours,” Naidu said.
He alleged that the central government did grave injustice to Andhra and it would have “repercussions on national unity”.
“On behalf of five crore people, I’m warning this government… I came here to remind you of the promises made in the AP Reorganisation Act.”
After ending his daylong fast, Naidu, reacting to BJP chief Amit Shah’s open letter to people Andhra Pradesh, accused the saffron party of hitting him “below the belt” and said that Shah and PM Modi should maintain decorum.
“I condemn all this. He has written a letter to the people of Andhra Pradesh. They are hitting me below the belt. PM and Shah have to maintain the decorum,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Shah, in an open letter to people of Andhra Pradesh, had said that Naidu knows that his political fortunes are declining rapidly and so he was back to theatrics in his desperation for grabbing headlines.
He also accused Naidu of breaking their trust and said he is going too far by “personally” attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
With the opposition leaders coming in support of Naidu’s fast, the BJP claimed that its rivals joining hands will help it as all of them are “in a dock” over one charge or another.
BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told reporters that his party opponents are coming together against the “honest” Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their political survival.
“This sight will help us. They are all in a dock over some charges and fighting for their political survival. They have no agenda and no leader,” he said.
He said this is a sight of “maha-milawat” (high adulteration), a term used by Modi to describe the coming together of opposition leaders against him.
Those who met Naidu also included National Conference chairperson Farooq Abdullah, NCP’s Majeed Memon, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva and Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav. No Left leader was present at the protest venue.
“The prime minister has stolen from the people from Andhra Pradesh and he has given that money to Anil Ambani. That is the fact of the matter,” Rahul alleged in an apparent reference to the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal with France.
The government and Ambani have rejected Rahul’s allegations of corruption in the deal.
“Mr Narendra Modi, wherever he goes, he goes to Andhra Pradesh, he lies about special status. He goes to the North-East, he tells another lie over there. He goes to Maharashtra and he tells another lie over there. He has got absolutely no credibility left,” Rahul alleged.
In just a couple of months, opposition parties will show Modi exactly what the sentiment in the country is, he said.
Congress leaders Anand Sharma, Ahmed Patel and Jairam Ramesh were also at the venue to express their support.
Naidu paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat and at Ambedkar Statue at the Andhra Bhavan before he began the hunger strike.