The scion of the Telugu Desam Party, Nara Lokesh, opens up in an exclusive, free-wheeling chat with The Lede & makes honest admissions
On April 11, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which had expected to win for the second consecutive term in a row, got a rude shock.
Key rival YSR Congress, under Jaganmohan Reddy, swept to power with 151 out of 175 seats in the state.
The TDP won a mere 23 seats, despite just a 10% swing in vote share between the two parties.
Former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu won his Kuppam seat. But his son, Nara Lokesh lost his very first election in Mangalagiri to YSRC.
And then began, in Andhra, a series of drastic changes - reversals of decisions taken by the TDP government, stoppage of large projects, attacks on journalists and what seems more and more like the beginnings of an oppressive regime.
The Lede met with Nara Lokesh in Guntur, at the local TDP party office for a detailed discussion on what actually is going on in Andhra politics.
The first part of this mildly edited interview focuses on TDP versus YSRC.
Lokesh: I think that is the million dollar question that everyone is asking. We have seen various politicians and political parties and numerous chief ministers while we were in opposition but we have never come across a chief minister like this.
Lokesh: It’s a very peculiar thing you know. Typically everything has a boundary. When good work is done by the previous administration, it is never discarded. But in a ruthless way they (YSRC) cast aspersions on it and destroy it.
In 2004 Mr Naidu did a lot of work for Hyderabad. He brought in a lot of investments, airports and the rest is history. But then when Jaganmohan Reddy’s father YSR (YS Rajasekhara Reddy) came he never stopped it. He let the work continue.
Though a series of House Committees were placed on Mr Naidu, investigations were done, they could not prove anything, but he (YSR) did not stop the development.
Now fast forward. When Mr Naidu came to power, the welfare schemes implemented by Mr YSR were continued, including Arogyashree. We never discarded it.
Now if we go to Delhi, while Modi did not agree on UIDAI, but Nandan Nilekani convinced him that this is a great program. Once the Prime Minister got convinced, he continued it. MNREGA – though he was vocally against it before he became the Prime Minister, he not only continued it but gave more funds. You have to see the merit of the subject.
Now Amaravati is a case in point. 30-odd thousand farmers came forward to give 35,000 acres of land for land pooling. We got the Singaporeans in, we got the World Bank, we got the ADB, we said we have to bootstrap this, we have to think about it as an innovative model.
We thought we have to first develop it and earmark land for monetisation. And by the way this is something every state in the country does. Telangana has monetised land, Gujarat has monetised land under Modiji’s rule. So it is nothing new.
Now this man (Jagan) wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and in the first press meet as chief minister, he says Amaravati is a sensational scam. Can you believe it, a chief minister says it is a sensational scam. It has been five months since he has been sworn in and he is unable to prove what the scam is about.
He said 8800 acres of insider trading has happened in Amaravati – that was one of his main allegations - that "they" got to know, therefore "they" bought land in Amaravati, that is why the capital came here. Now they are not able to show that even one acre of land has been bought due to insider trading of any sort.
They have made allegations that I have purchased 500 acres of land in the state of Andhra Pradesh - not in Amaravati but in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I have never purchased land. I come from a business family, we happily sell milk for a living and we have no issue with income.
He has made false allegations and he has come to believe and live and breathe those allegations and he is now using that to destroy the fundamentals of Andhra Pradesh.
Now come to Polavaram. He said he will do reverse tendering, he said he will reduce the cost of Polavaram. Now when you have a heart attack you go to a cardiologist, not to an orthopaedician.
The reverse tendering has been given to a company that has no technical expertise in this project and is not even an empanelled company. The company is now stuck with IT raids and the entire project has been stopped. Look at the time wasted. When Jagan does the tendering, it is a single bidder and he accuses us of wrongdoing. That is the irony.
Amaravati is out, Polavaram is in doubt. Anna canteen is out, which is giving food to the poor.
Sand – it is in a completely disastrous position today in Andhra Pradesh. Close to 40 lakh people today are on the road because of this one man’s greed. He has ruined everyone’s lives. He accused us of stealing sand and he has not proved that allegation either. Sand is completely messed up.
What has happened in the state is – all the good policies of Mr Naidu which have delivered results for the state have now been scuttled under the guise of corruption allegations.
Andhra Pradesh’s growth rate has crashed from 10.2% in the last quarter to under 6% this quarter. Revenue receipts are down by 18%.
Lokesh: Andhra Pradesh has historically grown at double of India’s growth rate. If India is growing at 6%, Andhra Pradesh grew close to 11%.
So I think it is very convenient for him to say that India is part of a slowdown so we are also slowing down. Probably he (Jagan) is one of the causes for India’s growth slowdown because when TDP (Telugu Desam Party) was in power, Andhra used to contribute growth of 1% to certain sectors.
Like agriculture sector and agri allied sector in Andhra which grew at 16% contributed to the nation's indices. So what he has done is, he has messed around with a strong state.
That is why I call him the Tughlaq chief minister. He will wake up in the morning and say no, I don’t want the capital here. Then one minister will say, no no the capital will not be here. Then another minister will say, no no the capital will be in Rayalaseema. You are playing with the lives of people! So many lives are getting destroyed. Why is there so much confusion and inconsistency within your own ministry?
Lokesh: How can we cut him any slack? He is the chief minister. He may be inexperienced but at the end of the day he has to run the government. He should ask people and learn, rather than taking wild decisions. No chief minister takes wild decisions.
When you have a young CEO come in, into a company, he takes his time to make decisions. He learns, listens, understands. Overnight he doesn’t take a decision to fire half the team, change everyone.
Andhra had no power cuts in the past five years is now experiencing power cuts. And look at the mess he has made with PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements).
In the (legislative) council the Finance Minister says price of solar energy was Rs 17 per unit, it will come to 17 paise per unit. I stood up and said boss, it doesn’t happen that way. I come from the private sector, so I understand. Prices do crash but then they plateau out. There’s no infinite fall.
He said transformation will come in the sector and prices will go down. So I said great, transformation will come but when it will come, we don’t know. Has it come? No. So will the state not buy power until then? He said the state will not buy power. Now see what has happened – the entire sector is in the doldrums.
If this continues, I think Andhra Pradesh will bring down at least three nationalised banks – just because of PPAs. Because 70-odd thousand crores of rupees got lent. We will be the reason that three nationalised banks went belly up – a single man’s ego, unwillingness to understand, he is ruining the economy.
(In Part 2 of the interview, Nara Lokesh speaks candidly about why he and the TDP suffered a debilitating loss in the Assembly polls)