Nara Lokesh, the 34-year-old son of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is set to enter the state Cabinet on April 2. On March 8, MLAs of the ruling Telugu Desam Party unanimously elected Lokesh as a Member of the Legislative Council, paving the way for his induction into the Cabinet. The formal election to the Legislative Council followed on March 20.
Naidu currently holds six portfolios. He is expected to give Stanford-educated Lokesh one them, possibly the Information Technology and Infrastructure portfolio.
“Now is the correct time for Lokesh to step into government when the development of the capital and other massive infrastructure projects are taking shape,” Naidu is said to have told the Telugu Desam Party politburo meeting on February 26. The politburo wholeheartedly endorsed Lokesh’s candidacy as Member of the Legislative Council.
Lokesh was sworn in as member of the Council on Thursday. For his swearing-in as Cabinet minister, instead of a routine ceremony at Raj Bhavan, Hyderabad, Naidu has ordered that the brand new Secretariat grounds at Amaravati, the new state capital, be readied.
When Lokesh, a businessman, joins the 20-member Cabinet, it will be the first time in the history of Andhra Pradesh that a father-son duo will be part of the state cabinet.
A hasty induction
Lokesh’s hasty election and imminent induction into the Cabinet is said to be the fallout of a March 6 Supreme Court notice to Naidu in the cash-for-votes case pursued by the Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The investigating agency had filed a case against Naidu and legislator A Revanth Reddy for attempting to bribe Telangana Rashtra Samiti MLAs and independents to vote for their party candidate in the May 2015 polls to the Telangana Legislative Council.
Earlier this year, Naidu obtained a stay from the Andhra Pradesh Hight Court on a trial court directive asking him to appear before it in connection with the case. However, the Supreme Court, hearing a Public Interest Litigation by Ramakrishna Reddy, a legislator from the rival YSR Congress party, issued a notice to Naidu in which it set aside the High Court stay.
Perhaps anticipating the outcome in the Supreme Court, Naidu ensured that the party politburo approved of Lokesh’s candidature for the MLC election days before the order.
The proposal to induct Lokesh into the Cabinet has been in the air for the past two months, but it was earlier thought that he would contest an Assembly seat.
“Even TDP veterans were taken by surprise by Naidu’s decision to field Lokesh in MLC [Member of the Legislative Council] polls,” said Umareddy Venkateswarlu, a senior YSR Congress leader and one-time associate of Naidu’s in his previous stint with the Telugu Desam Party.
Lokesh had caused a furore, when he declared assets worth Rs 330 crores in his nomination affidavit – filed on March 6 – which was 23 times more than the value of assets disclosed by him in October, when Naidu’s family went public with details of their assets in order to enable the chief minister to project a “Mr Clean” image.
When he filed his nomination papers, reporters asked Lokesh why he chose the Council route and not the Assembly route, which is normally the channel used to ascend to power in politics. “Firstly I have to wait for two years or I have to cut the throat of a sitting MLA by asking him to vacate,” joked Lokesh.
But political analysts say that Naidu was perhaps apprehensive of Lokesh’s ability to win a direct election – be it an Assembly election, or a local body one. “He may be a shrewd manager but Lokesh is still wet behind the ears and a novice when it comes to attracting voters from all sections,” said a senior journalist based in Vijayawada who did not want to be identified.
One political analyst suggested that Lokesh’s induction will permit him to familiarise himself with the workings of the state government. “The induction now will also be academic and educational for Lokesh in time for further elevation after 2019, when Naidu could look for greater roles in national polity with the BJP combine,” said the analyst.
Political analyst Nagaraj Gale said that Lokesh’s elevation was a sign of Naidu wanting to consolidate his strength and gear up for the next phase of administrative and economic reforms in the state. “Naidu needs to expand and include a strong Mala [Scheduled Caste] MLA into the Cabinet if he wants to break the backbone and votebank of the YSR Congress,” said Gale.
Rumblings of dissent
While several Telugu Desam Party leaders now sing Lokesh’s praises, there is unhappiness among some party workers who feel they have been toiling for decades without recognition. Many of them feel that Naidu has kept loyal party workers away from important positions and has only elevated workers and leaders who are useful to his plan to perpetuate family rule. They cite Kambhampati Rammohan Rao, CS Ramesh and P Narayana as examples of leaders who are found to be hanging around Naidu, but whose contributions to the party are negligible.
A senior Telugu Desam Party leader said that Lokesh’s elevation at this time indicated that Naidu was not confident of the outcome of the 2019 Assembly elections. He said that Naidu was perhaps concerned that Lokesh may not be a match for Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress.
“Perhaps Naidu could not trust even his present loyalists and needed to install his heir apparent immediately,” said a senior Cabinet minister, who has fallen out of grace with Naidu.
Lokesh’s induction into the Cabinet, however, would have gladdened the heart of Nandamuri Balakrishna, his father-in-law and Telugu Desam Party MLA from Hindupur. Balakrishna is the sixth son of Telugu Desam Party founder NT Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR. Naidu is NTR’s son-in-law.
Balakrishna’s proposed elevation as Telugu Desam Party chief in 1985 had led to Naidu rebelling. At that time, a furious Naidu said that the party was in danger of going the Congress way, referring to dynastic politics. In 1995, when Naidu seized control of the party from NTR, he foiled Balakrishna’s chances of becoming NTR’s political heir. But Balakrishna also owes Naidu a debt of gratitude for saving him from jail and criminal proceedings after he was engaged in a shoot-out at his Hyderabad home with a Telugu film producer, Bellamkonda Suresh, in 2004. Balakrishna spent almost a month in a private hospital to escape being sent to jail. A sessions court acquitted him the following year.
Lokesh’s elevation has also sealed the political future of another grandson of NTR – actor NTR Junior – son of Harikrishna, NTR’s third son. Though Naidu used NTR Junior in election campaigns in 2004 and 2009, he has kept the father-son duo out of the party since 2010.
Except Lokesh, four other veteran party leaders sent to the Legislative Council in March were all aged over 50 years.
In the past, the Legislative Council was seen as a place where the party in power lodged aged politicians to keep them away from playing power games within the party. In fact, in 1985, NTR had disbanded the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council, saying that it was unnecessary, unrepresentative of the population, a burden on the state exchequer, and delayed the passage of legislation.
In 2007, the Congress’ YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who was chief minister between 2004 and 2009, revived the Council. At that time, Naidu opposed the plan. During a debate in 2004 on a proposal to revive it, Naidu, then Leader of the Opposition, said that the Council was nothing but a “rehabilitation centre for politically unemployed people”. He also boycotted the Council’s inauguration on April 8, 2007.
Recalling Naidu’s words from 10 years ago recently, Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president N Raghuveera Reddy joked: “Well now we know why Naidu is inducting his son Lokesh into the Council.”
Observers say Naidu began preparing the ground for his son to succeed him since 1995, when he staged the coup against NTR. That is when he also sidelined NTR’s son Harikrishna as well as Junior NTR, Harikrishna’s son to ensure there were no rival claimants to the top job in the party. Following the Telugu Desam Party’s defeat in the 2009 Assembly polls, when Harikrishna tried to protest against the elevation of Lokesh within the party, he was virtually deserted in party forums.
Commenting on how Naidu has been nursing the chief minister’s seat for his son, Tigala Krishna Reddy, a veteran Telugu Desam Party leader who is now with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, said: “From the beginning Chandrababu Naidu had been conspiring to grab power and also promote himself and now his son. That is why we all came out as Naidu had put his son in charge of election campaign in Telangana in 2014.”
Naidu has also gotten rid of, or distanced, all senior leaders in the party so that they did not stake a claim for the top job. Except for Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu and KE Krishnamurthy, everyone else in the Cabinet, including two BJP MLAs, are new faces.
“Naidu’s distrust and suspicion of fellow MLAs and party leaders is legendary,” said K Srinivas Rao, a popular political columnist.