IT is easy to read too much into the victory of the Telugu Desam Party led by N. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh. After all, Chandarababu Naidu can claim to be one of the few undisputed winners of the 1999 elections. As compared to the 1998 elections, his party has increased its vote share and seats tally; to that extent, his visibility and political clout have increased. The TDP under him may not have swept the Assembly elections as it did under N.T. Rama Rao in 1994, but Chandrababu Naidu is one of the few Chief Ministers in recent years to have withstood and triumphed over the tide of anti-incumbency that the media have made much of. The TDP's tally of 29 Lok Sabha seats made it not only the biggest of the BJP's allies, but also the fourth largest party in the Lok Sabha.
Yet the TDP's victory is rather less dramatic when seen in terms of vote share. The vote share of the TDP-BJP combine was only seven percentage points more than the Congress(I)'s vote share in the entire State. The Congress(I)'s vote share in fact went up by over four percentage points as compared to the 1998 parliamentary elections, in which it fared rather well. However, the State witnessed straight contests this time and the spread of votes was relatively even for both the parties; in such a situation, even a small margin translated into an overwhelming victory for the TDP-BJP combine in terms of seats.
This is what made the alliance with the BJP a key factor in the TDP's success. The BJP's vote share of 9 per cent this year perhaps understates its role, for it was forced by Chandrababu Naidu, a hard bargainer, to settle for a meagre share of seats. In the 1991 parliamentary elections, the BJP made a big entry in Andhra Pradesh by securing nearly 10 per cent of the popular vote. Its fortunes declined marginally in 1996. It performed well in 1998: it won four parliamentary seats and secured 18 per cent of the popular vote. The TDP's alliance with the BJP enabled it to more than make up for the losses from the severing of its ties with the Left parties; it also gave the TDP an edge over the Congress(I). The TDP-BJP combine's vote share (nearly 50 per cent) matches the combined vote share of the TDP and the BJP in 1998. If the BJP had not contested as an ally of the TDP and had fared even half as well as it did in 1998, the TDP might well have faced defeat.
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