Elections are a year away and if advanced, just eight months away. Either way, it is a long time in politics but Andhra Pradesh is already in poll mode with the main players, the ruling TDP, main Opposition YSR Congress, and the untested Jana Sena of actor Pawan Kalyan hitting the streets with increasingly acerbic rhetoric.

Marginal players —the beleaguered BJP, Left and the Congress —too are out in full force.

Barring the BJP, which has been made the villain of the piece, the main agenda of the rest being special category status for the State, the cut and thrust of the political debate is on their sincerity of purpose. In this respect, by not only severing ties with the BJP but also declaring a war on it for reneging on its 2014 poll promises including special category status, TDP supremo and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has deftly negotiated a U-turn from the spirit of bonhomie that once marked their ties to the battlefield.

But competing with the Opposition, whether by launching hunger strikes, holding meetings or taking out cycle yatras against the Centre, and sustaining the momentum gained following his exit from the NDA until the elections, isn’t Naidu’s only challenge.

He has a State to govern and offset anti-incumbency. Which means, he cannot afford to be seen as making the same mistake as the BJP. In short, he must keep his poll promises, the most important of them being crop loan waiver and unemployment dole. Two more installments, amounting to a little over `8,000 crore, must be pooled for loan waiver and given the financial situation of the State, it cannot be done except by borrowing from banks. As for the unemployment dole, the government is yet to even formulate the scheme. As things stand now, think tanks believe a minimum of `1,000 to at least 10 lakh unemployed may have to be sanctioned every month.

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But time is of essence. Notwithstanding their public statements, even Naidu’s aides do not appear optimistic. Reason: bureaucracy. “The Chief Minister is surrounded by officials who know how to mislead him. Can you believe that one babu has recently submitted a report claiming that 98 per cent of the people are happy with the implementation of the Chandranna Bheema (health insurance scheme)!” one of his aides lamented.

A cursory glance at the CAG report reveals the extent of the problem in the delivery mechanism and financial management. Delays in projects resulted in cost escalation by `28,000 crore, and `21,967 crore sanctioned for various purposes lies unutilised while revenue expenditure shot up so much so that the government had to borrow `17,000 crore to meet the same. The report shows how the government is not spending funds in priority areas.

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No wonder, there is a spring in Jagan’s step. Having branded the TDP chief ‘U-turn uncle’, he wants to be seen as a man of his word. For instance, even now he refuses to promise crop loan waiver citing the poor finances of the State and has instead come up with his own scheme for rescuing the farmers and importantly, tenant farmers. Politically, by serving the no-confidence notice against the Modi government first and challenging Naidu to follow suit, Jagan believes he has forced the latter out of the NDA much earlier than the TDP chief wanted.

His Lok Sabha MPs have already quit and logically, he is likely to direct his MLAs also to resign en masse to dent TDP’s credibility. This time, over the issue of the Speaker’s inaction on his party’s petitions to disqualify 22 legislators who had defected to the TDP.

With his vote-share intact, he is confident but complacency can cost him dear. A Dalit mobilisation is on the cards with the explicit demand to have a Dalit CM for the State. Though nascent at this stage, the mobilisation by the Left and the various Dalit organisations could throw a spanner in his works. This may pose more problems for him than Pawan Kalyan. The volatile actor from the Kapu community has negotiated his own U-turn from being a TDP ally to be its enemy no-1. Widely expected to eat into the TDP’s Kapu votes, he now seems Jagan’s buddy in battle though the duo are poles apart.

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The actor, brother of megastar Chiranjeevi, is currently on a warpath against a few media houses accusing them of hatching a conspiracy in collusion with the TDP to malign him. The immediate trigger was a cuss word used against him by an aspiring actress—who has launched a stir against casting couch in Tollywood—for his advice that she had better approach the police or courts for justice and the subsequent TV debates. Though she has since apologised, as did director Ram Gopal Varma, her mentor, Pawan is obsessed with his conspiracy theory.

With Purandeswari, daughter of the late NTR, most likely to be anointed the State BJP chief soon, it is only going to get more hot for Naidu and the action could well begin soon after Karnataka elections. Naidu himself fears so. A desperate dice would be an alliance with Congress. A U-turn rather hard to negotiate. #KhabarLive