'Junior Babu' or 'Andhra Pappu': Nara Lokesh faces his political acid test

By Mohammed Shafeeq

Hyderabad, May 28 (IANS): With the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh less than a year away, Nara Lokesh, son of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N. Chandrababu Naidu, is currently on a 'padyatra to prove himself as a leader of calibre.

The 40-year-old TDP general secretary, whom Naidu is trying to groom as his political successor, faces an uphill task in proving his leadership qualities.

With age no longer on his side, Naidu has already declared that 2024 elections could be the last poll battle of his career.

Naidu, who has been heading TDP since 1995 after leading a revolt against his father-in-law and party founder NTR, will be 74 when he enters the fray next year.

While Naidu could own NTR's political legacy mainly due to his sudden demise a few months after losing power in the coup and proved his worth by setting a record longest serving chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh and also by becoming first chief minister of residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, Lokesh is yet to prove his leadership qualities.

Though it has been more than a decade since Naidu entered politics, he is yet to establish himself as a leader.

Though considered as number two in the TDP, many party leaders say in private that Lokesh has no identity of his own except being son of Chandrababu Naidu.

The defeat suffered by Lokesh in his electoral debut in 2019 Assembly elections dealt a blow to Naidu's efforts to groom him as his political successor.

After scouting for a safe constituency for his son, Naidu had zeroed in on Mangalagiri, located in state capital region of Amaravati. He, however, was defeated by A. Ramakrishna Reddy of the YSR Congress Party by a margin of 5,200 votes.

This was Lokesh's first test to go beyond his limited role to prove himself as a leader with a mass base.

Making a beginning as 'backroom boy' in 2009, Lokesh had a 'backdoor' entry into his father's cabinet in 2017 as he was inducted as a member of Legislative Council. He was given the portfolios of Panchayat Raj, Rural Development and Information Technology.

It was during the 2009 elections that Lokesh, Stanford management graduate, started becoming active in the TDP, working as backroom strategist. He was then working as the managing director of Heritage Foods, a leading family-owned dairy firm.

However, it was only 2013 that Lokesh formally became active in the party. After being appointed as TDP general secretary in 2015, Lokesh came to be seen as the number two.

Also a member of politburo, the party's highest decision-making body, he has been closely involved in party activities, especially the welfare of party workers.

With a firm grip on the party, Naidu never faced any opposition to his attempts to groom his son as his successor. The only dissenting voice was his brother-in-law, N. Harikrishna, who died in a road accident in 2018.

Harikrishna was keen to see his son and superstar NTR Jr take over the mantle of the party founded by his late father NTR.

Lokesh is married to N. Brahmani, daughter of his maternal uncle N. Balakrishna, a leading actor and a TDP legislator.

Brahmani is currently the executive director of Heritage Foods, which is run by her mother-in-law, N. Bhuvaneswari.

For TDP supporters, Lokesh is their 'Chinna Babu' (junior Babu) but for his opponents, he is 'Andhra pappu' who has often been the butt of jokes in the social media. The critics often ridiculed him for his fumbles during public speeches in Telugu.

"Lokesh is too raw and has a long way to go before he can carry the family legacy forward. With changing times people have high expectations from their political leaders. While NTR started in the era of great reverence towards him, Lokesh has to do his politics in the times when social media can break the image of an individual (especially politicians) on a daily basis," said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

"Lokesh to date has not proven his mettle in any form, and even as minister in the earlier government run by his father, Lokesh did not have much to showcase. Unfortunately for the young man, Lokesh is also living in the times when comparisons are made with his peers, like KTR (Telangana minister). Lokesh is trying hard to win over his voters, but he has a long way before he can achieve the stature his father or late grandfather reached," he said.

Realising that the time is running out for him, Lokesh tried to go for an image makeover. The burly-looking leader shed some weight, grew a beard and changed his body language.

On January 27, 2023, Lokesh had embarked on the 4,000 km-long state-wide padyatra from Kuppam constituency represented by his father Chandrababu Naidu.

It was announced that the walkathon will cover 120 Assembly constituencies over 400 days across the state. Lokesh has so far covered over 1,200 km.

TDP claims that his meetings are drawing good crowds. The padyatra titled 'Yuva Galam' (voice of youth) is scheduled to conclude just before 2024 elections.

Political observers say it will be an acid test for Lokesh to emerge as a leader of caliber and live up to expectations of his father.

The coming elections will not only be the last one for Naidu but if Lokesh fails to make a mark, it will also be the end of the road for his political career.



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