The Telugu Desam Party’s attacks on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recent weeks have produced an unexpected response from the latter, and one that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu may find hard to counter in the months leading up to the next elections.
BJP leaders pulled off a coup of sorts against the TDP, their alliance partner in the State and the Centre, by adopting a ‘Rayalaseema resolution’ aimed at embarrassing the party’s chief, Naidu, in Kurnool last week (February 23). The thrust of their demand was to designate and develop a city from the backward region of Rayalaseema as Andhra’s second Capital and build a permanent Legislative Assembly in the region.
The entire exercise was meant to diminish Naidu’s dream proposal of building up Amaravati, the new Capital of the State, as a world class city. With Amaravati still being confined to the design stage, despite a massive diversion to funds for the project, these leaders were well aware that this could turn out to be an election-defining issue for Naidu.
The Saffron party’s resolution found backing across Rayalaseema, although the BJP isn’t a force to reckon with in the four districts of Kadapa, Kurnool, Anantapur and Chittoor that make up the region.
Another proposal in resolution – locating the Andhra Pradesh High Court in the region – was also meant to directly target Naidu, who hopes to raise an iconic High Court structure in Amaravati. As recently as Saturday (Feb 24), the Andhra Pradesh government released a set of designs for the proposed judicial complex for public feedback.
The BJP resolution was bound to embolden Rayalaseema activists in their agitations during what many see as an election year. It led to the renewal of pro-Rayalaseema demands, including the setting up of a steel plant at Kadapa, locating the High Court there, setting up a separate railway zone headquartered at Guntakal among other things.
It has led many to wonder what was the reason for the BJP’s provocation aimed at the TDP chief.
Although he hails from Rayalaseema, Naidu has found the region politically unsuitable to him personally and for his plans to project his son Nara Lokesh as the future chief minister. The area is a bastion of the Reddy community, a rival caste grouping to his own Kamma caste. Moreover, a powerful young Reddy political leader, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, has emerged as a challenger to the TDP from the region.
Not surprisingly, Naidu was firm he wanted the Andhra Pradesh capital to be located in the safe Kamma-dominated lands in the Krishna and Guntur districts.
This region, popularly called ‘Andhra’ is viewed by people in Rayalaseema to be culturally, politically and economically different from their own. In fact, it is popularly held that the people of the Rayalaseema region prefer being associated with Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad over Vijayawada or Guntur.
Naidu’s insistence on building a capital in Andhra as opposed to Rayalaseema flew in the face of advice from many intellectuals, environmentalist, policymakers and the Sivaramakrishnan Committee, appointed by the Centre, all of whom favoured the backward region of Rayalaseema (or a location near it) for the new Capital. Many cautioned Naidu not to make the new Capital another Hyderabad by concentrating everything in one place and advised decentralization by locating State institutions across regions.
Naidu, however, chose to construct the Andhra Pradesh Capital on some of India’s most fertile lands on the banks of the river Krishna. His plan was to ensure that important industries and institutions were set up in and around the new Capital to make it a city State comparable to Singapore.
Political observers believe that Naidu used his connections within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to get the Centre’s nod for many whimsical ideas in connection with the development of the new state. The BJP played its own part in encouraging Naidu’s plans to build a ‘navyandhra’ (new Andhra), hoping to gain a foothold in the state. For example, it didn’t stop Naidu’s plans to establish the Capital on fertile lands, it allowed the diversion of Central funds meant for the development of the Capital to short-term projects such as the Pattiseema irrigation project, the building of the massive temporary secretariat complex near Amaravati, the Godavari Pushkaralu which was organised at the cost of crores, Naidu’s trips around globe to study new Capital cities on all continents among other instances.
Many are now alleging that Naidu’s plans for building a “world class” city and transforming Andhra into Singapore have remained nothing more than tall claims. The BJP appears to have sensed that Naidu badly needs some cogent explanation for his poor show on the eve of the 2019 elections. He doesn’t want 2019 elections to be a referendum on his all-round failure.
Naidu, for his part, sought to divert issues by getting the TDP to protest in Parliament about the ‘poor allocations’ given to Andhra Pradesh in Budget 2018. His party subsequently brought up the ‘unjust division’ of the state in 2014 and many related issues as a means of laying the blame for the non-completion of Amaravati and ‘navyandhra’ plans at the Centre’s doorstep. The BJP, which saw through this strategy, outwitted Naidu by raising Rayalaseema, a political hot spot in AP.
A senior BJP leader who attended the Kurnool meeting told SouthWord. that Naidu should immediately make a clear statement on the demand for a second capital in the region. “If the government continues to neglect us we will have no option but to demand a separate Rayalaseema state,” he said on condition of anonymity. From the ‘Andhra’ side, BJP MLC Somuveerraju, a staunch Naidu critic, demanded an account of the central assistance of Rs 16,000 spent by the state government.
The concerted effort by BJP leaders is being seen as a ploy to force Naidu to provide answers in the face of allegations of a wasteful and extravagant style of governance.