In November 2017, a day before YS Jagan Mohan Reddy embarked on a 3000 km long padayatra to wrest power from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh (AP), the YSR Congress Party president invited a handful of journalists to his Hyderabad residence.
He spoke at length about the objectives of his marathon padayatra but was emphatic about one issue that he surprisingly requested to be treated as ‘off the record’ at that time.
The senior journalists present at the gathering were informed that Jagan had a ‘deconstruction plan’ in mind for Amaravati, AP’s ‘dream Capital’ that was also the pet project of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.
He planned on returning a bulk of the 33,000 acres of land in the Amaravati Capital Region back to farmers from whom the land had been acquired to build the city. While it may be worthwhile speculating about the reasons for his refusal to officially announce this plan then, Jagan’s proposal has the potential to shake up AP politics as the State gears up for the 2019 elections.
As the future Capital is safely perched in Kamma (Naidu’s caste) lands, some call it ‘Kammaravati’. Others call Amaravati as ‘Bhramaravati’ (illusory Amaravati) since, they allege, Naidu’s talk of a world class capital is only a cover up for hegemonic Kamma caste politics
The land to build Amaravati was collected through the controversial Land Pooling Scheme (LPS). Under the LPS, the farmers would give their land free of cost to the government in exchange for a small residential and commercial plot in the new Capital along with a fixed amount of annuity depending on type of land – upland or jareeb (river front). While Naidu made it a point to dub this as a ‘sacrifice’ by the poor farmers, this was hardly the view of others. Opposition parties, farmers’ organizations and environmentalist saw the scheme as a ‘green massacre’. The Pooling, carried out under coercion, was nicknamed ‘Land Fooling’ by them. Many farmers opposed to part with the land located on one bank of the Krishna river, known to be unique for its fertility. Farmers could reap three crops a year on that land. Certain villages which revolted against Naidu’s plan, did resist the LPS successfully. But not all were able to stave it off.
The issue has been simmering for a while. But with Janasena chief Pawan Kalyan describing Amaravati as ‘TDP’s Capital’ recently, the issue has once again become the talk of the town.
The idea of constructing Amaravati on fertile land went against the recommendation of Sivaramakrishnan Committee, set up by the Centre to recommend possible locations to construct AP’s new Capital. The committee recommended a backward region as the ideal location for the Capital. Naidu, who won the 2014 elections, instead, chose the Krishna river bank in Guntur district.
Opposition political parties, intellectuals, former bureaucrats, and environmentalists cried foul. They believed locating the new Capital on fertile land would affect the future food security of the State. Despite the objections, Naidu went ahead with the LPS. But, to his dismay, the Capital has not taken off though Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for its construction as far back as October 2015.
If Amaravati is confined to the administrative township of 2000 acres, about 30,000 acres are expected to go back to farmers. This would be hardly to the liking of Naidu given that he sees the Capital as a kind of TDP fortress, out of bounds to his political ‘enemies’, according to Opponents
YCP sources told SouthWord. that Jagan is all set to include the assurance to return land in the party’s manifesto for the 2019 elections. “Jagan has identified the following scam in land acquisition for Amaravati: First, TDP leaders and their benamis purchased land at nominal rates in the region days before the Capital location was announced. Second, the TDP government excluded land parcels belonging to party leaders from the Capital and included the land of farmers. Third, Naidu has been selling the land at huge rates to real estate developers. Though not opposed to Amaravati, Jagan wants to return the land collected in excess from the farmers,” a YCP functionary said.
He is expected to reassure farmers of the Amaravati Capital region that the first thing he will do once he assumes office after the 2019 elections is to return land to the respective owners.
Returning the land to the most of the 22,000 farmers would be tantamount to undoing the grand plan of building the ‘World Class Capital’ that Naidu has talked up through his years in power. It would effectively confine Amaravati to just to a core Capital of 2000 acres (8 sq km). Naidu’s capital city is planned on vast expanse of 217.23 sq km and a metropolitan region spreading over 7,420 sq km in Guntur and Krishna districts. This is far bigger than London, Moscow, Tokyo, and Singapore cities to name a few.
If Amaravati is confined to the administrative township of 2000 acres, about 30,000 acres are expected to go back to farmers. This would be hardly to the liking of Naidu given that he sees the Capital as a kind of TDP fortress, out of bounds to his political ‘enemies’ according to Opponents. Many rich political members of the TDP have reportedly bought lands in the proposed metropolitan area much before the government announced the location of the Capital city. This has been described as insider trading by TDP’s opponents. They claim that no political enemy of Naidu’s, however rich he might be, can set his foot in the Capital region as no land is available. At the same time, landowners of the Capital region have become wealthy overnight because of real estate prices shooting up.
This strategy has resulted in Amaravati becoming unpopular among the people of other regions and political affiliations. It has earned two monikers for the Capital. As the future Capital is safely perched in Kamma (Naidu’s caste) lands, some call it ‘Kammaravati’. Others call Amaravati as ‘Bhramaravati’ (illusory Amaravati) since, they allege, Naidu’s talk of a world class capital is only a cover up for hegemonic Kamma caste politics.
Kurnool was the capital of the Andhra State till 1956 when the breakaway Telugu region of Madras Presidency was merged with Nizam’s Telangana to form Andhra Pradesh. So, when Andhra Pradesh was de-merged in 2014 to carve out Telangana, the people of Rayalaseema wanted the restoration of Kurnool as the Capital. The region is dominated by Reddys, a martial clan to which Jagan belongs, and Kapus (not to be confused with the Kapus of coastal Andhra). The Reddys would be significantly strengthened if the Capital was located in their lands. It is believed that Naidu therefore chose the Kamma strongholds of Guntur and Krishna district for the construction of the Capital.
Now Jagan wants to confine Amaravati to just the core Capital consisting of the High Court, the Assembly, Raj Bhavan, Secretariat, CM’s camp office, and residential colonies for legislators and government employees.
This has made the Capital city the main battleground for the 2019 elections. Naidu, who thought he could bank on his heft in national politics to force Modi to liberally fund the Capital project, has been left with little to show.
Naidu himself seems to have read the writing on the wall. Recently in the Assembly he shed tears before his MLAs and lamented that Amaravati could not be constructed because Modi’s NDA government had “ditched him and the State”. But there may be more trouble awaiting him with Jagan planning to send his MPs across the state to highlight the alleged land scam and the Centre’s refusal to fund Amaravati’s construction once they resign from Parliament on the last day of the Budget session of Parliament. YSR Congress MPs are expected to resign on the last day of the Session or on the day the Session is adjourned sine die in protest against what they have claimed is Central apathy towards granting special category status to AP.