The CM’s home region of Rayalaseema is upset while the opposition alleges ‘insider trading’
The capital project of Andhra Pradesh has never ceased to be a subject of controversy ever since Amaravati on the banks of river Krishna was chosen as the location of the new capital of residual Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
Whether Amaravati would remain as the capital of Andhra Pradesh or not, the location of capital will continue to haunt Andhra politics forever, as the capital is not a mere seat of administration.
The capital is seen as a massive business venture by politicians and businessmen among politicians. The capital controversy is inevitable for the state.
The fight to capture the capital by leaders of two dominant regions (Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra) is as old as the idea of Andhra state itself.
It remained subdued between 1956 and 2014, when Hyderabad city which is located outside the Andhra region, remained capital.
The two factions were happy as the Rayalaseema Reddys controlled politics, while Andhra Kammas managed their business in Hyderabad most of the time, as if there was a written pact.
The capital problem again erupted when Telangana was carved out with Hyderabad as the capital. The regions once again got locked in the bitter battle for the location of the new capital.
North coastal Andhra, which is an equally backward area as Rayalaseema, does not figure in the power struggle between Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra, as the region is not a bastion of either Kammas or Reddys.
Other castes, the members of which are simply either voters or beneficiaries of welfare schemes, are no force at all in AP.
In 2014 chief minister Chandrababu Naidu justified the location of capital (Amaravati) on the banks of river Krishna with the concept of geographical centrality, though this meant the destruction of thousands of acres of uniquely fertile lands.
Now, projecting decentralisation of the capital, Naidu's bête noire and the chief minister, Jaganmohan Reddy almost announced three capitals in lieu of Amaravati, namely a judicial capital at Kurnool, a legislative capital at Amaravati and an executive capital at Vizag.
In a way, it is music to the ears of all those opposed to Amaravati.
The splitting of capital Amaravati into three parts goes against the very economic foundation of the proposed world-class city of Amaravati. Once done, it would be irreversible. So one can expect emotive resistance from the Amaravati beneficiaries.
Till 2019 Amaravati had been seen as a real estate gold mine. Land prices skyrocketed. Telugus, mostly NRIs, heavily invested in the lands.
Now suddenly, Jagan, putting forth an equally strong and powerful argument of decentralisation, is proposing to split the capital. The statement, though not final, has spawned new tensions all across the state.
On one hand, it sought to address the regional aspirations, on the other, it has also given rise to new questions.
When Rayalaeema has been agitating for the location of the capital in the region, Jagan proposed Vizag as the executive capital. The people of Vizag are more interested in the High Court as the recent statements from the region demonstrate. Jagan sprang a surprise by announcing the executive capital at Vizag.
This has upset Rayalaseema leaders. While expressing happiness at Jagan’s decision to cut the size of Amaravati to a legislative capital, Rayalaseema leaders are wondering as to why Jagan had proposed Vizag, already a massive city, as the executive capital instead of a city from their region.
This is bound to sow the seeds of suspicion in the minds of the region’s people. Already the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) retaliated with a counter-attack of insider trading in Vizag.
TDP leader and former minister Devineni Uma Maheswara Rao alleged insider trading in Vizag which is tipped to be the executive capital.
“Jagan has announced Vizag as the executive capital only after his party leaders purchased about 6000 acres of land in Madhurawada and Bhogapuram area,” he charged.
Though Rao did not show any evidence, such allegations lend credence to the suspicion why Jagan ignored Rayalaseema for the relatively wealthy port city of Vizag, despite Rayalaseema’s towns paling in comparison to Vizag.
Jagan’s three-capital statement has triggered a fierce war or words in the state. Noted critic of world-class capital concept, EAS Sarma, a retired GoI secretary welcomed the idea and suggested further decentralisation in the form of setting up of two High Court benches in the regions outside the judicial capital.
Another critic of Hyderabad-like capital and former IAS officer Jaiprakash Narayan also backed the idea but with a rider. He said decentralisation should not end with the splitting of the capital. “It should be taken to every aspect of administration including devolution of funds and functions,” he said.
Rubbishing the idea of distance in the location of the capital, he said if devolution of functions takes place to the district level, people would hardly find a reason to rush to the capital to get their work done.
Why should people come to the capital for small work such as the transfer of a school teacher, he asked, while talking to a YouTube channel and stated that the distance is not a hindrance at all.
Jagan’s statement hinting at three capitals is largely welcomed by the general public in the Rayalaseema and north coastal Andhra who are opposed to Amaravati.
Naidu’s world-class city concept has become suspect in these regions.
“Naidu has planned Amaravati as a world-class capital city with seven cities, and corridors around it. The city is larger than any national capital across the world. So, developing other cities in the state goes antithetical to it. How could Naidu develop cities in other regions with equal concentration?” Meka Maddileti, a cloth merchant and critic of Amaravati told The Lede from Kurnool.
Jaiprakash Narayan suggested that the capital and world-class city were two different entities and could be delinked. “Naidu could have gone in for world-class city at Amaravati after locating the capital elsewhere in a backward region,” he opined.
“Amaravati as the capital is a settled issue. If chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy, who also supported the resolution moved in the Assembly for Amaravati in 2014, finds any financial irregularities in the capital project, the government is free to investigate and take suitable action. This should not warrant the total abolition of Amaravati as the capital,” noted political analyst and activist T Lakshminarayana told The Lede.
Now, the TDP has launched a “Save Amaravati” agitation. Farmers who pooled land for the construction of Amaravati have upped the ante against the YSRCP government. A bandh was observed on Thursday in the capital region.
Section 144 has been clamped in the villages. The opposition TDP is likely to back farmers to intensify the movement, and this will attract national attention as it is happening in the state capital region.
Jana Sena is also waiting for an opportunity to take the plunge into agitation politics.
In the Rayalaseema region, there is a feeling of having been let down, when Jagan hinted at Vizag as the executive capital.
Activist and the Convenor of Rayalaseema Vidyavantual Vedika (RVV) Makireddy Purushottam Reddy is not ready to accept Vizag as executive capital.
“Decentralisation of the capital is welcome but the way capitals were decided is not acceptable,” he said.
“Rayalaseema lost capital to Hyderabad in 1956. We want the capital back to Rayalaseema. Now that capital city is being decentralised, the region should get first priority in the location of the capital, not the High Court. When Naidu was adamant about the capital, a section of people wanted at least the High Court to be located in Kurnool. This is not the collective demand from Rayalaseema. State capital should be restored to Rayalaseema,” Reddy told The Lede.
The state will not be the same after Jagan’s three-capital statement.
The TDP is all set to intensify the agitation. Rayalaseema wants to be the first beneficiary if Amaravati is decentralised. Given the financial importance, Jagan cannot go back on Vizag as executive capital.
And finally, Amaravati capital farmers, who dreamed of Astana, Tokyo, Singapore, and Brasilia in their backyard, will not cede the ground without a bitter fight.