The Andhra Pradesh High Court and the Legislative Council have both put obstacles before a furious chief minister
Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy’s grand plan of shifting the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam (Vizag) has suffered a setback, though temporarily. He cannot immediately relocate the secretariat, the seat of power to Vizag.
In a curious turn of events, Jagan’s decentralisation of capital plans were put paid to first by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)-dominated Legislative Council and later by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.
While the Council chairman MA Shariff referred the two bills namely AP Decentralization Bill and the CRDA Repeal Bill to the select committee, based on this, the AP High Court bench led by Chief Justice JK Maheswari asked the state not to shift the capital until the bills get the nod of the Upper House.
These two developments triggered a wave of protests on one side and celebrations on the other. Amaravati farmers, who were responsible for the case against capital shifting in the High Court, staged demonstrations, stating this as the first victory.
Many Muslim leaders praised the decision of Chairman MA Shariff as a heroic one and bathed his portrait in milk. TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu was all praise of his team in the Council and expressed confidence that Amaravati could be saved from being stripped of its status as the capital.
On the other side, chief minister Jagan vowed to take revenge on the Council for not bowing down to the decision of the elected government. He argues the Council has no business other than extending support to the government. He said the government would explore the possibility of scrapping the Upper House altogether which he dubbed as a useless body full of members with no sense of responsibility. He also said the Council was draining the exchequer to the tune of Rs 60 crore a year.
Finance minister Buggana Rajendranath dubbed the day when Chairman referred the matter to the select committee as a black day. All kinds of abuses were hurled at the Chairman.
Demonstrations were staged protesting the Council’s decision. The homes of TDP leaders were picketed.
While the ruling YSR Congress argues that the Chairman had no power to exercise discretionary power to stall the passage of the bills and refer them to the select committee, the TDP asserts that the chairman was well within the powers under rule 154 when he used his discretion to refer the bills to the select committee.
YSRC cried foul stating that the chairman took instructions from Naidu who sat in the Council gallery.
Caught in the crossfire, the Council now is facing uncertainty. The ruling YSRC is preparing to mould public opinion in favour of scrapping the Council for the second time after it was first constituted in 1950.
All autocrats appear to carry the same gene. They personify the “I am the people” attitude. They cannot stand a rival opinion. Liquidation of institutions is their primary tool.
The era of autocracy entered Andhra politics with the advent of the Telugu Desam Party which captured power by beating the multicentre Congress in 1983. Without exception, all the elected chief ministers, ever since, turned into autocrats and camouflaged it with immense populism.
The first casualty of autocratic politics has been the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council.
After coming to power, in 1983 the first thing TDP supremo NT Ramarao tried to do is to abolish the Legislative Council. The AP Assembly passed a resolution on 24 March 1983 demanding the abolition of the Legislative Council on the pretext of economy.
The proposal, however, was rejected by the union government. But a private members' bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on 18 November 1983 and another was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 24 February 1984 seeking the abolition of the Legislative Council of the state.
Later Tamil Nadu’s DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) leader Era Sezhiyan also raised the matter in Rajya Sabha in March 1984 by way of Calling Attention Notice. The issue figured in Lok Sabha again on 22 August in 1984. The Centre refused to entertain the matter citing Article 169. According to the centre, Article 169 of the Constitution does not impose any obligation on the government of India to initiate legislation in the parliament for the purpose.
The fact is that the Congress (I) government at the centre was in no way interested in abolishing the AP Legislative Council, where it was in a majority.
But after the 1984 parliamentary elections and the 1985 mid-term polls to the AP Legislative Assembly, in which Congress (I) miserably failed, NT Ramarao reportedly struck a deal with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
He extended support to the Anti-Defection bill (52nd Constitution Amendment) piloted by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi-led government in parliament. He was the only non-Congress chief minister to support the bill. In reciprocation, Rajiv Gandhi allowed the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council (Abolition) Bill, 1985.
Many argue that NTR’s fear that the razor-thin majority of 165 in a House of 294, would make it difficult for TDP to get its pet bills passed in a House where Congress was in a majority. So, he wanted to get rid of the Council.
Later, the Congress which came to power in 1989 sought to revive it. But the United Front government headed by VP Singh, in which TDP was the partner, scuttled the move citing the same Article 169.
The state Congress had to wait till the arrival of UPA government in 2004. Having won the 2004 election with a huge majority, Congress chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy made a successful attempt to revive it.
The Assembly had adopted a resolution seeking the revival of the Legislative Council despite opposition by the TDP, CPM and others.
A resolution seeking revival of Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council was approved in the UPA dominated Parliament in 2005 and the Upper House came to into existence in 2006.
The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council came into existence on 07 July 1958 under Article 168 of the Constitution and it was inaugurated by the then President Dr Babu Rajendra Prasad. The first to occupy the chair of the Upper House was Madapati Hanumantha Rao.
Now, the Upper House of the state is all set to fall victim again to the wrath of chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy.