It is Jagan versus Naidu and the battleground is Amaravati
Construction activity at Amaravati, the dream capital of former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu has come to a standstill.
About 22,000 workers engaged in various activities have been withdrawn by the contractors. Barring a few trucks which are demobilising the men and material, there has been no noise typical of a construction site.
New chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy's decision to drastically trim Naidu's “world class” capital brought the five-year-long fantasy to an abrupt end.
Jagan said activities would be suspended until the completion of the investigation launched into the alleged scam in the capital construction.
The union government withdrew on July 15, its request to the World Bank to finance the proposed Amaravati Sustainable Infrastructure and Institutional Development Project and the World Bank rolled back its plan to finance the project to the tune of $328 million.
Now Beijing based Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) has followed suit.
In 2014 when he won the Assembly election after the creation of Telangana, Naidu was delusional that people had acknowledged that he was visionary and the right man to reconstruct new Andhra Pradesh with a brand new capital.
He dreamed of building an Astana in Andhra Pradesh and go down in history as the father of New Andhra like Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.
Of all the capital cities Naidu visited across the globe - YSR Congress minister Gautam Reddy says he scouted 38 countries altogether, spending an amount of Rs 39 crore - to study the capital designs, what impressed him most was the Kazakh capital Astana.
He found striking similarities between the Kazakh experience and his own in the capital building.
Naidu visited Astana in 2016 at the instance of PM Modi, where he met Defence Minister Imangali N Tasmagambetov who “patiently explained the challenges they faced while building their capital.”
Naidu shared his impressions in a Facebook post, which said – “During the conversation, I realised that the story of Astana is similar to that of Amaravati and the challenges we are facing in Andhra Pradesh. He also suggested I build several city centres which will evolve into self-sustainable ecosystems eventually generating revenue for the region.”
Naidu also said “the conversation with Mr Tasmagambetov was very enlightening and gave me much more confidence that we can build our capital faster as we have better technologies to do so in the current market.”
Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan for 29 years since its independence in 1991.
At 78, he retired on March 19. Naidu is said to have incorporated whatever he saw in Astana into the master plan of Amaravati.
Naidu returned from Astana quite satisfied and convinced as this had not only fortified his 'centrally located capital’ concept but also added a new dimension of “world class” to the idea of the capital.
This dual nature of capital, Naidu might have thought, would help quell any political threat to his control over the state in the future.
In the pursuit of his political objective Naidu ignored all warnings from NGOs, opposition parties, intellectuals, scientists, environmental experts in choosing the fertile Krishna alluvial soils to locate the capital which is not only flood-prone but also a seismic zone.
First, Naidu rubbished the recommendations of an expert committee headed by KC Sivaramakrishnan appointed by the GoI under the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014.
The terms of reference of the committee cautions to ensure the least possible dislocation to the existing agricultural system, preservation of local ecology, minimising the cost of construction and acquisition of land and promotion of environmentally sustained growth.
The Sivaramakrishnan committee favoured a backward region as a possible site for the construction of the capital.
The World Bank said it had received 42 complaints from individuals and organisations which requested the Bank not to promote what they called an environmental disaster.
Last year after a tour of the Amaravati capital region, the Water Man of India, Rajender Singh termed Amaravati as “a tragedy in the making.”
MG Devasahayam, the former administrator of India's first Greenfield capital Chandigarh, after a campaign to save fertile lands in the area said, “there is no need to destroy hundreds of square kilometres of greenery to build an unreal “greenfield” fantasy and destabilise a vibrant and entrepreneurial rural economy.”
Medha Patkar of National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM) described Amaravati as a piece of real estate, not a real capital.
But the adamant Naidu still went ahead to gather 33,000 acres of land by ‘land pooling’, most of which was extraordinarily fertile and unique in India, by employing all possible means at his command.
According to a ‘White Paper’ released by Jagan's government the total extent of land made available to Amaravati is 53,748 acres.
Naidu planned Amaravati as a gigantic complex of nine cities surrounded by industrial corridors throwing the advice of not creating another Hyderabad in Andhra to winds.
He reportedly wasted thousands of crores of rupees on building temporary structures, extravagant foreign trips and promotional festivals.
Behind Naidu’s centrally located and gigantic capital idea lies the fear of Rayalaseema, a distinct socio-cultural region and the homeland of powerful marshal community Reddys.
Naidu’s fear is that someday in the future, the Reddys, unable to face him politically would raise the bogey of a separate Rayalaseema state.
Rayalaseema is the second word that Naidu hates to utter after the word Telangana.
His thinking was that by shifting the location of the capital to the Kamma belt of Krishna and Guntur districts, he would be making the capital region a safe haven for himself and immune from political disturbances.
The complaint against him is that by leaking the information about the capital location to the pro-TDP (Telugu Desam Party) rich businessmen, Naidu encouraged them to buy thousands of acres of land - a sort of insider-trading.
These beneficiaries are supposed to make the TDP an invincible force and Amaravati, a fortress for the party.
The second objective i.e. the gigantic capital complex is meant to create conditions for migrations into capital from all districts and pre-empt any move to mobilise people for a separate state in any region of Andhra Pradesh especially Rayalaseema.
It is well established that Hyderabad with the present strong student force had worked as the fountainhead of the Telangana movement. Naidu did not want a repetition of Telangna in Rayalaseema.
Now Jagan is dismantling Naidu’s dream capital with, of course, his own twin objectives - disempowering of all those benefiting from capital land deals, and destabilising the TDP by unearthing the Amaravati scams during Naidu’s time.
Though Jagan could successfully send across a message that Amaravati would be confined to the administrative district spread over 4000 to 5000 acres, what remains yet to be clarified is that the dismantling of Amaravati is not governed by political vendetta but a concern to preserve the ecologically sensitive zones on the banks of River Krishna and the same logic would be applied to all environmentally unsustainable projects initiated by Naidu.