What is behind the Andhra Chief Minister’s silence on the future of the state capital?
In the 1920s, Carl Gustov Jung, the celebrated psychologist, moved to a villa by Zurich lake, which was built in phases to suit his state of mind.
He shunned electricity and running water. He lived in an unbelievable simplicity and declared that "...new methods or gadgets are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. Mostly they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before."
It is naiveté to think that after dismantling Naidu's 'World-Class' Amaravati capital, Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy, who is Jagan to the people, is taking the state to Jung's Tower, which is an eco-friendly monument and synonym of the back-to-nature way of life.
It was indeed music to the ears of environmentalists and for those who opposed the capital city coming up in a region where a particular caste is a dominant force when Jagan's government announced that Amaravati construction would be stalled till the inquiry into the corruption charges is probed.
A panel was set up to look into charges of corruption. Nobody knows when this committee would submit the report. Based on the findings of the report another process would be set in motion.
So now people are convinced that Naidu’s Amaravati is gone. But Jagan’s capital idea has not arrived.
The stalling of construction activities at Amravati was deciphered differently by different people.
Some speculated that Jagan would shift the capital to a corner in Prakasam district. Rayalaseema people expected that, as the son of the soil, he would shift the Andhra Pradesh High Court if not the entire capital to the region.
Some said capital in the form of an administrative district would remain in Amaravati and the rest would be broken into pieces to be distributed among the 13 districts of the state.
Some analysed this as an opportunity to develop a city in each region on the lines of the capital. North Andhra residents want the High Court at Vizag. Guntur people are opposing the idea of shifting of High Court.
So far everything has gone on expected lines. Jagan did what his rivals feared with regard to Amaravati. But he has not revealed his future plans about the capital city.
Is Jagan really committed to the decentralisation of the capital or is he just insanely dismantling the idea of Amaravati as it bears the signature of Naidu, the ex-chief minister, and his bête noire?
Neither Jagan nor his cabinet minister has made this clear. He cannot. Jagan is not going to be a pioneer of decentralised capital planning.
Smaller and eco-friendly administrative capitals may not serve business interests in times of globalisation.
At best they might end up as tourist destinations, but fail as world-cities, which would function as hubs of corporate headquarters, international finance, global transport, and communications, and high level of business services which in turn as experts like John Friedmann and Saskia Sassane argue, contribute to the economic growth for both upper-level worker and low wage labourers.
Jagan is a businessman and is surrounded by businessmen. All his men invested crores of rupees to become leaders and legislators with the hope that they would get huge returns and prosper.
According to a couple of senior officials in state government, Jagan has hit a dead-end as far as the capital is concerned. They say it would be highly difficult for him to disentangle himself from Amaravati.
He cannot allow Amaravati to flourish, at the same time nor can he offer a consensual alternative at least in his first term.
Some officials, though a minority, believe that Amaravati would bounce back in the same form if the Reddys could gain control over the area’s resources. So, they argue this would happen in Jagan’s next term as CM.
This might be the reason for his intriguing silence on Amaravati. Jagan well knows that any talk on capital Amaravati or an alternative to it would stir the hornet’s nest.
So the best option is to keep Amaravati in limbo and ensure that people forget it for some time by discussing the abundant welfare measures he is announcing.
Many officials admit that the decentralisation of the capital is not a practical idea, at least at the moment. And Jagan has not committed himself to the decentralisation of the capital.
He has given the impression that he is weighing various options before committing to any model of capital development.
In practice, the 'city as growth engine' concept is not fully obsolete yet. After the formation of Telangana, the residual Andhra Pradesh has gone back to an agrarian economy.
Given the vagaries of nature, agriculture cannot be conducive to sustainable growth. Jagan has to go in for a model that would be globally attractive for investments. Officials say this is the trend.
They refer to the contribution of cities to the GDP. Whether one likes it or not, the world is becoming urban at a rapid speed. As of 2017, over 54% of people were living in urban areas.
World habitat report estimated that three million people were migrating to cities every week. Socio-economic aspects like jobs and lifestyles they offer continue to draw the world's population in greater numbers towards urban areas.
According to some estimates, 500 cities are expected to contribute 76% to the world's GDP growth by 2025. As far as job creation goes, it is proven that urban areas alone offer significant opportunities for formal and informal employment.
Between 2006 and 2012, the 750 largest cities in the world created 87.7 million private-sector jobs which means 58% of the new private sector jobs in their countries.
So Jagan cannot be expected to resist the lure of world city grandeur. A delay in unveiling his plan of the future capital is bound to damage his political reputation.
Already visiting journalists, who are mostly from India's metropolitan centres and who would easily get affected by the current dismal picture of Amaravati are describing this as a ‘ghost city’.
The construction activities at Amaravati have come to a grinding halt with contractors demobilising men and material from the site. They postulate that destruction is easier than building the brand image. Many see this as a wanton act of vendetta.
Can Jagan completely abandon Amaravati and go in for new capital or conveniently postpone the matter to his next term?
The people of Andhra Pradesh are anxiously waiting to hear from him about his capital plans.