There were a truckload of promises made and special status was one of them. The Centre must come good on these promises before it’s too late.
On 1 May 2014, it was raining heavily in Vizag. Several thousand people (including me) ignored the rain and thronged the Indira Priyadarshini Municipal Stadium to see and hear Narendra Modi ji, CBN garu, and Pawan Kalyan garu.
A helicopter landed in that heavy storm, and they did a short meeting full of promises and a lot of passion. Translation by Venkaiah Naidu garu was crisp and added some more punch into an already terrific speech. They left quickly and it took us an hour just to get out of that stadium in ankle-high water. We got home drenched but happy!
For the first time ever, we went out onto the streets to campaign for a candidate we never even knew — Hari Babu garu — just because his opponent was Y S Vijayamma, and we were ideologically against her party winning. We were ordinary folk for whom politics was not a priority — even as a topic of discussion, till then. But the election of 2014 changed that for a lot of us. The idea of a common man winning against the establishment and the dynasty galvanised us into action and we did what we could. Millions of us did. Whether on social media (which was one major tool added into the hands of people compared to the previous elections), or out on the streets; a lot of people I know did their bit. They drove people to polling stations, educated youngsters to go out and vote, followed up with lazy friends till evening, and they did it with no other expectation except to get Congress out of power.
For us in Andhra Pradesh, it was a whole different level of emotion. In an unprecedented blacked-out hour in that temple of democracy, a state of 8 crore people was split without having arrived at a consensus, just for political points because elections were around the corner. We became a truncated Andhra Pradesh, left without a capital, and without a clear direction — that too, with an outgoing government. So in our opinion, it was doubly important for the state to elect a government that had a capable leader and was experienced in administration. NDA coalition sailed through on the back of promises made by both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Telugu Desam Party, and all was well. There were a truckload of promises made. Special status was one of them. And not for five years as Congress (which split the state) promised, but for 10.
In Andhra Pradesh, we elected a government, which, for us, was the best option at the time. The romantic notion of a common man becoming the prime minister came true, and Andhra Pradesh gave Congress 0 seats. 0 MLAs and 0 MPs. That, from a state which was a bastion just one term ago when the then-CM — Y S Rajasekhara Reddy garu promised and delivered a sweeping majority to Sonia Gandhi ji to form United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II. Unless you’ve experienced it first hand, the joy of showing the middle finger to a party which played politics with 5 crore people of the remnant state, cannot be described. 0 seats.
A lot of promises were made. Not just fulfilling, Modi ji himself came and said ‘Nibhayenge Bhi aur Badhayenge Bhi’ —
From the first year itself, there were mumblings of dissatisfaction between the coalition partners. From the second year onwards, they got louder. During the bhoomi puja of our capital — Amaravati, Modi ji came bearing some soil and water, and reiterated his stand.
Modi ji has always been a charismatic speaker. He has a knack of saying the right things at the right time. It is one reason why he has such an incredible following. Here too, he said the right things. Except that they remained as words.
There are tomes of research on the different aspects of the state bifurcation act, and whether each party has remained true to its promise. What should have been a simple cut and dry issue has escalated into a storm and yesterday TDP walked out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and its ministers resigned their posts. It is easy to bring in videos of Arun Jaitley ji, Venkaiah Naidu garu, Nitin Gadkari ji, Ram Madhav ji, our state president and my MP — Hari Babu garu, and others, on the same promises. But truth is we did not vote based on their promises. Modi ji came to us and spoke to us directly. He made a list for us.
After the second year, when the Centre spoke of practical challenges to using the term ‘special status’ and came up with a ‘special package’, instead, Chandrababu Naidu garu agreed to it in spite of tremendous backlash from the opposition. He was called a traitor, the opposition scored brownie points off him, and yet he agreed. When nothing happened in the third year also, the issue got out of hand. What should have been resolved immediately after the state agreed to the changed terms, got delayed, miscommunicated, and today the term ‘special status’ has come back into play.
Promises which could have been easily fulfilled got waylaid. Polavaram alone could have kept the coalition in good stead. The project will impact millions of acres and crores of people across the entire region. What could be more important? If there were irregularities, they should have been addressed on a war footing. This should have been used as an example to show the entire nation that the government can execute projects at lightning speed. Andhra tops the list measuring speed of project execution in the nation. If they couldn’t do it here, where will they do it?
Railway zone should have been announced immediately, with a timeframe of three years or whatever, for practical issues to be resolved. Even two days ago, the floor leader of BJP reiterated the same in AP state assembly.
‘Under any circumstances’! It’s been four years. Railway zone is just one example. There are several such points in the bifurcation act, which could have been easily addressed. Everything is not about number of seats and vote share. There are 5 crore people who have heard these promises live. Today, it is an issue of ideological difference. To defend the Centre’s position, fanboys come up with explanations about how some of those demands are not practically feasible. Did they not know about that when they made these promises? Since yesterday, there have been thousands of posts on social media about all the different things done by the Centre to the state, and thousands of rejoinders about how they didn’t. That is a secondary issue.
In his whirlwind tour of the state in 2014, the prime ministerial candidate himself made these promises. In case memory fails, there are hours of videos to prove it. How can words be taken so lightly? That too of the most powerful man in the country? His translator Venkaiah Naidu garu enjoyed literally hundreds of felicitations after BJP won on the basis of these very promises. The largest hoardings in every city he visited were dedicated to singing his praises. He gave hundreds of interviews during the first couple of years of this government. They are all there for everyone to see.
Do people at that level also speak without thinking? Not once, not twice, dozens of times! In that ‘temple of democracy’ — our Parliament too? Don’t words hold any value? Even if they said ‘special package’ is the same as a ‘special status’, and that it was purely a technicality, in four years, why were the promises they made not acted upon? Why do we blame Arun Jaitley ji today when it was Modi ji we voted for? How are promises made to 5 crore people taken for granted?
In addition to Chandrababu garu and Modi ji, there was a third person on stage in May 2014. Pawan Kalyan garu just made his political debut, and being an idealist, he agreed to support who he thought was the best at that time. After a couple of years, he got disillusioned and openly criticised TDP. A couple of months ago, he and another idealist — Lok Satta Jayaprakash Narayan garu — came together and decided to form an independent committee to fact find this entire issue. They brought in independent legal experts, a retired chief justice, experienced bureaucrats, and did a thorough study. This week, they came up with their findings.
This is a third-party report. Not something that either BJP or TDP came up with to further their argument. After four years of snail-paced delivery, there still are promises worth over 74,500 crore pending. And this does not include Polavaram — which has to be built 100 per cent by the central government as per their promise and Nitin Gadkari’s recent reiteration.
But for the good people of my state, the issue is not about the crores given or not given. It is about a promise made directly to us in person, not being honoured. A word is a bond. A sacred trust. How can it be taken so lightly? When something was promised, it should be delivered. Finding excuses is the mark of a loser. We have whiled away four years already. How difficult is it to resolve the issue if we set our heart to it? One week in a conference room, day and night, with all the resources at their disposal, is quite sufficient. Why isn’t that being done? Immediately after TDP quit the government, several well-connected BJP supporters came out with how this was an opportunity for BJP to increase their vote share in Andhra Pradesh. How can we stoop so low? We talk of one word and one arrow. Are they just teachings? We use that to garner votes and do whatever we want to later; and will drown out any dissent by calling them anti-national and guilt tripping them by comparing other states which need central aid, and of soldiers on the border needing better equipment?
Modi ji made these promises. Not the people of Andhra Pradesh. We did not want the state to be split. We did dharnas for months together because we did not want it to be done. We never asked for special status and to build us a new capital. We wanted our state to be left alone. Since you couldn’t do that, you came bearing gifts as a compromise. We did not ask you for it. We had Hyderabad. It was a good capital. You came and said you’ll build us a better capital than even Delhi. We clapped for whatever you said. And today we are being told they were just words? Don’t show us that our numbers are way ahead of the national average. Because we have capable leadership and industrious people, the state will do very well irrespective of whether these promises are fulfilled ‘in word and in spirit’ or not. But trust once gone cannot be regained. I will never vote Congress again in my lifetime for what they did to my state. The same will hold true for all parties.
Here is the actual way this should be done, in my opinion. The Centre should give us what they promised in spite of the problems in liaising with the state government. Not to use it as an excuse. Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir is a ridiculous ally for BJP. Aren’t they working together ‘for the good of the people’? Nitish Kumar walked out of NDA before the last elections. Didn’t they form a government again together last year? Despite having a lesser number of MLAs than the opposition, BJP formed governments in Goa, Nagaland, and Meghalaya. They truly pulled rhinoceroses out of their hats there. Aren’t they working with multiple coalition partners in those states? In Andhra Pradesh, you have a terrific coalition partner. Chandrababu garu probably is India’s most capable chief minister. Yes he has his flaws. But BJP is working with PDP! If a fraction of that diplomacy were used here in Andhra, we would have resolved every single issue being fought over today. Again, not everything is politics. Modi ji gave us his word. Using phrases like blackmail today is rather objectionable.
We can talk about how such a move will solidify the NDA alliance and give BJP more seats in 2019 to make up for the seats it’ll lose in Rajasthan and MP. We can talk about how fulfilling their promise to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana can make an ally of Telangana Rashtra Samiti and pour cold water on the ambitions of the third front. We can talk about how this will work against the idea of South India being ignored.
But not everything is politics. Not everything is to be counted in terms of votes it’ll get us. We are romantics at heart. That is why we elected a common man and toppled the dynasty. Romantics believe that words once spoken are written in stone. You spoke these words to the people of Andhra Pradesh. You’ve delayed it enough, Modi ji. Make good on your promises. Don’t give us our due because of, but in spite of. Be the statesman we think you to be. Be big. Then come back here again in 2019 and we will again come and cheer for you at the venue.
This article first appeared on Medium and has been republished here with permission.