Jagan Reddy’s abandonment of the idea of a single capital for Andhra, in favour of three decentralised hubs, is only exposing his fear of losing political credit for a project begun by his bete noire.
Instead, he should take the idea forward and build on it in his own way, thus showing he values stability over political one-upmanship.
The bifurcation of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh was done without agreement from people of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.
The main bone of contention was the capital city Hyderabad. The prospects of losing the major revenue contributor and a growth engine of the entire state i.e Hyderabad metropolis was the main reason for the opposition.
Despite these concerns, Andhra Pradesh was divided, making Hyderabad a joint capital for 10 years.
Amaravati : Naidu's Another Hitec City
Soon after becoming Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, Nara Chandrababu Naidu immersed himself in giving a new capital to Andhra.
Amaravati, the region between the cities of Vijayawada and Guntur on the banks of the River Krishna, was selected for the purpose.
Naidu, who credits himself for making Hyderabad a global city had intended to build a futuristic city for Navyandhara (New Andhra is Naidu's vision for Andhra Pradesh in sync with Modi's New India).
Amaravati, located geographically at the centre of Andhra Pradesh, is historically significant as it was one of the capital cities of the ancient Satavahanas.
Thus, Amaravati gained a lot of symbolic significance. Naidu tried to make the construction of the new capital city a social movement.
The foundation stone-laying ceremony of Amaravati graced by Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister of neighbouring Telugu state K Chandrasekhara Rao also included the soil and water collected from every village and stream of Andhra Pradesh.
While the newly created Telangana state got a consolidated regional identity based on the separate statehood movement, the residual state of Andhra Pradesh lacked the unity.
Andhra Pradesh suffers from caste supremacists and sub-regional loyalties.
Rayalaseema region, which comprises four continental districts and Uttarandhra region comprising three coastal districts, have an underlying separatist tendency.
Amid this search for an identity, Amaravati emerged as a confluence for unity.
Besides cultural significance, Naidu had an economic rationale behind the construction of Amaravati.
In India, mega cities have emerged as the tax mint for states. In Southern India, Tamil Nadu has Chennai, Karnataka has Bengaluru and Telangana has Hyderabad. Chandrababu envisioned Amaravati as the future mega city of Andhra Pradesh.
Amaravati has all the qualities to emerge as a rich urban centre. The new capital, if built, will emerge as an urban cluster along with Vijayawada, Guntur and Mangalagiri.
Its location at the junction of Chennai, Mumbai (via Hyderabad) and Kolkata (via Visakhapatnam) highways, being near to ports like Machilipatnam is an example for good connectivity, which is a prerequisite for a city.
Keeping in mind all these factors and a good compensation package offered by the state government, farmers of around 30 villages gave 33,000 acres for the construction of the new capital through a land pooling scheme.
Chandrababu Naidu assured them developed land parcels in exchange for their very productive agriculture fields.
He involved Singapore and internationally famed consultancies in creating the master plan for Amaravati.
Already, thousands of crores of rupees have poured in for constructing the Assembly, Secretariat complex, officers quarters and other infrastructure.
But the election results for the state assembly in 2019 has pushed the future of this city into the doldrums.
Enter Jaganmohan Reddy
The 2019 Andhra Pradesh election results gave an unprecedented majority to Jagan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party.
The son of Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, has proved himself to be an able opposition leader who can topple an ace politician like Chandrababu Naidu.
Now, he must prove himself as a competent administrator. Completion of Amaravathi is a Himalayan task, but an opportunity for Reddy to show he is capable.
Instead of building on the foundation laid by Chandrababu Naidu, Jagan chose to abandon Amaravati with his proposal to have three capitals in place of one.
Jagan Reddy's government is keen on having three capitals in the state with inspiration from South Africa.
The G.N. Rao committee appointed for this purpose chose Amaravati as the legislative capital, Visakhapatnam in Uttarandhra region as executive capital and Kurnool in Rayalaseema region as the judicial capital.
The committee also recommended to the government to conduct an Assembly complex in Visakhapatnam and create High Court benches in other two capitals along with Kurnool.
If implemented, these proposals will create a logistical nightmare and unnecessary expenditure for the state.
Concern For Development And Decentralization
Cities are places for agglomeration. They provide opportunity for greater synergy. Locating all the organs of government at one place has many advantages in terms of efficiency.
The reason for the three capitals plan as said by the Chief Minister himself in the assembly is ‘decentralization’ and ‘development’. But to achieve these noble objectives, the path selected is counterproductive.
Andhra Pradesh has 13 districts and the state did not create new districts for many decades.
After its creation, the Telangana government led by K. Chandrashekhara Rao expanded the number of districts from a mere 10 to an incredible 33.
Other units of administration like divisions and mandals were also increased in a great way.
Along with such measures, transferring more funds and powers to local governing bodies like panchayats and municipalities is the right way for decentralization.
Mere declaration of more capitals doesn't bring the fruits of decentralization like effective governance.
In a similar manner, development of an area is dependent on creation of infrastructure that increases efficiency of production in an area.
A city need not be declared as a capital for creating infrastructure. For example, Visakhapatnam city, which has a huge potential to emerge as a megapolis on the eastern coast of India, can be developed to tap its potential by creating infrastructure like industrial hubs, transport links and policy incentives.
Thus, the pretext of development and decentralization for the choice of having three capitals is not convincing.
Here, it must not be ignored that having three capitals may run counterproductive by increasing the present underlying demands for separate statehood of Rayalaseema and Uttarandhra regions, which jeopardises the political unity of the state.
Also, the change in capital gives a bad precedence for future governments, which may change the capital again, thus jeopardising the economic development of the state.
Time For Appropriation, Not Abandonment
It's very natural for politicians to stop their competitors from acquiring credit for something.
In the case of Amaravati, the prospects of Chandrababu Naidu taking credit of building the capital may have deterred the new Chief Minister Jagan Reddy from pursuing the project.
But Amaravati can provide a platform for Jagan Reddy to create history. Building a city in a liberal democracy like India is a Herculean task.
Fortunately, former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has laid a strong foundation by successfully acquiring over 30,000 acres for the project.
Some universities and real estate ventures have already started functioning around the capital region.
Thus Jagan must take measures to include Amaravati capital project in his vision instead of starting afresh at some other location.
If political mileage is the problem, redesigning the buildings, changing the master plan and giving a new look to the under-construction capital is the right way to go.
Jagan Reddy must ‘appropriate’ the idea of Amaravati to boost his political track record, not abandon it.
If development of backward regions like Rayalaseema and Uttarandhra is the concern, completing the already planned Amaravati-Anantapur expressway, finishing the Polavaram project that provides drinking water to Uttarandhra and encouraging the establishment of new employment-creating industries in these regions is the solution.
A stopgap of giving a symbolic relief to these regions through three capitals will expose the bluff in future, if not now.
Thus, the young Chief Minister of Andhra must tread carefully regarding the issue of capital(s).