Is Andhra Pradesh’s demand for special category status reasonable at all?
To those who have watched Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s recent (and many) interviews to top television channels, the refrain is unmissable: “Injustice has been done to AP during bifurcation”, “We aligned with them because the Congress government betrayed us, and now they have also betrayed us”, “I came to Delhi 29 times”, “We don’t want other equivalent benefits like the same amount of money through an SPV; only SCS status will do”, “14th Finance Commission has nothing to do with it, not giving SCS is the central government’s decision”, and “YSR Congress people are sitting in the PMO, when they are ignoring us.”
All interviews had Naidu pursuing his stated 'mission' – exposing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s “betrayal” or the reneging on its promise of giving Andhra Pradesh (AP) special category status (SCS) as per the AP Bifurcation Act.
Naidu has been so single-pointed about this mission of “fighting for justice for the state and its people”, as he puts it, that he mostly either refused point-blank to answer other questions or responded with the same refrains.
His answers to the rebuttals to his claims have also been mere reiterations of the same claims. There was no eliciting any more from Naidu. As he himself said to a television anchor, “I am a mature politician, so I know how to answer your questions”.
To the uninitiated, he may have come across as being so caught up with his own line of thinking that he could not fathom beyond. But to the more discerning, the bullheadedness appeared to be strategic, even though, in the final analysis, his arguments and stand turned out to be unconvincing.
To recap his claims and to put the alleged “injustice by BJP” into perspective, here are a few facts.
The Special Category Status (SCS) contention – some unrelated, interesting facts:
“What is the need for an SCS movement when the centre has announced a special financial package and assured to extend all benefits that would have accrued through SCS? Why should we fight for just the name ‘SCS’?” asked Naidu last year. This was his reaction to the growing opposition from the Left parties – Communist Party of India Communist Party of India (Marxist), Intellectuals Forum and Loksatta which make up the Pratyeka Hoda Sadana Samithi (Committee for Special Category Status), as The News Minute reported in November 2017.
The Left made a “Chalo Assembly” call, which was supported by the YSR Congress Party and Congress. Arrests and detentions that ensued were described as state atrocities, and the leader of the Samithi was quoted as saying “He can’t quash the people’s aspirations with such illegal arrests. The movement has not died down and will carry on till SCS is obtained.”
When SCS is resorted to as rhetoric, it incites agitation among people, which can turn dangerous. There was a case of self-immolation demanding SCS for the state, as reported by the media in August 2015.
The relevance of this demand for SCS from any quarters is difficult to understand: the concept of SCS becoming defunct is now widely acknowledged, given the dissolution of the Planning Commission from where it originated, and the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, which increased devolution of funds to states to 42 per cent, besides other assistance. Where is the alleged “betrayal” then, and is it justified to harp on erstwhile promises-made-but-not-kept?
On another note, is AP’s demand for SCS reasonable at all? In 2013, a committee headed by Raghuram Rajan had laid down the criteria to define backwardness of states for granting special category status. Public finance experts were even then of the opinion that a special category status should only be given to states disadvantaged by topography – such as the border states and north-eastern states; backwardness, on the other hand, was a social characteristic. Andhra Pradesh, with latest per capita income at Rs 142,054 – as against the India average at Rs 112764 – would hardly qualify as backward. Nor does it have a difficult terrain and other disadvantages. In this light, is Naidu’s professed need for “handholding by the centre” justified?
Watchers of Naidu over the decades, including his admirers, concede that it is only political compulsions driving the good CM’s bizarre actions at this point. They point out that he is not among those who would otherwise have lain low in the last four years, and not pressed for his demands related to AP’s SCS and others, if they were genuine and he felt wronged.
Of Strange Considerations And Alliances
On being asked whether there are chances of him aligning with the Congress once again in the state, Naidu’s indirect answer was that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has been responsible for all anti-Congress conclaves in the country. But given his record of entering into and getting out of alliances, one cannot rule out anything. More recently, two instances make his intentions questionable: the fact that he joined hands with rival Jagan Mohan of the YSR Congress in the no-confidence motion against the The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government; and two, in one of his recent interviews, he snapped at the anchor for calling Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, his “rival”, and added that “we are colleagues”. This sensibility, on a broadcast medium, given their relationship history – was certainly noticeable.
The vacillation, the many considerations, the waiting-and-watching has been evident earlier also – when he had pulled out his ministers from the union cabinet, but continued with the NDA alliance. Probably, an unwitting, unintended calibration.
And if we start at the very beginning, Naidu had in fact, supported the bifurcation of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in a letter written on 18 October 2008 to the central government. A scanned image of the letter was carried along with a write-up in website Firstpost in October 2013 – the time period that Naidu began his protests against the bifurcation.
Reasons For NDA-TDP Alliance In 2014:
Naidu has claimed that the BJP asked him to join the NDA. But, the seasoned politician had many reasons to join the NDA. In his recent interviews, he claimed that he joined the NDA in the interest of the state, and only for development. Given that the Congress had not kept its promise of granting SCS , he turned to the NDA. In press conferences too, Naidu had said his party believed the alliance would benefit the state.
In 2014, it served Naidu to ally with Modi, as that became the critical determinant of getting the mandate in his favour, the margin between TDP and YSR Congress being hardly 2 per cent. The state BJP leaders were unhappy with this alliance, and some of them reportedly would have preferred going with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party instead.
Leaders of both parties were also resentful about the seat-sharing pact. The talks had nearly reached a point of collapse before the working relationship was finally forged. Supporters of TDP leaders protested outside Naidu’s house against this decision. Nevertheless, as political commentator and former editor of Hans India, K Nageshwar, had estimated: “That will not reverse the TDP’s decision because the alliance is at a national level”. Nageshwar further elaborated that both parties neither enjoyed harmony nor bonding for a common cause, and in fact, there was animosity at the local level; yet they got together for electoral mathematics.
Naidu’s blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with the BJP has been purely an opportunistic one. They had been together since 1998, but the TDP quit the the NDA when they lost the election in 2004. In 2011, Naidu again regretted supporting the NDA government as the latter’s image post the 2002 Gujarat riots ‘tarnished the TDP’s image as a secular party’. But that didnt matter in 2014, as the minority votes were anyway going to the YSR Congress in Seemandhra, and not to the TDP, hence they didn’t mind joining hands with the NDA. But in the current scenario, with the anti-incumbency mood high in AP, Naidu is keen on disassociating with the BJP leaders’ anti-Muslim statements, which in turn reflect back on the TDP, according to analysts.
BJP supporters, meanwhile, term the happenings as happy. A senior journalist from Hyderabad, MVR Sastry, tweeted a strong reaction last month: “Good riddance and a good augury for BJP in Andhra Pradesh. At last, a long-time curse, namely the stranglehold of Telugu Desam Party has ended. The root cause for the former’s mental retardation and assumed impotence has providentially been uprooted.”
Further, as per news reports, the BJP leadership has been reaching out to both Pawan Kalyan of the Jana Sena party as well as Jagan Mohan – indicating that the alliance options are open, as they do their political calculations.
Yes, it will be easy for Naidu in his election speeches, to blame the BJP for his failures. But as far as benefits to Andhra Pradesh were concerned, Naidu may have missed the bus – unlike what he claims – by giving into politics, rather than development . Alliances, after all, are only a means to an end – to serve the land and its people. Naidu was known to be a smart politician in his earlier tenures, who innovated and delivered. Perhaps, now, an idea whose time has gone?