A rival for Hyderabad?

A future tense: The Charminar is a symbol of Hyderabad. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

A future tense: The Charminar is a symbol of Hyderabad. Photo: G. Ramakrishna   | Photo Credit: G_RAMAKRISHNA

What lies ahead for the city now that its future is tied to that of Telangana?

The opinions are as varied as they are forceful: Hyderabad is going to tank; no, there will be no difference. Broadly these are the conjectures to Hyderabad’s future after the split. When was the last time that a capital lost its state (united Andhra Pradesh) and became the capital of a new state (Telangana)? In similar examples from the past, Mumbai remained with Maharashtra when Gujarat was born and Madras with Tamil Nadu when Andhra Pradesh was created.

So this split is a first of its kind and, if one views the conundrum dispassionately, the questions that arise are interesting. Can multi-ethnic, multi-layered Hyderabad be so affected by what is essentially an administrative redrawing of state borders? How reactive is the city to its local milieu and how connected is it to the global economy? What change will come to Hyderabad’s multi-faceted cultural canvas? The Telangana government, which won the popular vote for spearheading the split, is not only appropriating the city and its cultural symbols but is also actively seeking to do away with vestiges of so-called Andhra veneer.

Cities anywhere are the crucible of human endeavour and shocks and surprises are nothing new. Often these can spur the city in totally new directions. Think of London after the Great Fire of 1666 and New York in the 1930s during the Great Depression and how these events transformed both cities into what they are today. Hyderabad’s existential crisis may not be as cataclysmic, but the effects of the split will become clearer over time.

Hyderabad as a metropolis has virtually doubled in size (in both area and population) in the last 20 years. That is dramatic growth by any standard. Its reinvention as a software and pharma hub plugged it into the global economy to the extent that a drought in a neighbouring district didn’t affect it as much as a dip in the Dow Jones did. This expansion came at a cost. Hyderabad became so big so fast that it ballooned to five times the size of the next largest city in the united AP — Vishakapatnam — and gobbled up all the resources meant for equitable development of other cities in the state.

But here lies the twist. While the Andhras wanted status quo, the Telanganites wanted separation — with Hyderabad securely in their kitty! Hyderabad became the bone of contention and the histo-cultural subconscious of the long-seething struggle for an independent Telangana surfaced once again. The split threw up some dilemmatic moments. An identity crisis had Telugus either classifying themselves as an Andhra ‘vadu’ or a Telangana ‘bidda’! Those non-Telugu ‘outsiders’ like yours truly found comfort in diplomatically calling themselves ‘Hyderabadi’! As social entrepreneur C.S. Reddy says, “The divide in the Telugu psyche may go to the extent of affecting marriages between families of the two regions. This has already started happening”.

In fact, to its citizens, Hyderabad is more than just a physical entity or place of residence. It is a cultural construct that grows on you and roots you in its soil. This, however, is true of any large city. A ‘City-zen’s’ first loyalty or identity is increasingly to their city of settlement and only later to their home state. Hyderabad possesses a charming mix of the old and new, the sedate and the brash coupled with a laidback easygoing nature (in comparison to other metros) enables the city to take changes in its stride. Despite the poor physical infrastructure (roads and pavements) and lacklustre urban aesthetic, it has an endearing quality. So what is going to happen to Hyderabad’s vitality now that its destiny is tied to Telangana?

“Nothing,” says Srinivas Garimella, an industrialist with a production base in Hyderabad. “There could be an economic slowdown for a couple of years, but the city has enough depth to take that in its stride”. What about the folk on the street? Will they feel the pinch? Does this kind of change percolate down to them? M.R. Vikram, a well-known chartered accountant, says possibly the short term. “Investment slowdown affects the common man. Political sagacity in the form of a courageous investment policy, mature land laws and investment in power sector by the new Telangana government will benefit all.”

Flip to the other side. How does (new) Andhra Pradesh — or Seemandhra in popular parlance — cope with the loss of Hyderabad? Though it has got an official 10-year window to make the shift from Hyderabad to Vijayawada (the proposed location of the new capital), the sudden loss of a secure base is quite galling. Some Andhras liken it to being pushed out of their home, which they nurtured for more than half a century. It is an emotional moment. Several Andhra businessmen have invested in industry and real estate in Hyderabad and they will be coaxed by the new Andhra government to channel their energies towards their new home state. “But politicians have to take the brunt,” says Dr. Jaya Prakash Narayan, ex-bureaucrat, politician, intellectual “especially ones belonging to Seemandhra who have over the years made Hyderabad their home. They are suddenly left ‘homeless’, as they have to nurture another base in a new place.”

To kickstart a new capital city is no mean task. The physical act of designing and building is simpler than imbuing it with life and identity. Our vibrant and noisy democracy, teeming human density and self-help skills will ensure that we don’t end up with a Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s outrageously grandiose ghost capital. Here, the challenge may well be to regulate growth rather than trying to populate the newly-built city. Amita Desai, Director of a German cultural organisation and a witness to the German unification, hopes “the new city would be inclusive, environmentally conscious and aesthetically fertile and, above all, provide spaces for women where they feel safe.”

The general opinion across the board is not to make another Hyderabad — a mega bone of contention that, 50 years down the line, could cause another split along the dormant fault lines that lie between Andhra and Rayalaseema. Reddy says “There should not be one ‘Cyberabad’, every urban cluster of AP should be developed as a specialist city — pharma, education, manufacturing hub etc. There is also the fear that a megapolis in the Krishna delta will ruin the intricate ecosystem, a problem that — as Narayan puts it — Hyderabad didn’t have due to its largely rocky and dry Deccan landscape. But Chandra Babu Naidu, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, has made his ambitions for a mega city clear. He wants no less than a glitzy Singapore look-alike for his capital. But devoid of the underlying systems and infrastructure that makes a place like Singapore tick, we may end up with the icing and not the cake!

Just being an attractive administrative capital — a la boring Gandhinagar — is not enough to pull people in and make a vibrant city. It is clear now that the new capital development is to be located between the urban hubs of Vijayawada and Guntur and will seek to springboard on their synergies. Nevertheless successful mega cities require a fertile economic underpinning and Naidu has a challenge on his hands in identifying such a driver or multiple drivers for his ‘Singapore’. If he is banking on the software industry — as he did for Hyderabad when he was CM of united AP — he may be off the mark. Vikram feels that “trying to develop one more software-driven urban centre may be a non-starter — especially with mature rivals like Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad itself in close vicinity. In addition both Europe and the U.S. are questioning their outsourcing model due to their own slowdown and this will impact growth.”

A fascinating duel between Hyderabad and the new rival is on the cards. There is little doubt that this new city will slow Hyderabad. When the AP administration eventually moves out, along with the staff, their families and dependants, half the government buildings and quite a bit of the housing stock in Hyderabad will be emptied. If the domino effect arising from this gives Hyderabad a breather from hurt(l)ing growth and help it to put its infrastructure in place, the 400-year-old may yet thumb its nose at the young pretender and have the last laugh!

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 1:22:08 AM |

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