Chandrababu Naidu’s return to power and the resurgence of the idea of Amaravati

Updated - June 20, 2024 10:05 am IST

Published - June 20, 2024 07:00 am IST

Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu assumes charge as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister in Amaravati on June 14, 2024.

Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu assumes charge as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister in Amaravati on June 14, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

The outgoing Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party’s (YSRCP) Jagan Mohan Reddy delivered on several of what he called his “navaratnalu” — the nine welfare schemes that he promised before he rode to power with a thumping majority in 2019. The schemes ranged from interest free loans for women entrepreneurs to education fee reimbursement for poor students, but Mr. Reddy did not deliver on pressing issues like job creation, and filling thousands of government vacancies.

In a state reeling from the loss of its commercial and industrial powerhouse — Hyderabad, this appeared to be the most urgent task that he ought to have addressed. This coupled with the Mr. Reddy’s inaccessibility, and the lack of his ability to court private investments weighed quite heavily on a residual state formed in 2014, which had inherited a massive debt and had lost out on substantial central assistance that had been promised.

Three capital formula

Mr. Reddy also threw out the plan to have a single capital at Amaravati and decided to dissipate governance into a three-capital model that was proposed by a committee set up after unified Andhra’s bifurcation, but rejected by his predecessor, Telugu Desam Party’s N. Chandrababu Naidu, who has now returned as Chief Minister to form the third government since the state’s formation. The three-capital model was proposed to counter the idea of a northern power centre, nestled between the three largest cities of Andhra - Guntur, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. And this model came at a considerable cost.

While a lot remained undone in 2019 when Mr. Reddy took over the reins, Amaravati had a land bank of 33,000 acres with a functioning secretariat and a Legislative Assembly. Thousands of crores had been spent on a novel, yet controversial Land Pooling Scheme (LPS) – an attempt to circumvent the Central 2013 Land Acquisition Act. The LPS granted a 10-year lease/payment schedule for farmers whose lands had been acquired and they were allotted prime plots in the new capital’s commercial district based on how much land they had foregone.

Lush agricultural farmland’s prices soared in the emerging tri-junction of Amaravati capital region straddling across the east and the west banks of the Krishna river encircling Guntur and Vijayawada, and the upper caste Kamma vote base of the TDP made bounties selling them. This ebullience at the prospect of a spectacular new capital that people were confident would be set up under Mr. Naidu dissipated into despair as scepticism set in over the operationalisation of the three-capital model – one for legislative functions – Amaravati, another for executive and administrative functions – Visakhapatnam, and a third for the higher judiciary – Andhra’s new High Court was to come up in the much neglected and arid Rayalseema region at Kurnool in the south.

Judicial challenge

But this move faced stiff resistance by the dominant farmers of the northern Andhra region who feared a loss of economic activity. They won a case to stall the process at the Andhra High Court in Amaravati in March 2022, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on a challenge to the High Court’s order filed by the state government. With Mr. Naidu’s return to power, it is a matter of time before the state withdraws this petition.

Andhra’s debt at the time of formation in June 2014 was ₹1,18,050 crores. This had more than doubled to ₹2,64,451 crore by March-end of 2019, and with paltry Central Assistance, the fate of a successful and flourishing new state capital, or a system of capitals, remained uncertain. As COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, progress on the capital formation, all but stalled. The state debt as on March 2023 was a whopping ₹4,28,715 crore as per an RBI report.

Now, 10 years following statehood and with the loss of the common capital – Hyderabad (The AP State Reorganisation Act, 2014, allows for Hyderabad to be common capital for a period of ten years), AP’s citizens would hope that Mr. Naidu’s return to power would restore stability and continuity on policies.

Renewed hope for Amaravati

Credited for turning Hyderabad into an IT hub and with his ability to court private capital, there are high expectations of an economic revival under Chief Minister Naidu, while continuing with the previous governments hugely successful welfare measures. He has already indicated in a recent interview that Amaravati would be developed as a “world class” capital, along with Visakhapatnam as a “financial district and a futuristic city” and that Kurnool and Tirupati in Rayalaseema would also be “developed”.

Moreover, the state’s citizenry would hope that as the NDA’s second largest constituent with 16 seats, and a crutch without which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third term cannot stand, Mr. Naidu would be able to wangle monies and deals for the state that he was unable to in the five years between 2014 and 2019. The TDP was still NDA’s second largest constituent during that time but its support for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA was more symbolic, as Modi’s first and second terms did not need the TDP’s support to rule at the Centre.

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