Why BJP wishes to strike but not wound Jagan on Amaravati row

An unstated friendship with the YSRCP and the possibility of allying with the party in 2024 is one reason the BJP seems unwilling to oppose Jagan’s move on the capital.
Why BJP wishes to strike but not wound Jagan on Amaravati row
Why BJP wishes to strike but not wound Jagan on Amaravati row
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The BJP in Andhra Pradesh is supporting the movement for preserving Amaravati as the state capital. But the central government in a reply to Parliament categorically stated that it is the right of the state government to choose the place of capital. The Centre’s clarification emboldens Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy while opposition parties continue to harp over the possibility of either the central government or courts intervening to stall the three capital plan.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai in a written reply to TDP MP Galla Jayadev, however, said that the state government through a GO issued in April 2015 notified that the capital of Andhra Pradesh is Amaravati. The partisan Telugu media selectively picked up headlines from the union minister’s statement to suit their political masters. Media favouring the TDP highlighted the part of the statement that Amaravati was notified as the capital and interpreted it as the Centre’s stand that Amaravati shall remain the capital. On the contrary, media owned by Jagan’s family obviously highlighted the part of the statement that categorically stated that the selection of capital is the prerogative of the state government.

Amidst manufactured confusion over the central government’s first ever clarification since the capital row erupted, the BJP national spokesperson, GVL Narsimha Rao, has once again reiterated that the state government has the right to choose the place of capital and that the Jagan government can issue a GO to this effect afresh.

The opposition TDP is obviously furious over the central government not taking a proactive stand to stall the Jagan government’s move to shift the capital away from Amaravati despite the state unit of the saffron party opposing the three capital plan.

Why is there such a dichotomy between the state BJP’s vehement opposition to Jagan’s policy on the capital and the BJP-led central government seemingly endorsing the stand of the YSRCP government in the state?

There are several theories to explain this. Firstly, the BJP is certainly not united in taking a stand on Amaravati. This was evident from the multiple voices in which scores of BJP leaders spoke immediately after the Jagan government embarked on the controversial policy. Even today, there is a distinct difference in the tone and tenor of statements put out by different BJP leaders despite the state BJP officially taking a stand opposing the three capital policy. This perhaps explains why the BJP wishes to strike but not wound the Jagan government on the issue. There are, of course, political reasons for this too.

The BJP recently tied up with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party and both the parties have taken a clear position in support of Amaravati. However, the BJP is not yet clear on embracing the TDP into its fold. It may be recalled that the three parties fought the YSRCP together in 2014. Speculation is rife that a similar political combine may come to the fore by the next elections. But this depends on how far the YSRCP government incurs anti-incumbency. The BJP is interested to play politics between the two regional parties. It wants to play the role of an opposition as any pro-government stand will not help in expanding the party in the state. However, the party is not ready to embrace the TDP. National parties normally play politics between the two when state politics polarise opposing regional forces. This is the case with regional parties choosing their national allies in Tamil Nadu. Andhra Pradesh seems to be heading towards a similar political scenario. The BJP is, therefore, not ready to give up the possibility of allying with the YSRCP in 2024 or if simultaneous elections are called for in the middle of the term of the present union government as widely speculated in political circles.

Despite the state BJP taking a strident anti-government position, the YSRCP, especially its supremo Jagan, is cautious in criticising the Modi government. In fact, the YSRCP has been supporting the BJP government at the Centre on all controversial bills, including the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). At a time when all the three parties, TDP, Jana Sena and YSRCP, are competing to join the BJP, the saffron party is in no hurry to antagonise Jagan.

This unstated friendship between BJP and YSRCP is perhaps the reason the central government is unwilling to turn hostile over Jagan’s move on the capital despite the state unit taking a clear stand in favour of Amaravati.

Speaking on a television show, BJP spokesperson P Raghuram clearly said that the BJP’s course of action on Amaravati will not in any way benefit the TDP. This statement assumes significance in the wake of the fact that the TDP has almost appropriated the Amaravati farmers’ struggle.

The BJP leaders are therefore clear in their mind that the ongoing controversy over Amaravati will not in any way politically help the party. Yet it is supporting the Amaravati movement as it does not wish to suffer any collateral damage due to the TDP-YSRCP capital city feud.

Whatever may be the political contours of the issue, there is truth in what GVL Narasimha Rao is stating time and again. This is unpalatable to various parties as they are hell-bent on creating an illusion of the possibility of the Centre withholding Jagan’s move. The constitutional position is quite clear. Rao, in fact, said this when he urged the political parties in Andhra Pradesh not to create an illusion among Amaravati farmers on the role of the central government. Amaravati farmers are meeting different people in New Delhi. They can. But ultimately the solution lies in Amaravati, Rao reportedly told media.

But the fact is that his own party is also part of this Amaravati chorus and the saffron brigade is enjoying the political discourse surrounding the central government’s possible moves on Jagan’s plan to shift the capital from Amaravati.

The protagonists of Amaravati are defending their argument that the Centre can stall Jagan’s move especially based on three premises. Firstly, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who inaugurated Amaravati. Secondly, the new capital was necessitated by the bifurcation act passed by Parliament. Thirdly, the Centre has already provided financial grant for the construction of the capital. But, all these three arguments do not suffice for the central government to prevent a state government from changing the capital city. The arguments, especially the first two, are essentially sentimental rather than constitutional. Regarding the financial support, the state government is still claiming that Amaravati will remain the legislative capital and dismisses the argument that the capital city is shifted. Financial support cannot be invoked to assert any constitutional control on state government policies. At best, the Centre can ask the state government to refund the fiscal assistance given.

The BJP as a political party can make all kinds of the right political noises. But the central government can only act within the constitutional framework of federalism where states have their own distinct powers drawn from the Constitution of India rather than the mercy of the central government.

Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana.

Views expressed are the author's own.

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