The dust over the location of the capital of Andhra Pradesh refuses to settle even as the state is gradually recovering from its bifurcation. Amaravati is a mythological city of immortals – the abode of Indra, the king of the gods. TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu had dreamt of bringing the mythological city from heaven to earth. Thus, the new capital began to take shape in the floodplains of the Krishna river, after he won the general elections in 2014. But political vicissitudes unseated him in the 2019 elections and, with this, the myth is going to remain just that.
New Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is out to erase all symbols that carry the legacy of his rival, and Amaravati is one of them. The city has unwittingly become a victim of political whims and fancies.
Even while in opposition, Jagan Reddy kept saying at different fora that the capital did not require such a huge amount of land – 33,000 acres acquired by the TDP government. He further suspected scams in land pooling for the capital involving TDP leaders. He pitched for in-depth probes, aimed at bringing his bête noir Chandrababu to book. Some sections, allegedly backed by YSR Congress, accused Chandrababu of favouring his Kamma community when he decided to shift the capital to the Tulluru area in Amaravati region from Hyderabad. In fact, the Reddy community – that Jagan belongs to – in Undavalli and Penumaka villages had refused to part with their lands for the capital saying, Naidu was biased in favour of his community in Tulluru area in fixing land rates.
From the day he assumed charge as the Chief Minister after his party’s landslide victory, Jagan has been sending out clear signals over the fate of the capital. An annuity that was paid every year to farmers who gave their lands to the capital in the beginning of every financial year, has not been paid this year.
Stirring the hornet’s nest
Minister for Municipal Administration Botsa Satyanarayana, a vocal voice in Jagan’s party, sparked a fresh debate over alternative capital locations by indicating the government’s mood over Amaravati. He went on record a couple of days ago saying the capital in Amaravati is not safe due to its location in the floodplains, and its threat to the river ecology. He also said that it wasn’t financially viable in view of the local soil conditions. This statement is widely viewed as a clear hint at shifting the capital away from Amaravati. As if to prove the Botsa, heavy inflows in the Krishna river flooded a private bungalow built on the riverbed – the residence of former Chief Minister Naidu.
The hilly region of Donakonda in Prakasam district is again in the limelight as a prospective place for capital relocation. Buzz in the run up to 2014 elections hinted that the new state capital would be located at Donakonda if YSRC’s Jagan Mohan Reddy won the elections. The sleepy area bordering Rayalaseema region is now witnessing a beehive of activity after Botsa’s capital talk, with speculators and land sharks from Guntur, Vijayawada and Hyderabad descending on Donakonda trying to buy huge chunks of lands from farmers in anticipation of a realty boom.
Back to the square one
Simultaneously, other demands over capital location have begun to emerge with the minister’s statement. A former MLA, SV Mohan Reddy from Kurnool, has referred to the Sri Bagh pact and said the record must be kept straight by shifting capital to Kurnool. Kurnool was the first capital of the newly formed Andhra state after bifurcation from the Madras Province in 1953. Within three years the capital moved to Hyderabad following the merger with Hyderabad state.
Kalkura Chandrasekhar, a historian from Kurnool city, told TNM that Kurnool got a raw deal from successive governments by failing to implement the Sri Bagh Pact made on November 16, 1937. The pact sought the formation of Andhra state by decoupling Rayalaseema and Circar regions from the Madras Province, and was entered into by leaders of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. One of the principal commitments of the pact was to cite the capital in Kurnool, which has not been honoured, he said.
Meanwhile, former MP Chinta Mohan contended that Tirupati, a world famous pilgrimage centre, should be considered as the state capital. With a railway junction, cluster of TTD-run premier educational institutions and air connectivity, Tirupati is the most ideal location for capital, he said. Both Mohan and Kalkura asserted that locating the capital in Rayalaseema would be a remedy for regional backwardness and antidote for separatist movements.
It must be noted that neither the Sivarama Krishnayya Committee – appointed by the Union Home Ministry to study capital locations, nor any other official agency, have specified where the capital must be located. Union Minister of State G Kishan Reddy went so far as to state that it was only the business of the respective state governments to find a suitable place for capital and that the Centre has no role whatsoever in it.
A picture of neglect
Change of power provides tell-tale signs of the fate of capital. Construction work came to a grinding halt and a gloomy scenario is all pervasive with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) backing out from lending. The Naidu government incurred Rs 38,000 crore on building trunk roads and other infra facility in anticipation of aid to the tune of 715 million USD from these two lending agencies. A temporary secretariat was built with Rs 800 crore. A swanky building complex was constructed to house the High Court.
However, the jury is out on whether the new Chief Minister is throwing the baby out with the bathwater at the cost of public money.
Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states. Views expressed are the author's own.