Unified Andhra Pradesh in the south with 42 Lok Sabha seats once remained the voice of regional parties across the country with the spirit of federal politics at the top of the national agenda. It called the shots in national politics and sought its pound of flesh from the Centre in the process.
The Telugu Desam Party headed by its patriarch and matinee idol NT Rama Rao and his successor N Chandrababu Naidu could be credited for this elevated stature of the Telugu people. Naidu played king-maker in installing the BJP’s Vajpayee government in 1999 and the United Front government in the past. His mentor NTR became the rallying point for the realignment of non-Congress opposition parties under the umbrella of the National Front.
After the division, the hard-bargainer in Naidu, however, seems to have only a feeble voice after his latest stint as Chief Minister of the truncated Andhra Pradesh. The once-king-maker is running around the ‘kings’ in the NDA regime time and again requesting for help to rebuild his state.
The state was split into Andhra and Telangana in 2014 for political reasons. K Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rastra Samithi, who was a product of the TDP, became CM of the bifurcated Telangana. AP, as one of the largest entities in the country in terms of numbers in the Parliament, was reduced to insignificance with little bargaining power. This was evident in the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget 2018-19 and the Centre’s procrastination on settling bifurcation-related issues such as distribution of assets and cadre allotments under the IX and X schedules of the AP Reorganisation Act and disputes over sharing of river water.
The division left the two Chief Ministers at the mercy of the NDA regime for doles. They have been forced to find remedy in negotiations than in demanding their rightful share from the Centre, hence the race between the two to please the Delhi bosses.
Naidu and KCR worry that the rebuilding process of the residuary states will take a beating if they adopt a confrontation approach with the Centre. This is the reason why KCR, known for his fiery rhetoric, remained silent over the raw deal his state has received from Jaitley’s budget.
The KCR government’s flagship programmes such as Kaleswaram project proposed to be built on the Godavari river, Mission Bhagiratha and Mission Kakatiya failed to draw the attention of the NDA government. There was no mention of fund allocations in the budget for development of the nine and seven backward districts in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh respectively. The two states had received funds at the rate of Rs 900 cr (Telangana) and Rs 700 cr (Andhra) under the particular head in two spells in 2015-16 and 2016-17 in line with the Reorganisation Act.
The era of national parties is back as an alternative to coalition politics with the emergence of the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi as the largest party in the 2014 election. Modi has got the adequate numbers in Parliament to survive a full term. On the contrary, his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government fell twice for want of adequate numbers and due to undependable coalition partners. The Modi government, which is well in the comfort zone, will not have to be at the mercy of its NDA partners for survival. Altering of this political equation pushed the federal spirit into oblivion in contravention of the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations.
The manner in which the budget allocations were made is a grim pointer to the signs of growing disparities in Centre-state relations. AP CM Naidu was quoted in the media a day after the budget presentation complaining of “bias” in allocations. What he obviously meant to highlight was the way the BJP-ruled states of Gujarat and Maharashtra have got a lion’s share of the cake while leaving the others, particularly the successor states of AP and Telangana, high and dry.
Incidentally, Jaitley demonstrated his largesse in allocating Rs 1 lakh crore for the introduction of a bullet train connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad, another Rs 1 lakh crore for overhauling the railway system in Mumbai besides Rs 15,000 crore each for the Mumbai and Bangalore metro rail projects. The BJP’s electoral compulsions seem to have prevailed over Jaitley in displaying special love for these states.
Scrapping of the Planning Commission and introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime overriding value added tax systems of the states ran counter to the spirit of the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations over the autonomy of states in receiving their due from the Centre.
“It’s true that GST encroaches upon autonomy of states in tax collections. But it is inevitable when the country needs a uniform tax system,” AP Finance Minister Yanamala Rama Krishnudu told this author sometime back.
“Niti Aayog, which came into the picture replacing the Planning Commission, is reduced to an advisory body of the Prime Minister leading to bias in fund allocations,” says Gorantla Butchaiah Chowdary, TDP legislator and former Deputy Chairman of the AP state Planning Board. The National Economic Development Council, which replaced the National Development Council, too has become toothless without even periodical meetings, he added.
The changing political equations in favour of national parties call for unity amongst the regional players. To begin with, Naidu and KCR need to shed their sectarian politics and bifurcation-related animosities to join hands for a better deal from the Centre to remedy the wrong the division has done to their successor states.