Naidu’s crowdfunding campaign seems to imply that the Prime Minister did nothing for the state capital, save 'matti and neeru'.

No more negotiating with BJP Naidu turns to crowdfunding to build AmaravatiFile photo/PTI
news Politics Monday, April 02, 2018 - 18:47

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has earned titles such as shrewd and crafty in his long political career spanning over four decades. He is at his best employing this art of politicking to deliver master strokes against his rivals and to make or break alliances in line with the public mood.

It is this craft that was on full show when the Telugu Desam Party faced existential problems on two occasions – first, the coup staged by Nadendla Bhaskara Rao against Naidu’s mentor NTR in 1984 and second, when Naidu himself revolted against NTR in 1995 and took over the party, claiming that that the TDP was at risk of disintegrating under the rule of the latter’s second wife Lakshmi Parvathi.

Naidu’s alliance with the BJP helped him get out of a decade-long political hibernation and he came to power in 2014 by capitalising on the Modi wave. Four years in power later, his ratings have not lived up to public expectations over the lack of his government’s progress in rebuilding the truncated state. Building of the state capital is one of the major criteria to judge Naidu’s performance during his current tenure.

Naidu pulled out from the NDA regime at the right time and seems to have successfully mitigated the anti-incumbency mood to a great extent by pointing accusing fingers at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Novel crowdfunding effort to build capital

Now it’s time to keep alive the sentiment surrounding the fate of the successor state until the elections. To accomplish the task, Naidu has taken to crowdfunding, targeting netizens oversees and within the state, to raise funds for the construction of the capital in Amaravati.

Unveiling his plan at a party meeting after a full-blown attack on the NDA government at the Assembly’s budget session, the CM solicited investments from the public with government bonds as collateral. The interest rates offered are more than those in commercial banks. The move is aimed at building public opinion, involving elite and educated sections, on the alleged betrayal of the NDA regime and at projecting himself as someone who is working relentlessly for the progress of the state against all adversaries.

The latest crowdfunding is an extension of the e-brick initiative invented by him in the run-up to the capital foundation on October 22, 2016. His government sought to invoke public sentiment and ensure people’s participation in capital building by asking netizens to donate ‘e-bricks’ for a price of Rs 10 each. Modi, who was invited to lay the foundation stone, too added a bit from his side to the capital sentiment by bringing in soil from the precincts of the Parliament and water from the Yamuna.

Through his crowdfunding campaign, Naidu seems to imply that the Prime Minister did nothing for the state capital, save “matti and neeru”.

Why has the project not taken off?

The CM estimated the capital cost at Rs 48,000 cr. The Centre committed itself to assist in building the capital in line with the bifurcation act without giving a specific figure.

The state government received Rs 1,000 cr from the Centre till now and the amount was diverted for constructing an interim government complex to house the secretariat and Assembly on a temporary basis. The state government has failed to finalise designs for the capital even after four years of its rule, but blames the Centre for the project failing to come up. Naidu contends that it’s the responsibility of the Centre to fully fund the capital.

“Division was thrust upon the people of Andhra Pradesh against their will. When Hyderabad went to Telangana after the bifurcation, Andhra people have been left without a capital,” is Naidu’s refrain.

Outspoken voices in the NDA government, however, subtly point at the construction of capitals in the newly created states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand by the respective states with their own resources. Countering this argument, Naidu asserts that those states were divided at their will unlike the case of Andhra Pradesh.

When assistance failed to trickle in from the Centre, Naidu knocked the doors of internal and external financial agencies in a desperate bid to take the project forward. The World Bank in principle agreed to a loan of Rs 3,300-odd crore enabling infrastructure development in the capital region. But the process was stalled following complaints from a section of people, even as Naidu suspected the YSR Congress’ hand behind the episode.

The Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) has conceded the AP government’s request for a loan of Rs 7,500 cr but its approval is yet to turn into cash flow. The pleas of the state government to overseas agencies in UK, China and other countries for assistance have not materialised yet. All this indicates that Naidu’s dream is far from becoming reality, whatever the reasons may be.

To quote an analyst who wished to remain anonymous, the capital project has become a victim of blame game.

“It’s common for ruling establishments across the world to resort to protecting the regime’s interests in situations which are critical to them by rousing public sentiment on one issue or the other,” he said.

Meanwhile, Naidu’s vision to build the state capital on 38,581 acres of fertile cropland along the Krishna river, between Guntur and Vijayawada, using the land pooling method is itself questionable.

In land pooling, farmers do not get monetary compensation for their land, but a proportionate piece of developed property in the new city. While they are paid a pension for 10 years, the rising value of land prices in the city will eventually compensate them for the land they gave up. However, a group of about 500 farmers have refused to participate in land pooling as they worry that the city will not come up. And there is also uncertainty about whether the Amaravati project will meet its deadlines correctly.

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