A capital city is a community space that serves as an influential marker of a state’s culture, history, and people, but that is now being challenged.

Voices Opinion Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 09:17

By Naga Sravan Kilaru and Vamsi Viraj 

When the new state of Andhra Pradesh emerged in 2014, it was saddled with disproportionate debts, inadequate sources of revenue, and most importantly, no capital city.

Hyderabad was supposed to serve as a joint capital for 10 years but there needed to be a long-term vision for building a new capital. The shifting of government machinery and the Assembly from Hyderabad was definitive in how it signaled to people, the importance of a capital. 

If the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government had stayed in Hyderabad while building Amaravati, the new capital would not have been invested with the kind of urgency and sense of purpose needed. Only when top officials are seen to be working in the new capital can the people come to believe in it, and invest in it.

While the formation of Telangana fulfilled the aspirations of its people, the state of Andhra faced an existential crisis with no sense of purpose or manifest destiny. 

A capital city is a community space that serves as an influential marker of a state’s culture, history, and people. By focusing the energies of people, and in being a place of opportunity and aspirations, a capital serves as a growth engine that drives the entire state forward, in pursuit of growth and welfare.

Shifting of capitals, echoes of history

The Congress stalwarts of the 1950s, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, did not want the Vijayawada-Guntur region as the capital since it was considered a Communist bastion back then. This was despite the Telugu members of the Madras Legislative Assembly, in July 1953, voting in favor of shifting their capital from Kurnool to this region.

The YSRCP government’s decision to decentralise the capital has evoked varied reactions from the people, media, and political leaders.

Multiple reasons are being given for this shifting, which is mainly being portrayed as a means to decentralise development, following the model of South Africa, which has its legislative capital in Cape Town, administrative capital in Pretoria, and its apex courts in other cities. However, the modern history and race relations of South Africa are far removed from that of Andhra Pradesh. It is also not feasible to shift capitals after five years spent developing lands, constructions, and inviting investments with a promise of stable governance.

Though this is made out to be about decentralisation of development, Visakhapatnam will effectively be the capital with the all-important Secretariat and CMO to be shifted to the city. When Amaravati was being built, there was consensus among all parties though questions were raised about costs and land pooling. Soil from several thousand villages all across the state was collected in laying the foundation of Amaravati. One could feel the sense of a shared destiny, a sense of belonging from every village and town of Andhra Pradesh in the founding of Amaravati. 

Amaravati and Hyderabad - the issue of legacies

Amaravati was to repeat the growth story of Hyderabad, to be built as a lasting legacy where the major contributors again, were the enterprising Telugu people.

Over the last two decades, we had the phenomenon of Telugu youth migrating abroad in search of better opportunities. Amaravati was to become a global city, a place that intended to retain this talent and also attracts talent from elsewhere.

While strong foundations for the Hyderabad growth story were laid by then CM Chandrababu Naidu, he lost power in 2004 just as the city was taking off as a formidable rival to Bangalore.

Credit must be given to the succeeding government under YSR, who continued to back the city’s IT-powered transformation into a megacity. When power changed hands from TDP to Congress, there was an implicit understanding between the top leaders of both parties that while they were political opponents, there would be continuity in governance, development and economic reforms. 

The state's interests trumped all politics and personal vendettas. Projects that were begun under Chandrababu Naidu were continued and completed by his successor.

The romance of building a new city harked back to the glory of Satavahanas, one of the earliest empire-builders of the subcontinent, who had their capital at Amaravati. Similarly, later in history, Buddhism prevailed here and took deep roots.

Amaravati had an appeal that united people across all sections and all regions of Andhra. Partnerships with foreign firms and countries were established, a Start-up Area was envisioned to be developed by a Singaporean consortium, and universities were invited to build their campuses here. 

Just as Hyderabad forms an essential thread of the story of united Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati now was to continue that thread, as a better version, based on sound principles of building new-age cities. 

But now, the legacies of the TDP government are being attacked without the realisation that these were built over the past 5 years by not just a party or a leader, but by the people of Andhra Pradesh. In contesting these legacies, what is being questioned is our new identity itself. 

It is high time the current Chief Minister heeds the voices of people protesting on the ground, set aside his vendetta politics, and takes decisions in the interests of Andhra Pradesh.

Vamsi Viraj is an alumnus of IIT Chennai and a political analyst. Naga Sravan Kilaru is a National Youth Awardee, 2018 and a political activist, who has worked with the TDP. Views expressed are the authors' own.