The ‘Amaravati conundrum’ has to be solved, but not at the cost of continuing the historical injustice meted out to other regions and sections of Andhra society.

An artist's visualisation of a proposed Secretariat building (Image: APCRDA)
Voices Opinion Saturday, January 18, 2020 - 12:56

He is a statesman, well-known among media circles to be modern, no-nonsense, investor-friendly. He is known not to entertain ‘schemes’ that drain the economy. Rather than distributing ‘crumbs’ he is known to be creator of wealth, though not much interest is evinced in investigating the beneficiaries of the wealth. He apparently also worked his level best to put the non-descript Hyderabad on the world map. That being his stature all hell broke loose when the recently-elected government of Andhra Pradesh headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy decided principally to apply brakes to the new dream of the aforementioned statesman. The media is up in arms against such drastic, senseless, ‘vendetta’ politics. Telugu or English, pages over pages are being dedicated to this apparently senseless decision. After all, politics is supposed to be constructive, though it depends on the vantage point of the viewer whether economically crippling, socially determinant, regionally unjust politics is constructive or regressive.

The modern man we are talking about is former Andhra Chief Minister and TDP leader Nara Chandrababu Naidu and the dream project is the construction of the unimpressively mega city which is also supposed to be the capital of Andhra Pradesh post-bifurcation- Amaravati. Tomes and tomes are being written on the protests happening in the villages of Amaravati. However, none seem to be interested in figuring out why protests haven’t been taking place much outside these 29 villages. It would be no exaggeration to say that one could pass from the western Guntur to western Krishna without witnessing protests in support of Amaravati on the scale being talked about. One such piece is this one published in TNM. I would like to offer a rejoinder to this piece here.

For the uninitiated, one thing has to be made clear. Amaravati is not the name of any village/town that is now being upgraded into Mega city. Amaravati is the name given to the cluster of 29 villages that is selected for locating the capital. The name was borrowed from a Buddhist site around 20km upstream from this location that in the past used to be a trading zone as it is situated at the intersection of Krishna and Munneru rivers, which in those days of riverine transport connected the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh and the upland region of present day Telangana.

Why was Amaravati chosen?

As it is known by now, the Sivaramakrishnan committee had in 2014 very clearly suggested that the capital should not be located in this particular place keeping in mind the topography and food security. However, the erstwhile TDP government in all its wisdom chose this particular place, though in the initial days rumors made rounds that Nuzvid in western Krishna would be made the capital. One would wonder why this particular location that was warned against was chosen by the erstwhile government. Perhaps one needs to go into post Prakasam Barrage and Dhowleswaram barrage irrigation canals’ history during the British period to understand this. Agricultural land had been a trading commodity in this part of Andhra Pradesh since then and the peak activity was observed during the global depression in the 1930s. Socially speaking, the dominant community owning land in this region is Kammas. Kammas who basically are small farmers, with few exceptions, occupy disproportionate positions everywhere you name it- politics, economy, media and not to mention progressive movements. Their hegemony is complete in this sense. It wouldn’t be out of place to state that anti-Kamma feelings were not at all absent during the Telangana statehood movement.

The capital accumulated with the help of canal irrigation has been re-invested not in any productive economy, but mostly in speculative economy such as land sales and money lending. That still drives the economy of this region of Andhra Pradesh. An economy that is solely built on speculative capital is bound to produce a society that is the mirror image of such values. Land, in complete contrast to what is now being said in overtly sentimental tone, has hardly been a matter of productive occupational pride. It has been an avenue for capital accumulation and redeployment from a long time. As has been said earlier the hegemony of Kammas is complete in the sense of occupying the political and economic space of the state. One wouldn’t need much empirical studies to understand how this hegemony had played out. Take any four villages. One from Krishna-Godavari region, one from northern Andhra region, one from southern Andhra region and one from Rayalaseema region. The mindboggling richness of the village in Krishna-Godavari region (even if it is in the poorer region of western side) would dwarf the minimal existence of the village in other regions. One could take another example- migration. It wouldn’t take much effort to understand that the migration destination of people from Krishna-Godavari region is North America and whereas from northern Andhra and Rayalaseema to the other states in India, mostly as low wage, contractual workers. All these simply did not happen overnight or because of ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ which people of Krishna-Godavari region would like to boast of. A strong hegemony in each and every sector enabled such lopsided, unjust development.

Equitable distribution of resources   

Here, then comes the question of a mammoth, centralized capital in the most developed zone in the state. The authors of the ‘Let Amaravati be’ piece are worried that re-locating (which, anyhow, hasn’t been clear whether it would be re-location or dispersion) such an effort would be tantamount to holding back the state from developing further. It would be helpful if the authors can actually clarify what development and whose development they are talking about. Two decades of neo-liberal development in Andhra Pradesh had made it one of the most unequal states in the country, one of the hottest destinations for farmer suicides and one of the states with high tenancy rates. A cursory look at the irrigation facilities across the state would reveal that this tract is the most irrigated in entire united Andhra Pradesh. It’s not for naught that one of the slogans of the Telangana statehood movement was “Nidhulu, Neellu, Niyamakaalu” (Funds, Water, Jobs).

Another argument the authors seems to be making is that gigantic capital and neo-liberal development have a causal relationship. Perhaps, the authors would do well to take note of the point that more than gigantic capital what the neo-liberal capital would require is state support and requisite ecosystem. In these times, no state government is willing to be behind in offering every possible support for the neo-liberal capital. That leaves us with the requisite ecosystem. It isn’t clear at all why capital would be deployed in this part of the country when there is the requisite ecosystem in place in already established places like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Chennai. Related to this is the authors’ assertion that developing Amaravati according to the grandiose dreams of Chandrababu Naidu would retain talent within the state. I would like to request the authors to explain why didn’t the ‘spectacular’ development of Hyderabad stop the voluntary migration to the northern hemisphere?

Re-distribution is sine qua non (an essential condition) for any attempts at an equitable distribution of resources. That is the value on which land redistribution and reservations are based. The resources that have been monopolized historically by dominant sections have to be redistributed for any semblance of equitable, harmonious co-existence in the society. Having said this, I would hasten to add that mere dispersion of the capital city in three places would not by itself bring any sustainable development. That would require a complete reevaluation of our political and economic priorities.

The northern Andhra region and Rayalaseema region whose existence is confined to their lowly portrayal in the Telugu cinema landscape had expressed themselves very strongly in the recent elections. In all the seven districts in these two regions, TDP could not win a single seat in three districts and had it not been for Naidu himself the number would have been four. In all, they could scrape through in nine seats out of 86 seats in these regions.  Make no mistake, northern Andhra region used to be a TDP citadel not long ago. There could be many other reasons, but one cannot discount this centralizing tendency for such drubbing. It is not a bad idea to learn from such dastardly drubbing.

Before ending this, I would like to dispel some myths associated with Amaravati. Contrary to what is being drilled into our ears day and night, nothing much has actually been constructed on the ground. A temporary Secretariat and a temporary High Court are functioning as of today. Non-Gazetted Officers’ quarters, MLA/MP housing quarters, weaker sections housing project were completed to the tune of 75%. Judges’ bungalows are under construction. One portion of seed-access road was made available and another portion is still under construction. If one visits Amaravati, the only buildings that would be visible are these. Coming to private constructions, SRM University, VIT University and Amrita University are under construction, though SRM and VIT started admitting students. So, the talk about laying waste to the humungous capital that has already been constructed is a plain lie and nothing else. No one would deny the necessity to find an amicable solution to the vexatious land question. But that cannot be used forever to hold the attempts at equitable distribution to hostage.

The ‘Amaravati conundrum’ has to be solved, but not at the cost of continuing the historical injustice meted out to other regions and sections of Andhra society.

G Rohith is an activist with Human Rights Forum in Andhra Pradesh. Views expressed are author’s own.

Read the rejoinder to this piece - Opinion: Let Amaravati be