The rumblings within the ruling TDP-BJP combine have found an echo in Rayalaseema, a backward region of the successor state of Andhra Pradesh. While the AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu seems determined to take the alliance to the brink over what he terms the Modi government’s injustice to his state, the BJP decided to pay him back in his own coin with the same phrase – injustice to Rayalaseema in the Naidu government.
At a state executive meeting in Kurnool on 23 February, the BJP unfolded its ‘Rayalaseema Declaration’, blaming Chandrababu’s rule – close to one and a half decades – for the backwardness of the region. Incidentally, Naidu is a native of the same region.
The charter of demands pronounced in the declaration include location of the second capital in Rayalaseema; revival of the regional development board, a statutory mechanism conceived by the Indira Gandhi government at the Centre in the 1970s to check separatist tendencies (however, the boards were scrapped after the TDP came to power in 1983 and revived by the Congress later following the heat of the Telangana movement. They became non-existent after the state bifurcation in 2014); a package with Rs 20,000 cr from the AP state budget for 2018-19 for development of the region and another Rs 20,000 cr to complete pending irrigation projects.
The BJP’s so-called Rayalaseema declaration gives a shot in the arm for the protagonists of trifurcation who demanded separation of Rayalaseema from undivided AP along with Telangana before 2014. The separatists alleged that injustice was meted out by their coastal Andhra brethren after the bifurcation of Telangana as was the case during the formation of Andhra state.
Recalling the Sribagh Pact
The current situation is a grim pointer to ignoring of the Sribagh Pact after enlisting support from the leaders of Rayalaseema (then Ceded districts) for unbundling of northern Circar parts from the Madras Presidency to make way for Andhra state. Leaders from both the regions inked a pact at Sribagh, the residence of a freedom fighter from the Circar region, in 1937.
Establishing either the capital or the high court in the Rayalaseema region formed part of the pact as a quid pro quo for its support of the formation of the linguistic state. Rayalaseema’s Kurnool city was used as the new capital of Andhra state for some time while the high court was located in Guntur. However, the capital was moved to Hyderabad after the formation of Andhra Pradesh with the merger of the Hyderabad state in 1956; so also was the high court.
After the bifurcation of Telangana, Amaravati, falling under Guntur district in coastal Andhra, became the capital of the successor state. The Naidu government’s decision to shift the high court also to Guntur district triggered massive protests in Rayalaseema. Lawyers have been boycotting courts and staging protests for several days demanding that the high court be located in Rayalaseema in line with the Sribagh Pact as the capital went to coastal Andhra (Amaravati).
Wounded by the “injustice” tirade of its ally, the BJP joined the movement for high court in Rayalaseema launched by lawyers with leanings from the opposition YSRCP.
The truncated state is endowed with distinct regional identities. The Rayalaseema and Uttarandhra regions, with scarce irrigation facility and poor industrial growth, are reeling under backwardness with a dwindling share in the GSDP (gross state domestic product) and per capita income. Coastal Andhra, gifted with the perennial rivers Godavari and Krishna, fertile deltaic regions and irrigation systems built by the British engineer Sir Arthur Cotton, is the envy of the other two regions.
These divergent growth paradigms stoked regional sentiments in the Rayalaseema and Uttarandhra regions marked by demands for separate statehood, now and then.
The growth disparity in Rayalaseema quite often becomes the ammunition for the parties in the opposition to settle scores with their rivals in power. The Congress, when in the opposition, spearheaded massive and violent protests, and even observed the AP State Formation Day (November 1) as the ‘day of betrayal’ under the leadership of former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy and former minister MV Mysura Reddy to strike at the TDP which was in power.
The BJP’s new stance
The BJP too with its slogan – ‘two states with one vote’, coined at its national plenum in Kakinada in 1998 – takes credit for the division of the state like the then ruling Congress. Is the BJP again pitching for another split with its catchy phrase hardly three years after the separation of Telangana or is it trying to checkmate its hawkish ally?
The BJP is non-existent in the whole of Rayalaseema, which has 52 Assembly constituencies out of 175 in the successor state. It won the Kadiri Assembly segment once with the support of the TDP. Therefore, it is clear that the BJP by raising the bogey of injustice to Rayalaseema is unlikely to gain anything in the coming election. But, it can surely trouble its alliance partner in the region where the political space is by and large shared between the TDP and the YSRCP.
“They (BJP) are deliberately singing the Rayalaseema song now only to benefit the YSRC,” TDP MLC YB Rajendra Prasad was heard saying resentfully in a TV debate.
How will the second capital be built in Rayalaseema when there are no funds for the first capital (Amaravati) itself, he asked.
Poor industrial growth breeding unemployment, progress of irrigation projects at snail’s pace and recurrent droughts and crop failures has triggered backwardness and distress in Rayalaseema. The Centre promised to establish a steel plant in Kadapa which the locals hope will address unemployment problems. But the plant has failed to come up.
During the current regime of the TDP, a thrust was given to develop Visakhapatnam as a major industrial hub. Plans are afoot to develop Vijayawada as a centre of agri-based industry and an automobile hub.
Rayalaseema is rich in minerals – asbestos, baryte, China clay, calcite, dolomite, diamonds, green quartz, iron ore, limestone and silica sand. It also has rich forest wealth like the rare red sandalwood. But it continues to receive a raw deal from the governments in power in terms of industrial development at par with the other regions in AP.