In search of a capital: Andhra Pradesh’s hundred-year-old saga

Political compulsions, irony of history, pusillanimous policies often driven by vested interests, are responsible for this painful journey of the Seemandhra people in search of a capital.
In search of a capital: Andhra Pradesh’s hundred-year-old saga
In search of a capital: Andhra Pradesh’s hundred-year-old saga
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The hunt to identify a capital for the Seemandhra people, who now constitute the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, is a hundred year saga. Uncertainty over what would be the capital always haunted this region except for a period of five decades when Hyderabad was the capital of composite Telugu state. Political compulsions, irony of history, pusillanimous policies often driven by vested interests, are responsible for this painful journey of the Seemandhra people in search of a capital.

 As part of the combined Madras state, the Telugu people of this region felt discriminated. The trigger came when a Tamil speaking magistrate brought in a Tamil speaking person as an attender in his office at Guntur. The Telugu speaking people became furious and felt insulted that they were not considered eligible even for lower level jobs in their own region. This led to the first conference in 1913 at Bapatla to represent the interests of the Telugu people in the composite Madras state. This desire of the Telugu speaking people, in fact, sowed the seeds of movement for linguistic states in India.

The struggle for linguistic reorganisation of states was embraced by the freedom struggle as a democratic movement. However, the immediate rulers of independent India though sympathetic to the cause were skeptical of its consequences, given the widespread disunity in the country at that point in time. But, the democratic urge of the Telugu people to carve out a separate state from Madras was accomplished after the martyrdom of Potti Sreeramulu. Thus, Andhra was the harbinger of linguistic reorganisation in democratic India.

The Telugu leadership fought for rights over Madras city. But it was denied, breaking the long politico-geographical association of the Telugu people with Madras. In fact, until NT Rama Rao assumed office as Chief Minister, all Telugu speaking people were identified as ‘Madrasis’ by north Indians, including those in the national capital.

Combined Telugu state

The Andhra state was thus formed in 1953 with Kurnool as its capital. But this capital was short-lived as Andhra was merged with the Telugu speaking parts of Hyderabad state to form Andhra Pradesh in 1956 with Hyderabad as its capital. Hyderabad was the natural choice for the combined Telugu state, as Kurnool was ill-equipped to serve as the capital of a nascent state. In contrast, Hyderabad was already a major city in the country with requisite infrastructure due to its royal history.

In fact, there were a lot of apprehensions and misgivings in the Telangana region over the merger of the two Telugu speaking areas. Telangana was under feudal dispensation, while Andhra was under the British Raj. However, Hyderabad becoming the capital of the combined state also helped in cementing the uneasy relationship between Telangana and Andhra regions. Several promises were made to the people of the Telangana region in the form of gentlemen’s agreement to assuage their feelings that they may be marginalised in the composite Telugu state. As these promises were unmet, the movement for a separate state of Telangana with Hyderabad as its capital refused to die down. This finally led to the bifurcation of the combined Telugu state with Seemandhra region now constituting the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.

Bifurcation and residuary Andhra Pradesh

The people of the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, who are described as Seemandrites, had nearly six decades of emotional, economic, physical and social connect with the city of pearls. But they were deprived of Hyderabad as it became the capital of the newly formed state of Telangana.

In fact, the loss of the capital Hyderabad was the bone of contention during the movement for the separate state and the run-up to the bifurcation. The people of Seemandhra rose in protest against the bifurcation, while Telangana region saw widespread support for a separate state. There were even demands to make Hyderabad a union territory to be shared by both Andhra and Telangana as the capital, on the lines of Punjab and Haryana sharing Chandigarh. But history and geography went against the wishes of the Seemandhra region. Hyderabad state with Hyderabad as its capital existed between 1948-1956. Hyderabad is geographically located in Telangana, making it difficult for the Seemandhra people to realise their dream of retaining rights over the city.

Given the absence of a readymade capital city, Andhra Pradesh was allowed to share Hyderabad for a period of 10 years. Thus, the city became a common capital for both the Telugu states.

Why AP let go of Hyderabad as capital

However, the socio-political idiom soon changed. The residuary Andhra Pradesh left Hyderabad much before the 10-year period expired. There are distinct schools of explanation for why this happened. Firstly, the then Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu struck an emotional chord stating that they would look to their own state, however inadequate the capital may be. The loss of Hyderabad and the arbitrary division of the state much to the displeasure and disenchantment of the Seemandhra people was Naidu’s major political and electoral plank since 2014 until the special status dominated the political narrative. Leaving Hyderabad and embarking upon the Amravati journey was the outcome of such politics of sentiment.

Naidu’s critics have altogether a different narrative to offer. They claim that he left Hyderabad hurriedly as he was caught red-handed conniving in a cash-for-vote scam that involved an influential TDP legislator bribing a nominated MLA to vote in their favor in the legislative council elections.

Thus, Andhra Pradesh began its destiny in 2014 with Amaravati as its green field capital. It derived its name from the historical town of Amaravati, the capital of the sprawling Satavahana dynasty. Naidu embarked upon building the capital despite Hyderabad being the common capital for 10 years per the bifurcation act of 2014. Though the expert committee appointed to look into the setting up of the capital recommended against constructing a green field capital in a new state plagued by revenue and developmental deficits, the Chandrababu Naidu led TDP government went ahead with its grandiose Amaravati project. Naidu claimed that Amaravati would be a world class city with world class infrastructure and opportunities. Over 33,000 acres were mobilised through the policy of land pooling. Thus, the idea was to make the new capital along with the Vijayawada – Guntur stretch becoming a major metropolis.

Since the inception of the idea, Amaravati always had its critics. Financial unviability and environmental unsustainability were the major objections to the mega new capital. Naidu went ahead with his unilateral decision on Amaravati compelling YS Jagan Mohan Reddy to comply. Naidu’s idea was never to build a political consensus over the new capital, but an attempt to have an indelible personal and political impact on the fledgling capital city.

In a frantic bid to erase Naidu’s imprint on the contemporary history of the state, especially its capital Amaravati, current Chief Minister Jagan is now toying with the idea of having three capitals with Visakhapatnam as its executive capital. Amaravati, designated as the legislative capital, will only have a lackluster presence. Jagan is committed to his plan of distributive capitals. Though certain functions of the capital may be distributed to Amaravati and Kurnool, it is clear that Visakhapatnam would now be the real capital of Andhra Pradesh. With every other party opposing the move, the endurance of the Visakhapatnam capital story authored by Jagan Mohan Reddy is both uncertain and unpredictable.

Thus, the Seemandhra people’s hundred-year quest for a capital is still unfinished, with Visakhapatnam being the latest episode.

Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana.

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