Special Category Status for AP: Competitive politics trumps people’s interest?

The timing of the demand for the Special Category Status and the no-confidence motions is questionable, coming before an election year.
Special Category Status for AP: Competitive politics trumps people’s interest?
Special Category Status for AP: Competitive politics trumps people’s interest?
Written by:

Prudhvi Vegesna

The principal political parties in Andhra Pradesh, the TDP and the YSRCP, have upped the ante in the Parliament for granting of Special Category Status (SCS) to the state. Both the parties moved no-confidence motions and their members were quite vocal about their demand. However, the timing, before an election year, is questionable as they failed to put in concerted efforts to put pressure on the Centre for four years.

It appears that the parties have realised that it is high time they acted on the issue of SCS, else they get booted out by the people in the 2019 elections.

Collective failure of political parties

An atmosphere of hate, mistrust and ‘name calling’ characterises the conduct of the ruling TDP and the main opposition party YSRCP in the state. Blinded by an aim to cling to power at any cost, the leaders of these political parties fail to show even a modicum of amity and congeniality. The result is that they failed to act collectively, unlike in other states like Tamil Nadu where political parties across the spectrum stood united on issues like Jallikattu and Cauvery water dispute, to put pressure on the Centre for the grant of Special Category Status (SCS) to the state.

The fierce competition for power was also evident from the fact that both the TDP and the YSRCP moved separate no-confidence motions in the Lok Sabha in an effort to send a message to the people that they were serious about the SCS issue.

However, the greater onus to prevail upon the Centre for granting of SCS is upon the TDP as it is a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Sadly, it took four years and 29 visits to New Delhi for the Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to realise the “gross injustice done to Andhra Pradesh” and pull out of the NDA.

SCS: A rightful demand

The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 states that the Centre shall take appropriate fiscal measures, including offering of tax incentives, to promote industrialisation and economic growth. Further, “the central government shall support the programme for the development of backward areas, including expansion of physical and social infrastructure” (Part X – Infrastructure and special economic measures).

On the lines of the Act and recognising the developmental needs of Andhra Pradesh, which lacked revenue and infrastructure due to the hotch-potch state division, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on February 20, 2014 in the Rajya Sabha that the state shall be given SCS for a period of five years. The BJP batted for even better terms and demanded SCS be extended for 10 years.

After coming to power, however, the BJP government failed to honour the commitment and placed the blame on the 14th Finance Commission (FFC). For instance, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley earlier said that the 14th Finance Commission removed the concept of special category status.

However, in an article in The Hindu on March 12, 2018, M Govinda Rao, member of the 14th Finance Commission, argued that it was incorrect to blame the FFC as the terms of reference of the commission did not require it to deal with the categorisation of states into “special category” and “non-special category” and therefore it was not required to make any recommendation on the issue.

Further he argued, “Thus, nowhere has the FFC referred to the issue of desirability or of according special category status in its report. Therefore, attributing blame to the FFC for the inability to accord special category status is clearly misleading … Neither the Constitution nor the FFC have had anything to do with this.”

Assertion as coalition partners

In various earlier instances, regional parties prevailed over the Centre, who was their coalition partner, through tough bargaining to cater to their interests.

For example, in 2011, when the then PM Manmohan Singh had almost finalised the Teesta water sharing agreement with Bangladesh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pulled out of his Dhaka trip and stalled the deal.

Again in 2013, Manmohan Singh did not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka bowing to pressure put by its alliance partner, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

In Andhra Pradesh’s case, one can argue that the room for manoeuvre is limited for the TDP, given the numbers the BJP has in the Lok Sabha and the less number of TDP MPs (15 in the Lok Sabha). However, such an argument holds little ground given the role played by the TDP in the earlier NDA regime; it could have shown greater assertion for Andhra Pradesh’s rights instead of buying time. At best, it could have walked out of the NDA much earlier and certainly not a year before the 2019 elections.

Further, there was no coherence in the stand taken by the TDP on the SCS issue. This was evident from the statements given by some TDP leaders that the ‘special package’ was better than ‘special category status’. However, the party was forced to bargain for SCS again fearing political costs after the YSRCP unveiled an aggressive campaign to demand SCS.

Sadly, politics in India has been reduced to a numbers game with politicians channelling all their energies to find ways to remain in power rather than being concerned about the real issues that affect the common man. It is high time political parties in the country show maturity, respect the people’s mandate and shed their differences to unite over crucial issues.

The author is an independent journalist and public policy analyst currently based in Hyderabad.

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