The entire state of Andhra Pradesh read the 9-page letter from BJP chief Amit Shah to Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu with disbelief, as it not only made it crystal clear that Special Category Status (SCS) will not be granted, but also went on the offensive, accusing the CM of being ineffective and incompetent.
One can’t help but wonder if the much-celebrated reformist and administrator, Naidu, brought this upon himself with his actions and words.
The letter from Amit Shah may turn out to the final nail on the proverbial coffin as far as BJP’s electoral prospects in the state are concerned. The anger against the perceived high-handedness of the Centre just went up a few notches with this letter from the ruling-party President, who is not a member of the Union government.
While BJP is the main villain in this story, I believe Naidu made four big mistakes in the past four years.
Blind trust in BJP
Instead of acting like a leader of a major regional party, Naidu behaved like an old-school Congress leader looking for high command approval. There was absolutely no need to beg when the AP Reorganization Act is a law that must be upheld by the Centre. Perhaps he was grateful that the Modi-phenomenon helped him win in 2014 and probably calculated that he would be needed again in 2019.
There is no logical explanation for why, as a leader of considerable stature, he could not create conditions to duly amend the AP Reorganization Act and include SCS right after the Modi cabinet took office.
Naidu’s lack of conviction in obtaining SCS is a big reason why the state still didn’t get it, even though both Congress and BJP publicly committed to it, repeatedly. He not only told people that a package is better than status but also publicly chided and suppressed activists and opposition parties for agitating.
However, the 2018 Union Budget suddenly opened his eyes to the injustice and sensing mounting public anger, he started singing the special status tune again. When he spoke to the PM after withdrawing his Ministers, he said “public sentiment is strong for the special category status,” and not “special category status is our right!”
Even the most loyal supporters of Naidu cannot deny the fact that he flip-flopped on the special category status and that cost the state dearly.
Obsession with Amaravati
Yes, Naidu deserves all the credit for making Hyderabad what it is today but his obsession of building yet another Hyderabad is not only silly, it is plain bad governance. Over-centralization is what caused the heart burn with state division and why should the same approach be taken again? Andhra Pradesh needed 13 economic centers, not one mega city. AP needed public spending to fight child marriage, reduce infant mortality rate and malnutrition – all of which make AP look terrible in terms of human development. Instead, we got a never-ending marketing campaign, the highlight being the Prime Minister himself giving some special ‘matti’ and ‘neeru‘(mud and water), instead of special status! Excessive attention to one capital city instead of seven backward districts, that remained backward even after 14 years of being CM, sent a wrong signal.
As a key player in NDA with a national profile and by offering ministers to BJP, Naidu had significant political capital to leverage. Whether it was demonetisation or GST or Aadhaar, Naidu acted like a cheerleader instead of acting in the interest of the state and making his support conditional on delivering promises.
Instead of letting Central government take care of Polavaram project as prescribed by the Act, Naidu insisted on getting control over it. What difference will it make to the people if the state government executes the project? Naidu was more interested in delimitation that gives more MLA seats than special category status. What difference does it make to people if there are 250 MLAs instead of 175? Instead of consistently fighting for special category status, he went after other things, weakening his own position at the negotiation table.
Instead of acting like a CM in desperate need for incentives to kick start economic activity, Naidu constantly presented a rosy picture of growth while the infant mortality rate is at dangerous levels and several lakh young people are looking for jobs.
Naidu has a strong brand as a reformist, visionary CM and his work ethic is commendable but he seems to have chased misplaced priorities these past four years. Politics is the fine art of balancing conflicting interests and it is rather sad that a seasoned politician wasted every opportunity to get SCS.
Nobody is perfect and history will be the judge, but the people of Andhra must certainly reflect on whether the right kind of political leadership was given to them by someone they trusted to steer the new state, that they didn’t want in the first place.
Srinivas Alavilli is an activist and an occasional commentator on politics. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.