On 22 October 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for Andhra's new capital, Amaravati. The expectation was that Modi would announce a huge financial bonanza on the occasion. Instead, the PM arrived with two pots that contained soil from Parliament House complex and water from the Yamuna and gifted them to Chandrababu Naidu.
This instance sums up the nature of the discord between the BJP and the Telugu Desam, the two parties that were part of the power structure both in Delhi and in Andhra till Wednesday evening. The expectation was that Modi would help the residuary state of Andhra generously, but by March 2018, the gap had widened so much that Naidu said he felt insulted.
“I visited the Centre 29 times over the issue but they did not pay heed. The way they are talking, saying ‘this is how much we will give’ is an insult to the state,'' said Naidu at a press conference late on Wednesday night.
It is a predictable rant, perfected over the years by his party. The TDP chieftain has fallen back on the time-tested slogan of Telugu self-respect to say how much Delhi humiliated the people of Andhra. In doing so, Naidu has turned the clock back to 1982-83, when NT Rama Rao came to power, riding on the anger against an arrogant Congress in Delhi.
At the heart of the dispute between Andhra Pradesh and the Centre is one word: Special. That's because on the floor of the House during the debate on the state's division, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that the residuary state of Andhra will enjoy a Special Category Status (SCS) for five years to help it tide over its financial woes. The BJP, in its enthusiasm to come to power in 2014, declared that it will extend the special status to a decade. The Telugu Desam, which fought the polls in alliance with the BJP, could not be happier.
The status of the SCS today is the BJP has not made Andhra feel special, reducing it to just another state in the general category. This it has done by taking refuge under the 14th Finance Commission recommendation against SCS. Instead, it offered that minus the nomenclature of special category, New Delhi would extend all the financial benefits that would usually accrue to a SCS state. This essentially means centrally sponsored schemes to be funded 90 per cent by the Centre and 10 per cent by the state. In normal circumstances, select projects are funded 60 per cent by the Centre and 40 per cent by the state.
Naidu had agreed to the special package, realising there was no go. Its public representatives too berated the opposition YSR Congress for making a mountain out of a molehill, pointing out that they are missing the wood for the trees.
The reality was Naidu was not getting his way around with Modi, the way he managed to with AB Vajpayee between 1998-2004. Every aspect of the Reorganisation Act was being contested fiercely, making Naidu feel like he was asking for the moon. His contention was Andhra should be given what was promised to it under the Act.
- The revenue deficit estimated for Andhra by the Governor during President's rule in 2014 was Rs 16000 crore. But the NDA did not agree with the figure and brought it down to Rs 4100 crore. Andhra on the contrary, claimed that as per the 14th Finance Commission, the deficit figure should be Rs 20,000 crore. After much to and fro, the two sides reportedly agreed to a figure of Rs 7500 crore. But at the end, Delhi stuck to paying only Rs 4100 crore, of which Rs 138 crore is pending. Andhra sees this mathematical jugglery as unfair to the state.
- The TDP complains that of the Rs 10,000 crore needed for construction of phase one of capital Amaravati, the Centre has released just 25 per cent of the money, which is Rs 2500 crore. But much of this money was spent on constructing the temporary seat of power in Velagapudi. As far as Delhi is concerned, on paper, it has funded the construction of a Secretariat and an Assembly and may not be open to the idea of funding now for an opulent permanent office.
- One of TDP’s demands is to set up the Railway zone in Visakhapatnam. But the AP Reorganisation Act said it will only examine the establishment of the Railway zone in the state. It was examined by a committee and was not found to be feasible. Now the TDP wants the BJP to take a political call and establish the zone in Vizag, despite technical advice to the contrary.
- The Polavaram irrigation project is extremely critical to Andhra. The TDP claims the state has spent over Rs 7400 crore. Arun Jaitley claims Rs 5000 crore have been given so far and more funds will be released depending on the progress of the project.
- The TDP says that the pace at which work on starting different institutions in Andhra is going on, it will take 20 years for them to become a reality. Delhi claims all projects are on track.
The question that now arises is, does the exit help Andhra?
No, it does not, more so if the BJP returns to power in 2019. It is more targeted at helping the TDP. Naidu's sulk is more of a political gambit to make the BJP the villain of the piece, in order to win the elections. If he succeeds in his mission to return to power, it could well be back to square one where the BJP and TDP will once again have to do business with each other. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Views expressed are the author's own.