AP's three capitals issue back in focus as Assembly begins key session

As the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly began its monsoon session on Thursday, the contentious three capitals issue is back in buzz


AMARAVATI: As the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly began its monsoon session on Thursday, the contentious three capitals issue is back in buzz. A fresh bout of boxing between the YSRCP and the TDP-led pro-Amaravati campaigners is only likely to reach a flash point during this crucial session. It comes in the midst of intense speculation that Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy was determined to push a revamped bill through the current session and get it passed in both the Assembly and the Legislative Council.

The move, if translated into reality, cannot have come at a more perfect time from Jagan's perspective. A Maha Padayatra of so-called farmers of Amaravati is currently trudging towards Arasavilli to espouse their 'one-capital-only' cause.

The grapevine says that, with the enactment of his government's proposed decentralisation of administration, Jagan wants to take the fizz out of the Maha Padayatra – an exercise widely suspected to be tacitly backed by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Also, the YSRCP chief wants to sound the poll bugle right from this Assembly session as he is reportedly determined to fight the 2024 elections with the three-capitals issue as a referendum on his government's resolve.

His government's efforts to make a legislation on this emotive issue came a cropper a few years ago when a TDP-dominated Legislative Council scuttled his plans amid dramatic twists and turns. Now that the YSRCP has firmly taken control of the Council with its newly-added members ensuring a comfortable majority, the chief minister is reportedly very sure of a smooth-sailing this time around.

January 20, 2020: YS Jaganmohan Reddy government introduces a bill in Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly for the creation of three capitals. Assembly adopts bill.

Earlier in the day, the AP cabinet approved the proposal to have three capitals.

January 21,2020: TDP, which was in majority then, blocks the three capitals bill in the Legislative Council.

January 23, 2020: Jagan's government passes statutory resolution seeking to abolish the Legislative Council

November 22, 2021: Andhra Pradesh Assembly passes Bill to repeal the AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Act, 2020

AP Advocate General Sriram Subrahmanyam informs AP High Court that the AP government had decided to withdraw the law.

March 3, 2022: A three-judge bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court cancels three capitals, CRDA Act; directs state to develop Amaravati as the capital.

As a staunch votary of decentralising administrative power to ensure all-round growth and preempt regional imbalances, YS Jagan was expected to make a strong pitch for the imperative of three capitals with a detailed powerpoint presentation to the Assembly on Thursday.

Beyond the Assembly, a battle of wits continues between the YSRCP and the TDP with the opposition party trying every trick to impede the ruling party's plans. Locked in a high-decibel war of words with the ruling party, the TDP has been sweating it out to build up a positive opinion for the interests of a handful of people in the Amaravati capital region. In a vain attempt, the TDP bandwagon led by its chief Chandrababu Naidu are demanding Jagan to dissolve the Assembly and go for fresh polls to let people decide the three capitals issue.

Though not willing to speak about it in public, Jagan too is reportedly game for it but only after its enactment.

Movement sans popular sentiment

Despite the efforts by the TDP to ramp up the support for the farmers, a glance at the ground scenario suggests that there is little public sentiment in favour of having Amaravati as the state's only capital. Even the pada yatra is being majorly propped up by the TDP cadres all along its route. The only area that seems to be staunchly bolstering their campaign is judiciary which, in the recent past, has cleared the hurdles for its long march up to Arasavilli.

YSRCP had won the majority seats within the Amaravati capital region, be it in the last Assembly elections or the various subsequent local polls. The biggest of verdicts on the capital issue, perhaps, came in Mangalagiri where Chandrababu Naidu's son Lokesh suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2019 elections.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), though keeping everyone guessing on the issue, also appeared to have conveniently washed off its hands as they are wary of inviting the anger of people in the rest of the state.

Mercedes cars, Rolex wrist watches

On the other hand, the Maha Padayatra is also being criticised heavily as it allegedly failed to showcase farmers, who actually gave away their lands for the sake of Amaravati. Latching on to this, a battery of Ministers ridiculed the TDP for tacitly supporting a failed movement that only flaunted its wealthy elite with luxury Mercedes cars and sporting high-end Rolex wrist watches.

Ambati Rambabu and Dharmana Prasada Rao slammed Chandrababu Naidu for throwing his weight behind the padayatra. They alleged that the TDP leaders had bought most of the lands donated by the farmers in Amaravati. The Ministers accused Chandrababu Naidu of trying to compromise the future of the state for the vested interests of a few of his followers. The TDP chief was also criticised for trying to divide an already divided state by fomenting regional unrest.

Former minister Kodali Nani also nullified the TDP chief's argument, saying that Amaravati would need at least Rs 2 lakh crores for its development whereas Visakhapatnam, as an already well-developed city with many strategic advantages, would only require Rs 10,000 crores once it was made the executive capital.

The overall mood within the ruling YSRCP is about the need to learn from the past mistakes, with specific reference to Hyderabad. In a Hyderabad-centric approach In the erstwhile unified state of Andhra Pradesh, investments were largely poured into the deccan capital and that the residuary state lost heavily due to this post bifurcation. The ruling party leaders alleged that Chandrababu Naidu was only trying to repeat the same mistakes that were committed in the unified state.

Jayaprakash Narayana backs Jagan's move

Seediri Appalaraju, Minister hailing from Srikakulam went one step ahead and vowed to stop the Maha Padayatra from entering his district. Dharmana Prasada Rao, also from the region, had earlier reflected the public mood, saying that it would be hard for the people of his region to suffer in silence and keep contributing for the prosperity of a handful of people in Amaravati.

The YSRCP also received support in the recent past from an unlikely quarter, in the form of Lok Satta founder Dr Jayaprakash Narayana. The bureaucrat-turned-politician, in his candid opinion on the issue, extended his support to YS Jagan's moves to decentralise the administration through the establishment of three capitals.

Echoing Jagan's argument, Jayaprakash Narayana said that the previous regime had converted the Amaravati capital region into a real estate deal. "The previous rulers had created a real estate mania and encouraged its activity. The resultant artificial increase in the land rates was later touted as development of the capital", he said.

Bhumana Karunakar Reddy, participating in a short discussion on the subject in the Assembly on Thursday, traced the historical aspects of the State and how Rayalaseema got a raw deal. He also gave a detailed account of YS Jaganmohan Reddy's vision of decentralization which does not just mean three capitals but setting up of village secretariats and increasing the number of districts which, he felt, has taken administration closer to people. Kurnool and Vizag were cited as capitals on previous occasions with recorded documentation and the decentralization was taken up in a bid to evade concentration of development in a single area, an example of which is Hyderabad, he said.

Kodali Nani (Venkateswara Rao) said that the decentralization policy of the Chief Minister was acknowledged by all regions in the subsequent elections to local bodies, Assembly and Lok Sabha after 2019. The TDP has been raking up a non-issue in the name of Amaravati agitation, he remarked. Nani also alleged that the previous TDP regime gifted away lands to many of its staunch sympathisers who also include Tollywood director K Raghavendra Rao and producer Ashwini Dutt.

Buggana Rajendernath Reddy said sarcastically commented that a few people benefitting from the contribution of the entire state was TDP's mode of development. On the other hand, Jagan wants the entire state to benefit and is striving for the balanced regional development, he said.

Former minister Kanna babu said that Amaravati was designed only to benefit Chandrababu's henchmen, just like the former CM did in the case of HiTech City in Hyderabad. While replicating the Hyderabad model, the previous TDP government completely ignored decentralization of development and concentrated only on Amaravati, he stated.

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