What AP needs is money, not status

S Madhusudhana Rao

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side is his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is proving tall on promises and short on fulfilling them, and on the other side are the opposition parties accusing him of not pressurizing the central government enough for Special Status to the residuary Telugu state.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

More than a year after bifurcation, AP is struggling to sail on two boats with one foot of its Chief Minister in Hyderabad and the other in the camp capital Vijayawada. The blueprint for new capital city Amaravati is ready; but it needs thousands of crores to take a concrete shape. With state revenue barely meeting employees’ salaries, AP needs massive infusion of central funds to set up a functional capital city with Secretariat, Legislative Assembly, official residences for Governor and Chief Minister and quarters for bureaucrats and government staff. Plus roads, water, power, schools and hospitals and connectivity to nearby cities and towns have to be developed from scratch. The aid the Modi government has given AP so far is peanuts. Once the capital construction begins – expected to be in October – the state needs a continuous flow of aid. If it does not get it in an orderly manner, foundation stones and half built structures will be staring at people and the TDP government.

That is a grim scenario which can come true if the BJP government continues to dodge AP in extending financial aid. The funds were supposed to flow through a Special Status pipeline. At least that had been promised during and after elections. In the aftermath of bifurcation when emotions had been running high in AP for the loss of ‘beloved’ Hyderabad to Telangana, the Special Status came handy for every leader worth his/her salt to douse people’s anger. Chandrababu has built castles in the air based on Special Status and showed the dream capital (better than Hyderabad) to the people of Andhra Pradesh to win their hearts and minds. But, alas, he is at a loss for words now. Despite numerous meetings with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (another is scheduled next week), Chandrababu could not pull it off. The Special Status tag has remained a chimera.

On Tuesday (August 11), Jaitley killed AP’s lingering hope by telling a delegation of Andhra MPs that the centre can’t grant Special Status to that state since there is no such provision in the 14th Finance Commission. But, he assured, the central government would walk an extra mile to help AP tide over its financial crisis and constraints in building its capital city.

In fact, Jaitley and other BJP leaders, including Minister for Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu, have been hinting at no Special Status for AP, citing unconvincing reasons. One argument is there are many other states which are economically worse than AP and the Special Status has to be given to them also if that privilege is given to Andhra Pradesh. But that point has never been countered effectively by AP leaders. The state may not be economically backward but the situation created by bifurcation has made it capital-less and its revenue loss is humongous.

If the central government had made up its mind long ago not to accord Special Status on some specious claim, why it has been flummoxing AP and its people for so many months? Or, is it the Chandrababu Naidu government that has failed to read BJP government’s intentions? Or, both are playing a game to gain political mileage? Whatever the reason may be, Andhra Pradesh, having denied the Special Status, has to wait for funds until the Modi government starts walking an extra mile!

Jaitley’s assurance doesn’t give any confidence to AP simply because such promises made earlier had fallen flat. Not long ago, the architect of bifurcation, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, had said that her party would see to it that no injustice would be done to the residuary Telugu state. Similar view was echoed by her Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Congress stalwarts during their parliamentary poll campaign in Andhra Pradesh. If the party was so serious about what they had said, why did it not include the ‘Special Status’ clause in the State Reorganisation Act and make annual budget allocations mandatory?

For that matter, BJP, which was in opposition at that time, could have insisted on ‘status’ inclusion before voting for the bill. Even at a later date, when the BJP came to power and abolished the Planning Commission, it could have addressed the AP issue before setting up the 14th Finance Commission. And, still, it had a chance to right a wrong when it transferred seven mandals under Polavaram from Telangana to AP against the former’s wishes through an ordinance. What all this boils down to is if the BJP government wanted to do justice to AP, it could have done it long ago. Since the centre has not done any such thing, Jaitley’s sweet talk of walking extra mile for AP sounds hollow.

Meanwhile, BJP’s charade has come handy for opposition parties to corner Chandrababu. YSR Congress Party chief Jaganmohan Reddy’s Delhi protest at Jantar Mantar and an all-party Tuesday bandh in AP for Special Status were all aimed at impressing the people that they too are concerned rather than fighting for the cause whole-heartedly. Where were state Congress leaders when the bifurcation process was going on? Could they have not raised the status issue instead of nodding their heads to Sonia tune?

As we say, it’s history. In any case, what’s this ‘Special Status’ everybody is clamouring for and how does it help a state? It will get tax incentives, more share in central government-sponsored schemes, more allocation in plan expenditure and above all liberal central funding. Such measures will boost a state’s growth and in case of economically sick states the Special Status will be a shot in the arm.

Since there is no Special Status provision under BJP government dispensation and it is promising to compensate the state in some other way – modalities are being worked out – through a package which is touted as better than Special Status, the least AP political leaders of all hues could do is to try to clinch a better deal from centre than harping on the Special Status.

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