Will AP’s Special Status Row Hurt Chandrababu’s Poll Prospects?
Andhra Pradesh's continued demand for Special Category Status has fallen on deaf ears during the Modi government's tenure, even though it had been a poll promise made by the BJP in 2014. Residents of Vijayawada discuss how the special category row will affect this Assembly and Lok Sabha election in AP – who stands to gain and who doesn't?
What Are the Benefits of ‘Special Status’?
For states in the special category, the Centre meets 90 percent of the funds required in a centrally sponsored scheme, as against 60 percent in case of normal category states. The remaining funds are provided by the state governments.
Further, special states were given 30% of the total central assistance, while the remaining 70% was shared among the rest of the states, as of 2009-2010. However, with the dissolution of the Planning Commission, and the introduction of the NITI Aayog, as well as the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, the 'special category status' that was earlier accorded to states has been removed.
As per the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendations in 2015, only the northeastern states and three hilly states have a ‘special status’. The Commission also recommended an ‘enhanced devolution of the divisible pool of tax proceeds’, increasing the states’ share from 32% to 42%.
The U-Turn That Could Prove Costly for Chandrababu Naidu
Ever since Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014 and the state of Telangana was carved out of it, AP had been demanding a Special Category Status from the Centre, to compensate for the economic losses that would result out of bifurcation, especially with Hyderabad staying in Telangana. (Hyderabad is a shared capital for both states for ten years, after which it will be part of Telangana alone.)
On the campaign trail before the 2014 elections, the BJP had not just promised this Special Category Status (SCS), but also said it would increase the period from five to ten years. But after coming to power, the BJP did no such thing.
Then in 2016, the Centre announced that instead of SCS, Andhra would get a special economic package. The terms of the package were widely seen as a step down from the advantages of SCS, but surprisingly enough, AP CM and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu accepted it, foregoing his demand for SCS.
Yet in the months that followed, Chandrababu Naidu returned to his demand for SCS, and with the Centre unrelenting, he eventually walked out of the NDA in March 2018. Naidu claims that BJP leaders misled him about what the special package would entail and that he hadn’t taken a U-turn, but “a right turn” in the interests of the state. But Naidu’s fluctuating position did not cut ice with the people of Andhra.
Over the past year though, Naidu has been stridently demanding SCS once again. Will he successfully manage to convince voters that the fault for AP not getting special status lies with Narendra Modi and not Chandrababu Naidu?
With TDP now a core component of the UPA, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has promised that if the Congress comes to power at the Centre, Andhra’s long-unfulfilled demand will be finally met.
Naidu’s primary opposition, the YSRC led by Jagan Mohan Reddy has been campaigning hard against Naidu’s failure to secure special status for AP. Though the YSRC is perceived to be closer to the BJP (given Jagan’s former feud with the Congress), the YSRC chief recently stated that he has no ill-will for the Congress and also that he would be open to allying with any side that grants SCS to AP.
But for now, the focus is on 11 April. When all of Andhra Pradesh goes out to vote to simultaneously elect their new Lok Sabha representatives and the next state Assembly –which way will the special category row tilt their vote?