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Andhra's Capital Dilemma As 10 Years of Hyderabad as Joint Capital Comes to End

A decade on, the YSRCP and the TDP are still at loggerheads with each other over where the new capital should be.

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Hyderabad will soon cease to be the joint capital of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as the 10-year period prescribed in the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation Act, 2014, expires on 2 June.

But the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, devoid of a permanent capital, is caught in a political quagmire.

A decade on, the two main parties in the state, YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), are at loggerheads with each other over where the new capital should be.

While the TDP is steadfastly committed to the greenfield capital Amaravati – situated between Vijayawada and Guntur on the banks of river Krishna – the YSRCP is reiterating its commitment to the enactment of the three- capital solution in the guise of decentralisation: the executive capital at Visakhapatnam, the legislative capital at Amaravati, and the judicial capital at Kurnool.

The three capitals, as per Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy's thesis, will be located in north coastal, south coastal, and the Rayalaseema regions of the state, respectively. Curiously enough, neither the TDP nor YSRCP refused to fight the recently concluded Assembly elections as a referendum on the capital issue, though the manifestos of both the parties stood firm on their respective commitments.

Everything will now depend on the people's verdict to be known on 4 June.  

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Hyderabad as Joint Capital

A few weeks before the elections, senior YSRCP leader and Jagan's uncle YV Subba Reddy, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, floated the idea of having Hyderabad as the common capital for a few more years.

Perhaps, this was a clever tactic to test the waters as the YSRCP might have anticipated a political backlash over the party disowning Amaravati, leading to the peculiar situation of the state not having a permanent capital.

Expectedly, the YSRCP leader's proposal was summarily rejected by Telangana political parties across the spectrum. The opposition TDP was quick to capitalise on Subba Reddy's statement, calling it a "sinister attempt" by the YSRCP to divert the people's attention from the vexed question of the state capital.

The YSRCP, therefore, has not officially endorsed Subba Reddy's proposal. In fact, a senior leader in the state cabinet, Botsa Satyanarayana, with remarkable enthusiasm, distanced the party from this proposal.  

During the election campaign, Jagan had reiterated his commitment to Visakhapatnam as the state's executive capital. The YSRCP has been claiming that if the party wins, Jagan would be sworn in as chief minister for a second time in Visakhapatnam.

The idea of extending Hyderabad as the common capital is, therefore, buried deep in the political dust and din.  

The Amaravati Conundrum

The reason for Jagan's aversion to Amaravati is more political than fiscal or developmental. However, the party's official explanation is that the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, deprived of the vibrant city of Hyderabad, could not afford to invest a massive amount in building a greenfield capital at Amaravati.

Interestingly enough, Jagan, in his capacity as an opposition leader prior to 2019, had extended his full support to the then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu's proposal to locate the greenfield capital at Amaravati. But soon after becoming chief minister, he abandoned the idea of Amaravati.

The YSRCP claims that the TDP leadership has indulged in "insider trading" and amassed large parcels of land in and around Amaravati. The party has alleged that the TDP government encouraged a speculative land market in order to benefit select individuals in the party and its socio-political ecosystem. The TDP also made similar accusations against the YSRCP for proposing Visakhapatnam as the executive capital.

Notwithstanding the veracity of their claims and counterclaims, a highly volatile land market is associated with the rise and fall of Amaravati. Similarly, allegations of "shady land deals" by the YSRCP leaders in and around Visakhapatnam are running thick and fast.

Jagan has also alleged that affluent sections of the Kamma caste, overwhelmingly loyal to the TDP, have heavily invested in Amaravati. His government has even tried to disturb the idea of Amaravati by allocating house sites to the weaker sections of the society in the region, much to the chagrin of farmers who gave their land for the capital.  

The TDP government had then portrayed the greenfield capital at Amaravati as Naidu's patented brand of development.

When Jagan came to power, he was caught in a Catch-22 situation. If his government delivered the Amaravati capital as envisioned by the previous regime, Naidu would get political accolades for conceptualising the same. Failure to do so would also bring in political mileage to the TDP. Thus, Jagan chose to keep Amaravati in a cold storage.  

The TDP lost seats in and around Amaravati in the 2019 elections, including that of Mangalagiri, where Naidu's son Nara Lokesh was contesting from. This emboldened Jagan politically to abandon the idea of Amaravati. But the verdict in the 2024 elections will indicate the potential of the 'capital discourse' to impact the electoral fortunes. 
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A Post-Election Scenario

The BJP-led Union government, which was hobnobbing with the YSRCP, had taken refuge under the pretext of constitutional provision. The Modi government, in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, held that the Centre has no role in deciding the location of the state capital though the BJP remains committed to Amaravati being capital. Barring the YSRCP, every other political party has opposed the three capitals move.  

Caught in the political and legal rigmarole, the idea of three capitals still remains an idea. Amaravati failed to be the cynosure of the electoral contestation as the TDP-led alliance, perhaps, was worried about a possible backlash in the north coastal and Rayalaseema regions if it disproportionately uses Amaravati as a poll plank.

Post elections, Jagan is bound to implement his idea of three capitals if voted to power. Naidu, too, will adhere to his idea of greenfield capital at Amaravati if his alliance wins in Andhra Pradesh.

However, Naidu will also find it difficult to set the grandiose capital in motion as his government will be fiscally constrained by a massive burden of the huge welfare agenda promised in the TDP-Jana Sena manifesto, which the BJP publicly refused to associate with.

The future of Amaravati, therefore, hinges upon not just the electoral outcome but also the financial position of the ensuing regime.  

However, the extension of Hyderabad as a common capital for few more years is most unlikely to resurface. The Union government will not be audacious in accepting the proposal. There seems to be no popular support for the proposal of extending the common capital even in Andhra Pradesh where politics is polarised between Amaravati and the three-capitals idea.

(Prof K Nageshwar is a senior political analyst, faculty member of Osmania University, and a former MLC. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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