Andhra Pradesh has history of shifting capitals

Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: With Amaravati all set to be scrapped as Andhra Pradesh’s capital, which will now be decentralized between three cities, history continues to repeat itself for the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, which have been facing travails when it comes to capitals. YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) supremo and AP chief minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s latest move is yet another decision which would change the course of history for the state.

Last week, AP Governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan gave his assent to the AP Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of all Regions Bill-2020 and the APCRDA (Repeal) Bill -2020, paving the way for the state’s capital to be decentralized with the legislative capital being in Amaravati, executive in Visakhapatnam and, judicial in Kurnool.

Konda Reddy Fort Kurnool

The history

While Telangana was bifurcated from the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, it may be recalled that the current state of AP is not a new state but one that existed between 1953 and 1956, until it was merged with the Telangana region, to create Andhra Pradesh on 1 November, 1956. Between 1953 and 1956, Kurnool was the capital for the Andhra regions, which had separated from the erstwhile Madras Presidency.

Telangana, until 1956, was part of the erstwhile State of Hyderabad, which was trifurcated in 1956, with the Marathi speaking districts (5) going to Maharashtra and the Kannada speaking districts (3) going to Karnataka. It may be recalled that leaders of the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, which existed from 1953 to 1956, had in fact demanded Chennai as their capital. However, with the creation of Andhra Pradesh (merged with Telangana), it seemed as if its problems were solved.

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However, due to various issues like cultural differences (between Andhra and Telangana folks) and feelings of domination from coastal Andhra leaders (and people in general across all spheres), Telangana’s demand for separate state began. It first triggered major protests in 1969, and later, successfully in 2009, which culminated in Telangana gaining separate statehood in 2014.

More than anything else, it was well understood then that one of the major reasons against Telangana’s bifurcation was Hyderabad; in which many from the Andhra regions had invested in over decades. But what was done could not be undone, and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, who became chief minister of AP in 2014, decided to create Amaravati, in spite of Hyderabad being the joint capital of the two Telugu states till 2024.

A political move to erase Naidu’s legacy?

Political vendetta is not uncommon.  The incumbent Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has in a step-by-step manner seemingly wiped out the legacy of his predecessor and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, with the final nail in the coffin being the decentralization of the state’s capital.

Moreover, with the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic still raging, the main opposition TDP cannot afford to mobilize the public as it will increase the risk of spreading the infection. “It is a foregone conclusion that Amaravati would have had Naidu’s name if the city had been built. In the Amaravati area, only a section of people are from the Kamma community (to which Naidu belongs), while the rest belong to the SC and Backward Classes communities. This decentralization is a political move,” said a TDP leader from AP, who did not want to be quoted.

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However, much before this development, the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government had slowly begun killing the project after it came to power with a thumping victory during the 2019 state and general elections. The major blow to Amaravati came in the form of the World Bank withdrawing its funding of $300 million for the capital city project last year.

YSRP functionaries, however, defended the move to decentralize AP’s capital, stating that Naidu’s new capital would have only benefited people in that area alone, and left out others, especially in the Rayalaseema region, at a disadvantage.

“The issue of AP’s capital has been a political issue since the 1950s and now there will be three capitals for six zones. In its current decentralization move, the YSRCP-government has a visible agenda (decentralization) and a hidden agenda, which is to close TDP’s chapter in AP’s political history,” said Prof. E. Venkatesu, a political department science faculty member from University of Hyderabad.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist who has previously worked for The New Indian Express, The Hindu and Mint.

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