In the run-up to the 2014 elections – which incidentally came up as the decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh was announced — both the major contestants, Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu and YSR Congress’ YS Jaganmohan Reddy readied plans to have a new capital for the state. This was required because the capital of Andhra Pradesh was located in Hyderabad in the newly created state of Telangana.
Naidu’s plan was to have a riverfront capital on the banks of the river Krishna while Jagan’s desire was to locate it some 70-80 km south of Naidu’s proposed capital at a place called Domakonda that had sandy wasteland.
Naidu eventually romped home and immediately moved forward with his capital project and proceeded to acquire fertile farmland in villages across Guntur district where the capital was to be established. He named it Amaravati, after a Buddhist centre in the vicinity dating back to 2000 years. This was the idea to attract investments from south-east Asian countries like Japan, which Naidu thought would be attracted by the name of Amaravati.
Strangely enough, the acquisition of land in riverfront villages did not pose any great problem, although there were some protests. This was because most of the landholders were rich and non–resident: they lived in the US and loved that their land would be acquired at high prices by the government.
The Land For The New Capital
Much of the land belonged to Kammas, the caste that Naidu belonged to, and dominated the Vijayawada–Amaravati-Guntur area. The only protesters were the peasants who cultivated the land but did not own it. They did protest but the Naidu government was able to counter them, on occasion, by deploying the state administration and the police.
After Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated the union government set up a high-level committee under former urban development secretary KC Sivaramakrishnan to recommend a new capital for Andhra Pradesh. The committee spoke of decentralisation and was not in favour of putting all the eggs in one basket.
It said that setting up capital in the Vijayawada–Guntur area could impose a threat for the economy and lead to environmental degradation. The Sivaramakrishnan committee talked about the threat to fertile land by having the capital in Amaravati and proposed the high court and IT industry in Visakhapatnam. However, it refrained from zeroing on any place at the capital.
But Naidu was firm in having a riverfront capital and brushed aside criticism that it made no sense to have a capital on prime farmland. He was obsessed with creating a grand capital. Twenty years ago as chief minister of integrated Andhra Pradesh, he had recreated Hyderabad – which was once a dusty but hilly medieval town full of rocks.
Naidu wanted to convert it into a modern technology city with an IT springboard. And he was successful. Naidu went far and wide: waited outside the office of Bill Gates for hours and clinched a deal for a Microsoft centre in Hyderabad.
Similarly, he wooed the promoters of the Indian School of Business (ISB) who were scouting for land in many states to set up shop in Hyderabad. There are many other instances as well. Naidu wanted to create a grand Amaravati better than Hyderabad in all ways.
Such was the obsession of Naidu that he shifted his capital to Amaravati within three years although the GOI had decreed that Hyderabad could be the joint capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for ten years (however, strangely enough, he did not notify Amaravati as his capital, a move seen as trying to retain rights over Hyderabad).
Investors Left High and Dry
His men also ran across south-east Asia to scout for investments. In 2017, a consortium of leading Singapore companies was awarded the Amaravati Capital city start-up project to develop a 684 square km area.
In order to develop Amaravati fast, Naidu shifted government offices to Amaravati from Hyderabad leading to a huge chunk of government employees forced to relocate to the new town. Since there were no houses in Amaravati many were forced to live across the river in Vijayawada (many others took the train from Amaravati to Hyderabad (distance 250 km) every evening to return home).
The foundation stone for Amaravati was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late October 2015 even as Naidu announced that his new capital city would be complete in 7/8 years at a cost of Rs 33,000 crore. Amaravati would have 51 percent green spaces and 10 percent water bodies would have themed cities for finance, justice, health, sports, media and electronics, it was announced.
Investors were impressed but the common folks remained skeptical. Naidu was confident that he was on to big things: so much so that he soon became confident that he could become Prime Minister! In line with this thinking, he quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and started flirting with different political forces.
When the campaign for the 2019 elections began, Naidu’s opponent YSR Congress’ Jagan Mohan Reddy knew that this was his last chance. Out of jail and with various cases against him, Jagan began a padayatra and started targeting the poor and the underprivileged, the lower castes and the minorities. The campaign yielded results and Jagan trounced Naidu winning 151 seats out of 175. Naidu’s TDP just won 23 seats.
Armed with this huge majority and tacit support from Modi (who was mighty miffed that Naidu left NDA and more so because BJP had a marginal presence in the state; and that Naidu had prevented the rise of BJP since 1998), Jagan began on an aggressive note. Even as his ministers raised objections about the new capital on the ‘river plains’ that would make it vulnerable to flooding, Jagan’s officers served notice on the riverfront rented residence of Naidu and broke it down.
Realising that Jagan was not much interested in Amaravati,
the Singapore consortium that was to develop the capital region has now withdrawn from the project. This was preceded by $500 million funding by the World Bank and Asian Infrastructural Bank for the same.
Also, the UAE-based Lulu Group’s project to invest Rs 2,300 crore to develop an international convention centre, shopping mall and a five-star hotel in Visakhapatnam was withdrawn.
The Lulu Group has now announced that it will never invest in Andhra Pradesh. Other investors are also unhappy. As a rule, investors want a stable climate to run their business smoothly. But Jagan is unfazed: he is out to destroy the legacy of Chandrababu Naidu and will go any lengths for it. Why? That’s another story.
Kingshuk Nag is an author and a journalist.