Inside Chandrababu Naidu’s plan to make Andhra Pradesh a sunrise state
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Hyderabad/New Delhi: In the calendar of the state administration of Andhra Pradesh, the second day of the week is not a Monday. Instead, it is designated Polavaram day—after the ambitious multi-purpose irrigation project that entails interlinking the unruly waters of the Godavari and the Krishna to bridge the water deficit in the latter’s river basin.
“Every Monday I am focusing on Polavaram; either undertaking a virtual or a field inspection. It (interlinking) will happen by 2018. Once done, it will bring water to (river) Krishna and will also feed Visakhapatnam. By 2019 all aspects of the project will be completed,” says Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu, ensconced in his makeshift residence on the outskirts of Vijayawada city.
Naidu, 67, is the first elected chief minister of Andhra Pradesh following the 2014 bifurcation of the state to carve out Telangana, India’s 29th and youngest state.
This tweak in the nomenclature of the weekly calendar offers a revealing insight into Naidu, who was chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh from 1994 to 2004, and returned to power after the state’s division.
At one level it clearly shows that none of Naidu’s legendary zeal and self-belief has deserted him despite him being in the political wilderness for 10 years ending 2014.
If anything, the determination is stronger than ever before even though he is wiser for the experiences.
Lest we forget, it was the same energy which inspired the transformation, during his previous stint as chief minister, of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad into a cyber hub rivaling Bengaluru, known as India’s Silicon Valley.
At another level, it demonstrates the conviction of a three-term chief minister to not just think out of the box but also strive for the seemingly impossible—like Naidu has done in deciding to build state capital Amaravati from scratch, the land for which has been procured through a unique experiment in pooling of lands.
Naidu, an ardent admirer of Singapore and its founding father, the late Lee Kuan Yew, has roped in entities from the city-state in designing and developing the new capital. Hyderabad, the joint capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, will become the exclusive administrative preserve of the former in 2024.
The elusive Polavaram project, conceived in 1980, has been in the making for nearly 40 years. Naidu’s decision to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ensured that the federal government had no reservations in designating it a national project, spurring decision-making.
Further, beginning the week with Polavaram is yet another signal from Naidu to his core team as well as the rest of the state administration that the project is top priority. Understandably so.
Because not only is a key development priority—making Andhra Pradesh drought-proof—at stake, Naidu is also clearly searching for a “Yes, we can” moment—inspiration for realizing what is probably the most daunting project in his career: implementing ‘Sunrise Andhra Pradesh-Vision 2029’.
The Naidu plan is for Andhra Pradesh to emerge as one of the top three states in the country by 2022, also India’s 75th year of Independence, as the most developed state by 2029; and by 2050, the blueprint envisages that the state will be the best investment destination in the world. This ambitious transformation is to be achieved through sustained double-digit growth in the state’s economy, in turn based on it undertaking a thorough structural transformation.
The Naidu vision
Akin to a seasoned cricket batsman, Naidu is very aware of the conditions around him. The challenge is to reset the mindset and yet keeping the faith of those who restored him as chief minister—all this while he struggles to overcome the legacy issues inherited after the difficult partition of the state.
But his optimism and self-belief more than offset these handicaps. For Naidu, the wave of technology-inspired disruption is not something to be feared but embraced. Exactly the opportunity Andhra Pradesh, a state of almost 50 million people, is seeking to break into the big league. According to Naidu, coupled with Aadhaar, the central government’s unique identity programme, technology is something that will enable unprecedented scaling, especially in targeting and delivering the benefits of development to the people.
“I am very fortunate that I have witnessed two revolutions: The third industrial revolution that is information technology and the fourth industrial revolution, which is technology combined with the Internet of Things—it is a very powerful thing,” he says.
While leveraging technology is central to the execution of the vision, the eventual success is being carefully crafted around the citizens of Andhra Pradesh. By making the common man central to the transformation, Naidu is giving it political proofing. A trick he missed previously, leading to the poll reversal in 2004 when he had ignored politics in his single-minded pursuit of transformative change for the then undivided state of Andhra Pradesh.
“I was ahead of times,” he admits candidly while referring to his previous stint when he lost despite achieving visible economic impact. He adds, “Now I balance reforms and welfare, using the systems to help the common man.”
Naidu argues that the entire effort of economic reforms is to better the lot of the poor. What he leaves unsaid is that in his latest tenure he is communicating this message to the electorate unambiguously. “We are handholding the lowest sections of the society. I am confident that people will be satisfied and stay invested in the changes we are undertaking.”
The vision document has set what it defines as 12 “non-negotiable” basic needs for all: water, power, gas, roads, fibre optics, food and nutrition, health care, sanitation, housing, education, social safety nets and financial inclusion. Employing Aadhaar, each person will be connected to grids supplying power, water, the internet and so on.
The state administration has also now sought to empirically identify the backward areas by drilling down to the sub-district or ‘mandal’ level and coining a ‘Constituency Domestic Product.’ While Aadhaar will help identify beneficiaries, Naidu believes this granular information at the grassroots level will help the administration customize development programmes for each constituency.
And last, but not the least, the tech-savvy chief minister is also tapping the social media to communicate directly with people—to be sure, this is a trend among most politicians as disintermediation takes root. “Recently, I got 19 lakh responses on Facebook in three days,” he says.
The way the state was partitioned, the new look Andhra Pradesh retained the 974km-long coastline. In the run-up to the first-ever elections to the new state assembly, Naidu had promised to leverage this to the state’s advantage. Several assets already exist. Besides the major port in Visakhapatnam—operated by the federal government—there are 14 notified ports under the state’s purview.
“What I am saying is that the state has the advantage of a long coastline. Now if developed, the sea coast and equipped it with deep water ports, then naturally we will have the best logistics in India. We have three railway lines crossing here, too,” points out Naidu.
Alongside, plans are afoot to develop industrial corridors and about seven airports. One is the Chennai-Bengaluru corridor which passes through Andhra Pradesh and the other is the one connecting Visakhapatnam with Chennai, capital of neighbouring Tamil Nadu. With China becoming the new economic centre of the world, the eastern-facing states of India are potentially looking at a great economic opportunity for themselves. At the moment, lack of logistics is denying them that chance.
“We are working on inland waterways (including the historic Buckingham canal connecting to Chennai). So with all of the infrastructure, we want to make Andhra Pradesh a logistics and manufacturing hub,” he says, pointing out that already several companies, domestic and international, have begun to set up plants in the state. The implementation of the landmark goods and services tax from 1 July could potentially leverage the logistics advantage as companies become agnostic to local taxes.
“Three are in Sricity, which I want to make into an automobile hub; we are concentrating in Rayalaseema (region) for aerospace and defence; even in Visakhapatnam. We will be the No.1 state in horticulture in the country,” Naidu says.
Like he did in his previous stint at the helm, Naidu is taking a bet. Last time he took the right call by pushing for information technology, just in time for Hyderabad to cash in on the Indian outsourcing boom.
This time round, it is on solar energy. Not just for its wide deployment as a source of power, but in pursuing a breakthrough in the storage of it—the single biggest barrier preventing it from becoming the pre-eminent source of energy.
“The problem is that you must have storage capacity. Now I am going for storage capacity in a scaled way. When you pursue it in a big way, research will take place,” he said, and then added that the state had invited some of the best players in the business to explore local storage of solar power. Indeed, it is at present one of the key areas of interest globally.
Only time will tell whether Naidu’s new bet too will come good.