Hyderabad: It is not every day that allies stage protest against a ruling party.
On Tuesday, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members of parliament (MPs) gathered at the Gandhi statue in the Parliament complex to remonstrate the Union government’s indecisiveness on granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
While finance minister Arun Jaitley did not explicitly rule out special category status to the state in Rajya Sabha on Friday, the government’s stand was clear, if one read between the lines: current financial position and rules make it impossible to grant special category status for Andhra Pradesh.
Jaitley’s speech was met with disapproval in the southern state, which is still sour over losing Hyderabad to Telangana during a bitterly-fought statehood battle. According to terms of AP Reorganisation Act, Andhra can share Hyderabad as joint capital with Telangana until 2024, post which Hyderabad will solely remain with Telangana.
Lured by the prospect of reforms and an industrialized economy, the Andhra electorate voted favourably for the alliance. Naturally, hopes were high on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept to power in 2014.
At the height of election campaigning in April 2014, future Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised prosperity to the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh if he ascended the country’s top chair.
Addressing a rally in Nellore, the home town of BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu, Modi credited him with forcing then ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to concede special category status (SCS) to divided Andhra Pradesh during a debate on the state’s bifurcation in Rajya Sabha.
“If there is one person who can take the credit for special status for Seemandhra (as AP is also referred to), it is Nellore’s Venkaiah Naidu," Modi said in his usual oratorical style.
“Give me a chance," Modi exhorted in Hindi, as Venkaiah Naidu translated his speech to a largely Telugu audience. “If you vote me to power in Delhi, not only will I fulfil the promises, but I will do more than what has been promised," Modi declared.
Two years on, barring the sanction of a few educational and health institutions, Modi’s NDA, the popular sentiment goes, has not been as benevolent as the Andhras had hoped for.
This has led to a wave of discontentment against BJP in Andhra Pradesh, a sentiment, surprisingly, exploited even by its ally in the state, TDP.
Protests broke out in parts of the state during a shutdown by opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) on Tuesday.
The TDP-BJP combine sent 17 of 25 members of Parliament (MPs) from Andhra Pradesh during 2014 general elections. TDP is represented by two union ministers in the cabinet. Two more union ministers, Venkaiah Naidu and Nirmala Sitharaman hail from the state.
Yet Andhra chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has not been able to curry favour with Modi.
Several representations by the state government to the Centre yielded no results.
Stingy fund allocations from Delhi only aggravated the relationship. After Jaitley’s statement in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, Chandrababu Naidu, a seasoned politician known to maintain a diplomatic posture, vent forth.
“I have been patient for two years," Naidu said at a press conference in Vijayawada in Telugu. “It was only because I thought they would understand us, and help a state in need… Confrontation does not solve anything." Naidu explained that his party entered into an alliance with BJP only because it thought it would benefit the state.
“It is normal tendency of any state government to ask for more. The needs are unlimited and resources are limited," Sudhish Rambhotla, chief spokesperson for BJP in Andhra Pradesh said. “Sentiment should not work in economic management of a country."
Naidu inherited a divided Andhra Pradesh with a deficit of over Rs.16,000 crore. Most of the major institutions in the united state were in Hyderabad, which meant they went to Telangana.
The only solace to Andhra from the contentious AP Reorganisation Act was the union government’s assurance to accord Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project national project status (which meant greater portion of project funding would come from the Centre). The Act also sanctioned top central-level educational institutions to AP and promised the Centre’s assistance with building a new capital.
The thornier promise of according special category status to Andhra was however made orally, on the floor of Rajya Sabha by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and has not been incorporated in the Act.
“The bifurcation of the state was hinged on the promise of special status," political analyst and editor of Hans India newspaper K. Nageshwar said. “The special status was drawn up to tide over the exigency created by bifurcation."
People of non-Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh had not been willing participants of the state’s bifurcation and losing an economy of the size of Hyderabad created a lot of heartburn among Andhra people. To placate them, the prime minister announced special category status to AP on the floor of the house, Nageshwar explained.
“Though not part of the Act, it (special status) was implicated in the bifurcation process. This is an absolute defeat on part of the Central government."
Although the opposition has been trying to push Naidu to a corner and break ties with NDA, he hasn’t taken the bait yet.
He knows very well that the NDA with strength of 336 MPs in a 545-member house will not suffer if TDP decides to walk away from the alliance.
“The political predicament will continue for some more time," Nageshwar said. “Naidu is unable to assess his next move with respect to special status."
The controversy over special status will affect the BJP’s prospects in Andhra, where it has been trying to occupy the space vacated by the Congress. Andhra is a former Congress bastion until the state was divided.
“All these sentimental, emotional issues can temporarily cloud people’s views," Rambhotla said. “But over a period of time they will see the true picture."