What’s Chandrababu going to do now?

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Old 04-Jun-2014
What’s Chandrababu going to do now?

On June 2, with the bifurcation into Seemandhra and Telangana, the united state of Andhra Pradesh became history. While the Congress divided the state as a last-ditch effort to win votes and distanced itself from this longstanding battle without weighing its consequences, the dust hasn't settled for the people of two regions or their Chief Minister-designates.

Though Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu secured a victory in Seemandhra, his battles with his Telangana counterpart, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao are far from over. As the new Andhra Pradesh CM-designate prepares to take over the reins of a truncated state, power and water-sharing issues will further create cracks in the current wobbly relationship between the two regions.

The Central Cabinet’s approval of the Polavaram multi-purpose irrigation project has become a contentious topic even before Naidu and Rao have been sworn-in as chief ministers of their respective states. The Polavaram project proposes construction of a dam near Polavaram village in West Godavari district of Seemandhra. The project will irrigate 2.91 lakh hectares, generate 960 megawatts (MW) of power and supply drinking water to Visakhapatnam city and to the Visakhapatnam steel plant. However, it is feared the project will submerge 2 lakh acres of farm and forest land, displacing over 2 lakh people, mostly Adivasis living in over 276 villages in Telangana’s Khammam district and several hamlets in neighboring Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

"The project violates the National Tribal Policy, which says that any project which displaces more than 50,000 tribal people should not be taken up," said Adivasi leader Sonde Veeraiah. The TRS, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and several Adivasi rights organizations are crying foul over the ordinance to merge a few villages of Khammam district with Seemandhra. Political pundits such as Nageshwara Rao, on the other hand, say that this discontent is also because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proximity to the TDP president and the fear that Telangana may lose out on funds from the Center. Even the voter base will weaken in three key Assembly constituencies in Telangana – Bhadrachalam, Aswaraopeta and Kothagudem – after the merger of mandals with Seemandhra.

TDP sources, however, say that the decision to merge villages with Andhra Pradesh was mooted under the Congress-led UPA-2 – the TDP could not have passed the ordinance, due to the election code. "Were the Congress and the TRS sleeping when the UPA made this decision?” asked Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy, a close aide of Naidu and a senior TDP member, in an interview to a news channel.

As the sparring over Polavaram continues, there is another battle brewing in Hyderabad over the division of state government employees and sharing of the Secretariat. Rao, who spearheaded the Telangana movement, recently created a storm in the ‘T’ cup by warning people from Seemandhra that they couldn’t work in Telangana after June 2. Though the statement was meant as a caution to employees, it is now giving Naidu sleepless nights as he has vowed to protect the interests of Seemandhra people living in Hyderabad. He had initially announced that he would work from his residence in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad. However, he changed his plans, anticipating the threat to Seemandhra employees from their Telangana counterparts, and said he would work from the L-Block of the Secretariat, promising to provide employees with more safety.

Meanwhile, the status of Hyderabad has been the bone of contention between the two states, and the Governor has been conferred special powers to resolve conflicts arising out of this for 10 years – the period for which Hyderabad will remain the joint capital. Considering the Governor's powers depend on directions from the Center, there’s the potential for more tension between the two states, which already have their work cut out for them.

* * *

Born in a poor family on April 20, 1950, in Naravaripalle of Chittoor district, Chandrababu is a post-graduate in economics from Sri Venkateshwara University. He started his political career with the Youth Congress in the mid-1970s and was elected to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly as the youngest minister in the state Cabinet at 28. His fortune turned when he was noticed by TDP founder NT Rama Rao (popularly known as NTR), who decided to get him married to Bhuvaneswari, one of his four daughters.

Known for his calculated moves, Naidu had declined his father-in-law's invitation to join the TDP in 1982, but lost the elections in 1983 as a Congress candidate. Left with no option, he joined the TDP and soon became a reliable confidant of NTR for a decade. Gradually, when NTR was overlooked by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Naidu isolated him after the former’s second marriage with Lakshmi Parvathi, who was the actual power behind the throne. This was followed in 1995 by the famous coup in which Naidu and other members of NTR’s family disassociated with the film actor-turned-politician, leading to the formation of the new TDP government in the state.Naidu played a pivotal role in the formation of the United Front in 1996 and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 1998 and 1999, earning credit for having been the longest-serving CM of Andhra Pradesh – in power for nine consecutive years from 1995 to 2004.

Naidu, who had won praise for transforming Hyderabad into ‘Cyberabad’, faced a poll debacle in 2004. Despite being portrayed by the international and national media as the CEO of the state, his narrow urban focus and neglect of farmers resulted in a rout; TDP's worst-ever performance with only 47 seats. On the other hand, his Congress contemporary, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, had run successful campaigns – 'Padayatra' (2002) and 'Jaitra Yatra' (2003) – portraying the Congress as a unified power. Reddy’s promise of electricity sops to farmers and the Congress alliance with the Left parties and the TRS had worked in the party’s favor.

The TDP’s ally, the BJP, suffered an equally humiliating defeat, winning just two seats in 2004. Soon after the party's defeat, the TDP chief blamed the BJP for their rout. Another blow to the TDP came when its alliance with the TRS and two Left parties in the 2009 elections bombed.

The state’s political scene took a U-turn in 2009 after the then chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy died in a chopper crash, soon after which the Telangana movement strengthened. Local parties like the TRS and the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress (YSRC), founded by YS Jaganmohan Reddy (Rajasekhara Reddy’s son), gained momentum. This was worsened by a series of resignations from the party by his close aides such Nagam Janardhan Reddy, Kadiyam Srihari and Devender Goud, who were regarded as "party loyalists."

Left disillusioned, Naidu feared the Congress would eliminate him by aligning with the TRS and the YSRC. On February 18, 2014, the Congress passed the AP Reorganization Bill on February 18, 2014 to bifurcate the state while a united Andhra Pradesh movement was brewing in Seemandhra. Initially a supporter of a united Andhra Pradesh, Naidu and his supporters had to eventually accept the passing of the Bill. Known for his ability to smell the right opportunity at the right time, Naidu took advantage of the anger that was brewing among the people of Seemandhra and vowed to develop the region.

Naidu’s campaign across Seemandhra and Telangana and his promises of waiving loans for farmers and setting up self-help groups brought him back to power. The TDP’s alliance with the NDA under Narendra Modi was the perfect icing on the cake. Political analyst Nageshwara Rao, who has been following Naidu’s moves, says: "Naidu, who had opposed the free power sops of YSR in 2004 elections, now used the same bait to return to power."

In Telangana, while the TDP-BJP alliance managed to win the urban vote-bank, the TRS established itself in the rest of the region on promises of prioritizing agriculture, irrigation and employment generation.

* * *

Given that Seemandhra has to begin its innings with a revenue deficit and limited availability of non-cultivable land, it will be an uphill task for Naidu to ensure mammoth infrastructure development in Seemandhra, says Vemuri Radhakrishna, head of the Andhra Jyothi media group.

Naidu claims to have developed Hyderabad and put ‘Brand Hyderabad’ on the world map. The TRS and the Congress have always had a different opinion on these claims. TRS president Rao, speaking at a press conference in Hyderabad last December, trashed Naidu’s skewed vision of development focused mainly on the services sector, especially IT. “His shortcomings were further concealed by his team of bureaucrats and party members who highlighted achievements in IT sector, neglecting the agrarian population that resides in the rural areas,” says Nagesh Kumar, former resident editor of The Hindu, Hyderabad. “There was disconnect with ground realities,” he adds. In 2011, Naidu was named in a disproportionate assets case with 12 others for amassing wealth during his tenure. The High Court order directing the CBI to probe the case came on a petition filed by YS Vijayamma, wife of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy.

During his tenure, Naidu basked in the glory of having raised a huge amount of funds from the World Bank (which contributed one-third of the total loans raised), but was criticized by the Congress for borrowing nearly Rs 80,000 crore at high interest rates. According to a report titled ‘State Wise review of Agrarian Economy of Suicide

Prone States in India’, 11,370 distressed farmers committed suicide between 1999 and 2004. The human development index indicators weren’t rosy enough for a state that was emerging as the IT hub of India, second only to Bangalore.

That Naidu has been voted to power this year due to poll promises such as loan waivers is a fact that cannot be overlooked. But he may need around Rs 82,000 crore to fulfill his promises, says a TDP source, as the state faces a zero budget situation. Not only are these sops going to cause huge losses to the state exchequer, but they are also going to add to the existing debt.

While sources from his core team say that they will soon approach the World Bank for funds again, market analysts believe that people will eventually have to bear the burden of this loan (from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund) in the form of taxes. YSR Congress MP Peddireddi Mithun Reddy opines that the TDP is in for “serious administrative trouble in the coming months.”

According to the Information Technology & Services Industry Association of Andhra Pradesh, Seemandhra contributes just 32 percent revenue to the Andhra Pradesh, and Hyderabad alone contributes over 50 per cent to the state’s revenue with its services and pharmaceutical industries. Naidu has the daunting task of attracting new investment without being completely dependent on the Center’s funds.

Given that the rural-urban divide cost him dearly in the last two elections, his focus has to shift from services to creating a manufacturing-based economy that is sustainable and creates more jobs.“Large corporates and pharma companies have set up manufacturing facilities in Hyderabad. So, moving to a region where there is no infrastructure and no budget doesn’t make sense. It also increases costs,” says a businessman who runs a pharma products exports business in Hyderabad.

Sitting inside his plush office where his team of officials is seen working with thick files round-the-clock, Naidu admits that initial hiccups will remain and that the first two years won’t be easy. “It is just a matter of time and we will seek the Center's help.” However, his political rivals don’t see Naidu’s and Modi’s relationship bearing fruit for Seemandhra – they’re wary of the state being too dependent on the Center for funds. In addition, Naidu will have to look into developing a fool-proof mechanism to cope with the various natural disasters that the region is prone to, such as the annual floods in coastal Andhra and the annual drought in Rayalaseema.

Now that he is faced with the tough task of wrangling funds from the Center and building the new state as promised, Naidu also has to keep an eye out for ominous signs of the YSRC, Congress and the TRS aligning against the TDP, which might spell doom for him. Soon, we will know if it is “just a matter of time” before the wheels of development either start spinning in his favor, or shape the gradual decline of his political career.

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