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Why Vision & Leadership Matter: The Story of Andhra Pradesh

India is being viewed globally as a growing force to reckon with. Despite its complex federal governance structure and diversity, it stands as a testimony for a world struggling to find equilibrium and harmony.

However, challenges such as economic development, human resource development, urban planning and infrastructure, and infrastructure for water and energy supply apart from social inclusion are still a cause of concern in the world’s second-most populous country. In such an environment, the NITI Aayog’s emphasis on cooperative federalism has created an opportunity to boost the relationship between the Centre and states.
 
Of late, a slew of global investment summits across states has triggered a healthy competition among states, each trying to attract investments in their own stride. This is a striking example of how strong leadership at both the Centre and states is important to drive vision and governance. For instance, NITI Aayog’s ‘State Forward - Best Practices From Our States’ is an initiative that lists out best models from every sector in each state.

Practices such as Aadhaar-enabled fertiliser distribution system in Andhra Pradesh, mobilising farmers groups in Jharkhand, decentralisation of Integrated Child Development Services nutrition programme in Odisha, automated traffic monitoring and challan system in Bengaluru and school integration programme in Rajasthan, among others.
 
Chief ministers as chief salesmen
 
Economic development does not happen on its own. It must be chosen as an overarching goal of the government, accompanied by good governance. Good governance means a government that delivers political and economic stability, and implements the right economic policies, articulates a vision for the state and implements it, says Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew in the book The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.

Given the complexity in demography and composition of each state, a state-specific approach for development is imperative. One such consistent example of good governance and socio-economic growth has been the state of Andhra Pradesh (old and new) under N Chandrababu Naidu since the 1990s.
 
While the 1991 economic reforms gave states a greater role in attracting investments, this coincided with the weakening of the Congress rule at the Centre and ushered in the era of coalitions.

Around this time, the emergence of decisive leaders such as Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, S.M. Krishna in Karnataka, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and (later in 2002) Narendra Modi in Gujarat, at the helm was crucial to the turnaround or sustaining of growth in the states.
 
Naidu, during this time, was a disrupter of sorts. He came at a time when politicians were being seen as old-fashioned people with no interest for public service. He became a symbol for Digital India, in the same way that P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh became icons of economic liberalisation. In 1998, Andhra Pradesh began monitoring cyclonic storms and tracking real-time data on the changes in the weather patterns through the Chief Minister Information System (CMIS) under Naidu, which is a telling example of how the Andhra Pradesh government was into cloud computing even before the term was introduced.
 
Flexible policy making and state experimentation
 
In today’s day and age, policy makers have to understand that flexible and unorthodox lawmaking is necessary for our democracy to grow and prosper. This is only possible when states have progressive leaders who drive their political agenda through reforms by balancing welfare and development. Such a vision requires the Centre’s encouragement in pushing the states to experiment with development models that can be replicated.
 
For instance, take the Andhra Pradesh Fibre Grid Project under the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) launched in November 2015. It has been taken up at a cost of Rs 333 crore to lay 23,000km of optical fibre cable network in the 13 districts of the state, making use of 3.75 lakh electric cables.

For this project that promises ‘Internet for All’ Andhra Pradesh is utilising the existing electric poles for fibre grid connection, instead of underground cable, which would escalate the project cost to Rs.5,000 crore. Cable TV, internet and telephone will be provided at just Rs 149 a month. This not only makes internet affordable but also paves the way for digital inclusiveness.
 
At the ‘Internet of Everything’ session at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2016, lauding the Andhra Pradesh model of broadband connectivity, John Chambers of Cisco said, “The numbers in Andhra Pradesh are just amazing. They think they can bring 10 to 15 megabytes to the home for $2.50 per month. That’s a magical number in terms of local family income, because anything below 2 per cent per capita income is when you really get broad penetration. If it is successful, India will be a model for other countries to follow.”
 
The river-linking project in Andhra Pradesh, the Pattiseema Lift Irrigation Scheme (PLIS), is one such self-tested project to solve drinking water and irrigation needs of the farmers in Krishna and West Godavari districts apart from solving the water woes of the drought-hit Rayalaseema region in the state.

Within eight months, the PLIS that began in March 2015 became operational with 24 pumps lifting 80 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) water and releasing it into the Polavaram Right Main Canal. The water from Pattiseema has also helped farmers in the Krishna district produce a bumper yield of estimated 13.8 lakh tonnes of produce in the kharif 2017-18, apart from bringing an additional area of above 22,000 hectares under cultivation across the district.
 
Similarly, the Real-time Governance System (RTGS) in the state is linked with various government departments and call centres to serve as a grievance redressal platform and surveillance and communication wing.

This innovative experiment will help in proper monitoring of welfare programs and administration, fix responsibility among officials and ensure round-the-clock surveillance through the Command and Communications Centre.
 
In addition, states are also in dire need of leadership that encourages partnerships with multiple institutions. In this direction, several states including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra are working with the World Economic Forum on the “New Vision for Agriculture (NVA)” initiative to strengthen food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity through a market-based, multi-stakeholder approach.
 
Parallel diplomacy of chief ministers

As states establish their standing among country’s principal economic actors, the state’s chief ministers become the new role models of India’s new economic strength and development. Naidu also plays the role of a chief diplomat in matters concerning foreign policy.

His parallel diplomacy as a chief minister, perhaps, has not only improved India’s relations with several countries but has also created business and investment opportunities since the late 1990s. He has, since then, engaged in drawing on regional cultural resources and making connections with a regionally defined diaspora. “While the Modi government can be credited for bringing paradiplomacy to the centre-stage of Indian policymaking, the idea of international relations being forged at the sub-national level is not a new one,” say scholars Falguni Tiwari and Harsh V Pant.
 
Parallel diplomacy also compels state heads to maintain cordial relations with the Centre. What works for Andhra Pradesh is Naidu’s relationship with national leaders. For example, on the day of his swearing-in ceremony as the chief minister of a truncated Andhra Pradesh on 8 June 2014, the elaborate guest list included political leaders from various states. It is also indicative of the kind of leader he is collaborative and grand in his approach.

The ceremony also signified his belief in the collaborative approach and his ability to bring together diverse people for Andhra Pradesh’s growth. As Prakash Javadekar of the BJP says, “Naidu wants to make Andhra Pradesh the catalyst for India’s growth.” This is often reflected in Naidu’s speeches where he states: “What Andhra Pradesh does today, India does tomorrow.”

 
(Tejaswini Pagadala is the author of India’s Glocal Leader: Chandrababu Naidu and an independent communications consultant.)

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