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Andhra’s Capital Games: It is time for the state's citizens to react & respond!

Even as a full-fledged battle is raging on in the rest of the country regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), in Andhra Pradesh, there is much consternation about the move by the Jagan Reddy-led government to change the capital of the state once again. 
 
In 2014, after the state’s bifurcation which resulted in the creation of Telangana and a new Andhra Pradesh, the latter state began looking for a capital, since Hyderabad was made the capital of Telangana.
 
Chandrababu Naidu, recognized as the creator of modern Hyderabad, who had just become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh after the 2014 elections chose a green field spot on the banks of the River Krishna. He named the place Amaravati after an old Buddhist site by that name located merely 60km away. 
 
Naidu, being a keen student of history, wanted a Buddhist name for a specific reason. The new state was in the eastern springboard of India, overlooked Singapore on the south-east, and on the route to Japan. The name, he averred, would attract the Buddhists (read investors from South East Asia, etc).
 
But Naidu, however, made a mistake. He made the capital on the river bank just about 60km from where it met the Bay of Bengal. Naidu was helped by the fact that most of the land belonged to absentee landlords — most of whom had migrated to the US. The land was cultivated by tenant farmers who had become the de facto owners of the land; so, the absentee owners were only too glad to get rid of their land.
 
So, the logical conclusion was that the land had been taken over to favour his caste men, who would receive an eventual windfall after land value appreciated. All of these factors are now being cited as justifications by the newly installed chief minister Jagan Reddy who is hell-bent on unmaking Naidu’s legacy.
 
“The approval of Amaravati as the capital was taken at the legislative assembly in a strategically manipulative manner,” says former chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh, I.Y.R Krishna Rao. “The decision was unilateral and had a hidden agenda. Amaravati is a dis-embedded capital city.”
 
Three capitals decision 
 
The fact that Naidu was aiming high (he wanted to make Amaravati superior to even Hyderabad) meant that the progress was agonizingly slow. This was something Jagan took full advantage of because it was impossible to disregard an already fully built capital city. 
 
In the last fortnight of December 2019, Jagan announced that Andhra Pradesh would have three capitals — Amaravati as the legislative capital with the state assembly, Kurnool in Rayalaseema as the judicial capital with the high court, and Visakhapatnam in Uttar Andhra as the administrative capital.
 
He also set up a cabinet-level committee to work out the new arrangement. This threw everybody into confusion, including foreign investors who had hedged their bets on the swift development of Amaravati. Some in the business community have resigned themselves to the fact that Jagan will push ahead with his plans no matter what.
 
Not everyone has made peace with the sudden shifts in government policy though. Ramachandra Prasad (name changed), a businessman belonging to the same Kamma community as Chandrababu Naidu, is very upset. 
 
“I had started living in Vijayawada (across the river from Amaravati). But, I am now returning to Hyderabad. Jagan is taking such a partisan decision,” he says. 
 
“Just because he wants to upturn all decisions taken by Naidu, he is changing the location of the capital. This is so unfair and hits (our) investment plans,” he says. “What will happen to the 33,000 acres of land acquired by the government from over 20,000 villagers in 29 villages? Some farmers are already raising questions.”
 
There is information that the reason Jagan took the decision to shift the capital is because of allegations of land amassing that the party leaders have eyed. "They are aware of the fact that Vizag is a beautiful city that sees a lot of tourism and the people there are soft-spoken. These YSRCP leader know that in Amaravati it is not possible to amass lands according to their will. Hence, they chose Vizag. In the coming days, thousands of acres of lands will disappear in Vizag and you know who will be the culprits behind it," said a citizen who wanted to remain anonymous. 
 
More importantly, in caste-driven Andhra Pradesh, Vizag is not dominated by any particular caste, like say the Amaravati region is by Kammas. Since some investments have gone into Amaravati, the legislative assembly could still come up there, say most analysts. However, doubts have already surfaced as to whether the high court could indeed be located in Kurnool, which remains a relatively underdeveloped region of the state.
 
So, even as farmers battle it our for their right in the capital region, there is an even bigger question now. Will the citizen of Andhra Pradesh react to this uninformed decision of shifting the capital or will they still be stuck in their caste-mad roles and pretend to be everything is okay, when it is not?
 

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