Read Part 1 here
The YSR Congress party (YSRCP) government in Andhra Pradesh has passed a Bill in the Assembly to make the port city of Visakhapatnam the administrative capital of the state, instead of Amaravati.
The Jagan Reddy government has proposed to create three capitals – Amaravati, the legislative capital; Visakhapatnam; the executive capital; and Kurnool, the judicial capital.
The bill is called Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill, 2020. According to the state finance minister- “Regional imbalances, absence of equitable growth have caused an acute sense of deprivation among various sections of the state population, leading to disturbances.” The decentralisation is the capitals is the “logical solution” to the above problem. The idea is of “distributed development and decentralised administration” so that all regions of the state benefit equally.
Amaravati as the state capital was Previous Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s dream project.
As K. Balagopal noted of Naidu “Forsaken by social progress of either Marxist or Periyarist variety, the most likely type of poor Kamma youth from the district [Chittor] was the self-confident but simultaneously insecure seeker of power and property, prone to either physical violence or manipulative ruthlessness, devoid of any sentiment of sympathy for poor and weak, for he has been there and has nothing but contempt for those who remain there, even if they do not have his advantage of caste, indeed precisely because the wretches are so wretched that they do not have the advantage….Corporate Capitalism, which needs just such self-centered and unsentimental types, the more insecure under the skin the better, for the more ruthless they will be.” Naidu thus being a man of perpetual insecurity and man of maniacal delusions of his worth and the worth of his dreams conjured up this mega Capital city called Amaravati. Had it been just Naidu’s dream and simply unshared by the humble peasants of the region the Capital city wouldn’t have been the center of controversy today. But, alas, the peasants partook in such dreams. We shall come to that soon.
Naidu keeping true to his spirit and constrained by the dire finances of the newly formed state, opted for the Land Pooling rather than the conventional Land Acquisition route. Under this scheme every acre of land pooled, depending upon the type of land, would be reciprocated with parcel of developed plot to the landowner. The financial logic behind this is that the developed plot, though it would be merely a portion of an acre, would fetch more money in the future when the land prices skyrocket once the Capital takes off. To be fair to peasants, there are valid reasons to believe this logic. The land which was fetching a few lakhs in that region before had now started fetching crores/acre. It is justifiable on their part to answer to themselves that even before any development took place here our land has become precious, why wouldn’t it be much more precious once the City is established as a promise.
Here it is necessary to also talk of the optics the then government employed. The high profile visits to various countries ostensibly to discuss the scope of investment of foreign capital, the constant presence of consultants and architects from various countries provided the necessary boost for the consumption by the peasants and their cheerleaders. It served both purposes. It succeeded in hoodwinking the media as well as the peasants. I would hasten to add that this in itself wouldn’t completely explain the astonishingly peaceful process of land pooling. Be that as it may. The previous government succeeded in arranging nearly 35,000 acres of fertile land in this process without spilling even a drop of blood. It is necessary to invoke such gory imagery here. Never in the History of this country, such amount of land was collected within a year without spilling a drop of blood. It is not said that there were no intimidation tactics. But they pale before the standard intimidation and violence that accompany land acquisition in this country.
How did this happen? With the advent of irrigated agriculture by harnessing Krishna and Godavari rivers the central Coastal Andhra had become the hub of agrarian surplus. Sociologically speaking, the dominant community of this region is Kammas. Kammas, a caste made up of predominantly small peasants, had come to occupy all the sectors in Telugu land since then. Kamma as caste is only native to Krishna, Guntur, West Godavari and Northern part of Prakasam districts. But then they managed to migrate to Southern Tamilnadu, Northern Karnataka, Northern Andhra, Northern, and Southern Telangana and pockets in Rayalaseema. Once mobility is established as the cultural marker of the caste, Northern America wouldn’t be much far. That’s what happened with Kammas, too. As said before the advent of canal irrigation ushered the period of agrarian surplus. However, the surplus was channeled not into the productive economy but into financial sectors such as money lending, movie production, and distribution, agricultural commodities trading, speculative land deals. An economy solely built on such speculative Capital is bound to produce a society that mirrors such values. The dominant thought process in this region of Andhra Pradesh today attests to this fact. Land trading and speculative business being part of cultural memory of Kammas the offer by the then government invariably appeared lucrative and commonsensical, notwithstanding their present posturing of sentimental peasants. One can debate the merits and ills of neoliberalism, however, more important than the economic quibbling is the ideology of neoliberalism. It is interesting that neoliberalism is primarily associated with the individual. But within the Indian context, the success or failure of either neo-liberalism or Socialism is definite upon the Castes embracing either of them. Arguably Kamma as a community today is the harbinger of neo-liberal ideology. We have seen that the roots of that were already present in the past and they have with ease simply latched on to the neo-liberal restructuring of the society.
It would not be prudent to believe that powers to be are unaware of these dynamics. Armed with such understanding they proceeded victoriously only to be halted by the newly elected government. It is necessary to state here that the recent elections in Andhra Pradesh marked the break from electoral politics and the fragile hegemony that has been the hallmark for the last 3 decades. Whatever be one’s opinion of the erstwhile Telugudesam party, but, it has to be accepted that being a party of a minuscule Caste the party had advanced the electoral social justice politics, whether willingly or by necessity. The new government of YSRCP outsmarted them completely in their own game. Mere outsmarting isn’t sufficient for them. They appear to be hell-bent on further eroding the carefully constructed hegemony. The decentralization/relocation of Amaravati needs to be understood in that context.
Before ending this piece, I find it necessary to clear a few myths associated with Amaravati. Contrary to what is being portrayed nothing much has actually been constructed on the ground. A temporary Secretariat and a temporary High Court are functioning as of today. 75% of work has been done on Non-Gazetted Officers’ quarters, MLA/MP housing quarters, weaker sections housing project. Judges’ bungalows are under construction. One portion of the seed-access road was made available and another portion is still under construction. If one visits Amaravati, the only buildings that would be visible are these. Coming to private constructions, SRM University, VIT University, and Amrita University are under construction, though SRM and VIT started admitting students. The remaining 30,000 acres of land is simply lying fallow, only to be chewed by the sheep herded by shepherds from Rayalaseema.