As protests by Andhra Pradesh farmers against shifting of the state capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam crossed the 250-day mark, the agitation has exposed the duplicity of the BJP. While other opposition parties—the Congress, TDP, CPI, and CPI(M)—have been steadfast in supporting the farmers, the saffron party has been inconsistent in its approach.
The question being asked in the political circles is whether the BJP’s doublespeak on the capital row is a deliberate ploy to keep the chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on tenterhooks or whether it reflects a deepening confusion in the party.
The state and central leaders of BJP have been sending conflicting signals on the three-capital plan of the Jagan Mohan Reddy government. While the newly-appointed state BJP president Somu Veerraju has thrown his weight behind the farmers of the Amaravati who have been protesting against shifting the capital from Amaravati, the original dream project of the former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, the party’s central leaders have been adopting a hands-off approach and appear to be backing the YSR Congress government.
A top central BJP leader told The Federal that though the party was opposed to abandoning Amaravati project, the union government had no role to play on the issue of the location of the capital city and it was for the state government to decide.
The saffron party is encouraging its state level leaders to oppose the government’s trifurcation plan to develop three capital cities—Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital, and Kurnool as judicial capital. At the same time, the central leadership has been assuring Jagan and his party that the Centre would not interfere with his plans.
When the YSRCP government unveiled the three-capital plan in December last, the BJP leaders toured the villages in the Amaravati region and took part in the agitation. The then BJP state unit president K Lakshminarayana even staged a day-long hunger strike at Uddandarayunipalem village, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the capital city on October 22, 2015.
The BJP, in coordination with Jana Sena Party headed by popular hero Pawan Kalyan, had even planned to take out a massive rally from Guntur to Vijayawada in support of Amaravati farmers in February but the plan was abruptly dropped.
“The BJP is still short of majority in Rajya Sabha and is banking on the support of parties like YSR Congress to get the key legislations passed. It is for this reason that the Centre has taken a hands-off approach towards the issue,” a senior analyst Ramakrishna Sangem said.
In the ongoing legal battle between the Amaravati farmers’ Joint Action Committee and the state government in the high court, the Centre has maintained a neutral stand.
On August 6, the additional solicitor general submitted an affidavit in the court stating that the union government had no role in selecting the location of capital as it was the prerogative of the state government.
“In the past, the TDP notified Amaravati as the capital city. Now, the present government has chosen three capitals. The Centre has no role in it,” he said.
A similar affidavit was filed by a Union home ministry official in the high court last week while the BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao, too, endorsed the same view saying the Centre had nothing to do with the capital controversy.
However, the recently-appointed state BJP president Somu Veerraju said as a political party, the BJP wished that Amaravati continued as the state capital.
“As a political party, we have a certain view. We want that justice must be done to the farmers of Amaravati who had voluntarily given their lands for building the capital. However, the Centre has already made it clear it has nothing do with the capital location,” he said.
While all the other opposition parties have extended their solidarity with the agitating farmers and staged protest demonstrations in various villages in the coastal region, the BJP has stayed away from the protests.
“We are sympathetic towards the agitating farmers. We demand that the government must fulfill all promises made to them, like development of the plots allotted to them in lieu of the lands acquired,” Veerraju said.
However, the TDP leaders accuse the BJP of adopting double standards. “It has not been consistent in its stand on Amaravati,” senior opposition leader and former finance minister Y Ramakrishnudu said.
Chandrababu Naidu, who is credited with drawing up plans to develop Amaravati as an ultramodern riverfront capital, has accused the Jagan government of going ahead with the three-capital plan without approval from the people of the state.
“The chief minister has not accepted our challenge to dissolve the assembly and seek re-election on the plank of trifurcation,” Naidu said, and called upon the people of all the 13 districts in the state to show total solidarity with the ongoing farmers’ agitation.
The state Congress working president N Tulasi Reddy described the 250-day long agitation by Amaravati farmers as one of the longest and peaceful agitations, taken up purely on Gandhian lines.
“When he was in opposition, Jagan had extended his support to Amaravati as the capital city. Now, he cannot go back on his stand,” Reddy said.
Since the Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan gave his assent to the Andhra Pradesh Decentralisation and Inclusive Development of All Regions Bill 2020 on July 31, the protests have intensified across 29 villages in the region where about 24,000 farmers had given 33,000 acres of land under the land pooling scheme for developing the new capital.
For every acre of cultivable land pooled, the farmers were promised 1,000 square yards of residential plots and 250 square yards of commercial plots with all the infrastructure. They were also promised Rs 50,000 annuity per acre with annual hike of 10 per cent.
With the shifting of the offices of the Chief Minister, Governor, ministers and secretaries to the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, it will become the seat of power.