Never in the recent past has any policy decision of the Andhra Pradesh government triggered such a widespread reaction in faraway foreign lands like the Jagan Mohan Reddy government’s controversial move to shift the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam.
The decision has evoked protests not just by farmers within the state but also from Non-Resident Telugus in nearly 300 cities across several countries, including the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand.
Why does an issue that essentially concerns farmers of Amaravati region find traction among NRIs?
“The issue is not whether they are directly affected by the location of new capital city. Amaravati was not conceived just as a capital city but represented a long-cherished wish of Telugus to have a world-class city that they can call truly their own. What should have been a resurrection of an inspiring legacy now lies in tatters,” senior analyst K Ramesh says.
There was widespread expectation that Amaravati would attract investments from across the world and boost the profile of a state that is still reeling under bifurcation blues. The capital dream has now gone sour and several investors have pulled out from AP following the YSR Congress government’s decision to opt for trifurcation of the capital — Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital and Kurnool as judicial capital.
Amaravati will now be reduced to a provincial town, hosting assembly sessions a couple of times in a year.
A series of vindictive moves, reversing the key policy decisions and projects of the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) regime has led to the flight of capital and created a negative investor sentiment.
Protests go global
Non-resident Telugus across 300 world cities held demonstrations on Friday (July 3) to express solidarity with the agitating farmers of Amaravati region in Guntur district. July 3 marks completion of 200 days of the mass protests against the decentralisation move. Opposition parties, including the state BJP unit, have thrown their weight behind the agitation.
Over 25,000 farmers of Amaravati capital region have been on the warpath ever since the government announced the trifurcation on December 17 last year.
#Telugu NRIs from over 200 cities across the world join hands for a simultaneous protest to mark 200 days of farmers' protest to retain #Amaravati as the state capital of #AndhraPradesh. #OneStateOneCapital #AmaravatiFarmers
— krishnamurthy (@krishna0302) July 4, 2020
These farmers belonging to 29 villages, who had voluntarily given away nearly 34,000 acres of their fertile land to the capital city development during the previous TDP regime in 2015, strongly resisted the move, asserting that they had sacrificed their livelihood in anticipation of the development of a world-class capital city in Amaravati.
“We will continue to help the agitating farmers financially and morally in their battle against the decision to shift the capital. We will use all our resources and influence to see that the capital is retained at Amaravati,” former president of Telugu Association of North America (TANA) Jayaram Komati said.
“For the last 200 days, these farmers have been waging a relentless battle demanding that the capital be retained at Amaravati. They took out rallies, held relay hunger strikes, blocked the national highways and braved arrests and attacks from the police. Some of the farmers died of heart attacks due to psychological pressure,” Komati said.
“We thought of taking up huge rallies, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we restricted our protests by taking out candle-light rallies across American cities to convey our solidarity to the fighting farmers,” he said.
Similarly, Telugus in other countries like Singapore, Thailand, Australia, England and New Zealand also took out similar demonstrations.
“We are not against the Jagan government, but are only demanding that the capital city be retained in Amaravati. We strongly feel that there should be decentralisation of development, but centralised administration,” said Harish Kumar, who runs a software company at San Francisco, said.
My Brick, My Amaravati
In the past, the NRI Telugus had contributed to the building of the state capital. When former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu launched a campaign — My Brick, My Amaravati — aimed at selling “electronic bricks” to build Amaravati, they responded in huge numbers.
TANA collected donations from its community members in the US and Canada under the campaign and presented it to the previous TDP government. More than 2.28 lakh NRI donors purchased nearly 58 lakh bricks sold online, each at a cost of ₹10.
TDP president and former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who conceived the idea of Amaravati as an ultra-modern river capital, said his party would continue the fight against the present government’s move for trifurcation of the state capital.
The Leader of Opposition said the 3-capital idea was flawed and seemed entrenched in the whims and fancies of Jagan Mohan Reddy.
With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the shifting would be all the more inappropriate and ill-timed, considering the falling industrial and agricultural output. Also, there were problems of rapidly rising unemployment, and failing healthcare systems, Naidu said.
“Our party will march shoulder to shoulder with the protesting farmers until Amaravati is reinstated as the only capital,” the TDP chief asserted.
He recalled that Amaravati farmers had voluntarily contributed 33,000 acres of land and their gesture was lauded by many as a one-of-its-kind initiative in the country.
“History will be witness that no country or state ever prospered by dividing regions or people. Amaravati was born out of the pangs of an unjust bifurcation and was envisioned to unite Telugus and be the building block of a powerful Andhra Pradesh. We only had our will, our manpower and the intellectual capital of our people, and we worked hard to build a self-financing capital that generated jobs for the residents and strengthened the economy with generous tax contributions owing to economic activity,” he said.