Chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has now shifted his focus to North Andhra. The region, comprising three coastal districts of Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam and Vizianagaram with 34 Assembly seats, has occupied the centrestage of Jagan’s political agenda.
After the reorganization of districts, the region now has six districts. Except for the port city of Vizag, this backward region till recently found little space in headlines. But now, frequent tours by Jagan and high-profile inaugurations and Bhumipujas of various projects have put the spotlight on the region. More so, with the entry of Adani Group.
Windfall of projects
It all begun with Global Investors’ Summit in Vizag on March 3 and 4 in which who’s who of Indian industry and business participated. Later, on March 28 and 29, G-20 meeting was held in Vizag. On April 19, Jagan laid the foundation stone for the Bhavanpadu port in Srikakulam district, following it with Vamsadhara lift irrigation scheme, a fishing harbour in Budagatlapalem, and Mahendra Tanaya offshore reservoir.
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On May 3, he laid the foundation for Bhogapuram International Airport, the Tarakaramatheertha Sagaram project, the Chintapalli Fish Landing Centre in Vizianagaram district, and performed Bhumipuja for Adani Data centre at Vizag.
Jagan is visiting the region again on May 11, to inaugurate the Sea Harrier Museum on Vizag beach. He will also visit Srikakulam in June to open a 200-bed super specialty hospital and research centre, aimed at addressing the chronic kidney problem in the region. He will also inaugurate a protected drinking supply scheme for villages of Uddhanam region of the district where people are afflicted with kidney related issues.
In July, he will lay the foundation stone for the Tribal University in Vizianagaram district and in August for a six-lane expressway connecting Vizag and Bhogapuaram International Airport.
Vizag, the new power centre
All these activities will culminate in his much-publicized relocation of the state administration to Vizag. Recently, Jagan said he would operate from Vizag and even shift his family there from Tadepalli in Amaravati capital region. This means that in his view, Vizag will become the undeclared capital of Andhra Pradesh.
This all sprouts from Jagan facing a strange predicament. He is not comfortable in Amaravati capital where his arch rival and TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu’s name is etched indelibly. Naidu had acquired more than 30,000 acres on the banks of River Krishna to build a river-front capital.
It is speculated that the rest of the land in the region had gone into the hands of friends and relatives of Naidu as well as real estate sharks, which Jagan alleges as an insider trading scam.
In a nutshell, there is nothing left for Jagan — who formed the government with an unprecedented majority — to gain a foothold and redesign the city so that he could also carve out his niche.
So, on the strength of an absolute majority in the Assembly (151 seats out of 175), he was hellbent to shift the capital out of Amaravati. He proposed decentralization of the capital by splitting it into three units — judicial, legislative and administrative capitals — and allocated them to all the three regions, Rayalaseema, Coastal Andhra and North Andhra. While Amaravati continued as the legislative capital, Kurnool in Rayalaseema and Vizag in North Andhra had been named as judicial and administrative capitals, respectively, and a government order (GO) was issued to this end.
Those against the Amaravati mega capital plan felt satisfied with this formula. But courts put paid to his plans, stating that making and unmaking of the capital is not the job of the state. Jagan had to withdraw the three-capitals’ GO and the case now is in the Supreme Court which said it would hear it in July after vacations.
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As assembly elections are just a year away, this ‘capital defeat’ is weighing heavy on Jagan. There has been a lot of heartburn in Rayalaseema region, from where Jagan hails, as the judicial capital failed to materialize and because he could not complete the irrigation projects initiated or followed up by Chandrababu Naidu. He could also not concede to demands like Siddeswaram Alugu (weir) in Nandyala district.
On the other side, Amaravati farmers, who gave their land for the capital’s construction, are up in arms.
This left only North Andhra as the region where people were overtly not unhappy and even if the opposition parties foment some issue, he could pacify them by shifting his base to Vizag. Jagan’s gameplan is to convince the people of North Andhra that he would make Vizag a functional capital, if not an official capital.
He, however, looks worried that any negative outcome in 2024 will render his absolute majority and five-year term meaningless. So, Jagan and his cabinet colleagues have been reiterating that capital would be shifted to Vizag.
On May 3, while addressing a public meeting in Srikakulam district after laying the foundation stone for a project, Jagan announced that his office would be functional in Vizag from September. To prove his sincerity, he assured the people that he would relocate his family as well.
As a result, it is Rayalaseema — with four erstwhile districts Kurnool, Kadapa, Anantapur and Chittoor – that has lost out. In 2014, after the bifurcation of the state, people in Rayalaseema had demanded restoration of the capital to the region, citing that the division had recreated an Andhra state of 1953 which had Kurnool as its capital.
But as it is dry and unattractive in terms of real estate, the region lost the race to Amaravati as the then chief minister Naidu said the capital should be at the geographical centre of the state.
Now Jagan too has ignored his own region Rayalaseema and has chosen Vizag, an attractive and valuable piece of real estate. Also, the relocation of capital to bustling Vizag is both politically and economically compelling and beneficial for Jagan.
The North Andhra region, rich with mineral, forest and coastal wealth, has the potential to attract industry. Bauxite in the forest area is waiting to be mined. Adani Group has already become a major player in the region and realtors and politicians are reaping the windfall.
There are some voices of discontent too. Activists like Dr EAS Sarma, former Union government secretary, cry foul and point out how land has been given to industrial houses like Adani at dirt cheap rates and how the government has even turned a blind eye to the grabbing of heritage sites like Erramatti Dibbalu.
Also read: Andhra: Uproar over Jagan govt’s paltry budget allocation for irrigation
Politically speaking, North Andhra is a unique region in the state with nominal presence of dominant upper castes like Reddys and Kammas. Backward castes dominate the demography.
TDP, with its pro-backward class policies, had made the region its fortress for 40 years. In 2019, for the first time Jagan broke the TDP’s stranglehold over the region. Now, in partnership with Adani, he is promising lakhs of jobs in the region, projecting it as the growth engine of the state with ports, international airport, software industry and power plants.
Political observers feel that Jagan thinks that North Andhra would help him offset any electoral backlash from the angry Amaravati capital region and disillusioned Rayalaseema.