If the demand for Andhra Pradesh’s special category status was a rallying point for political parties a few years ago, the ongoing protest against the proposed shifting of the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam has become a unifying factor for the disparate opposition groups in the state.
By pushing through his controversial three-capital idea, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has set off a chain of events that may well lead to a realignment of political forces in a state which is still grappling with bifurcation blues.
The capital conundrum has given a fresh lease of life to the opposition camp which was thoroughly demoralised following debacle in the last year’s elections.
Ever since the announcement of the government’s plan to have three capital cities—Visakhapatnam as the executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital, and Kurnool as judicial capital— the Telugu Desam Party, Congress, left parties and actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party have been opposing the move.
The BJP is the latest to join the league. Though the saffron party has no representation either in the assembly or in the Lok Sabha from the state, its stand on the issue assumes significance due to its potential to alter the dynamics of the relationship between Jagan and the NDA government at the Centre.
In a loaded message to the state government, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and senior BJP leader G Kishan Reddy reminded the chief minister that the Centre had recognised Amaravati as the capital and included it in the map of India.
While Jagan is in no position to afford any confrontation with the central BJP leadership, given that a CBI case on the alleged illegal assets is hanging over his head, the Centre can upset his plans to shift the capital out of Amaravati.
“If necessary, we will request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in the capital issue and do justice to farmers of Amaravati,” state’s BJP president K Lakshminarayana told The Federal.
The state BJP unit has thrown its weight behind the ongoing agitation by farmers of 29 villages in the Amaravati region who had voluntarily given over 33,000 acres of land to build the ultramodern capital as envisaged by former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
While insisting that the capital should be continued in Amaravati, the BJP, however, favoured setting up the High Court at Kurnool in the backward Rayalaseema region.
“We are for decentralisation of development but not in the way that the present government is doing. This is nothing but dictatorship,” he said. The BJP leader had earlier visited the protesting farmers and pledged the party’s support for their cause.
Though initially, the state BJP leaders were speaking in different voices over the capital issue, they have now closed ranks to oppose the government’s move.
A recent meeting of the party’s core committee unanimously resolved to fight for the cause of Amaravati farmers.
“Before the elections, all parties had supported Amaravati as the state capital. Jagan was also a party to it. He wanted the capital city to come upon 30,000 acres. The previous TDP government had spent ₹9,000 crore and also raised money through bonds. All this is public money,” the core committee said in its resolution.
It also pointed out that the ongoing agitation was not just confined to the interests of the farmers of the Amaravati region but was of concern for the entire state.
Realignment on cards
With the BJP coming out in the open unequivocally opposing the move to shift the capital, the stage appears set for realignment of political forces. The TDP, which is in the forefront of the Amaravati movement, is likely to return to the NDA fold sooner than later. Pawan Kalyan has already forged an alliance with the saffron party last month.
Given that the allegations of a secret deal between Pawan Kalyan and Chandrababu Naidu have never really died down, the actor’s saffron makeover is seen as yet another move by the TDP to mend fences with the BJP leadership.
“The BJP and JSP will work together to come to power in AP in 2024. We will work together for the people of the state,” Pawan Kalyan had told the media soon after announcing his party’s alliance with the BJP last month.
With all the opposition parties being on the same page as far as supporting the cause of Amaravati is concerned, a broader alliance is on the cards.
In all probability, the TDP-BJP-JSP combine will take on YSRCP in the next elections. The contours of such a formulation are becoming clearer by the day.
Neither the BJP nor JSP could make any dent in Andhra politics in the April 2019 elections. While BJP drew blank, JSP could win just one assembly seat. However, the combined force is likely to have a bearing on the coming elections to rural and urban local bodies. The TDP remains a formidable force in the state despite poor showing in the previous polls when it won 23 seats in the 175-member assembly and three Lok Sabha seats out of 25 from the State.
There are indications that the TDP, which had walked out of the NDA in March 2018 over the Special Category Status issue, will soon return to the NDA fold, a development that could boost the opposition strength ahead of the 2024 elections.
Another key factor that has prompted the opposition parties to get their act together is the growing heat from the YSRCP government which has been targeting the opposition leaders with a streak of ruthlessness that was never seen before.
There is a growing realisation among the opposition camp about the need to put up a joint fight to take on the bullish ruling party.