Interview: NDA candidate for Visakhapatnam, Mathukumilli Sribharat, on YS Jagan and Nara Lokesh

Sribharat says people of Visakhapatnam prioritise a high quality of life and economic prosperity over designating their city as the capital.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Apr 13, 2024 | 3:00 PMUpdatedApr 17, 2024 | 10:33 PM

Bharat Mathukumilli, Visakhapatnam MP contestant from the NDA on his campaign trail. (Supplied)

The port city of Visakhapatnam, known as Vizag, is abuzz with political activity. The YSRCP has promised to designate it as the administrative capital of Andhra Pradesh if it wins the 2024 election.

The TDP-JSP-BJP alliance is striving to wrest the constituency from the YSRCP. At each campaign meeting, it reiterated that Vizag was ignored during the past five years of the YSRCP rule.

TDP leader Mathukumilli Sribharat is the alliance’s candidate for the Visakhapatnam parliamentary seat. Contesting for the second time, he is confident of turning the tables. He had lost to YSRCP’s MVV Satyanarayana by over 4,000 votes in 2019.

Sribharat, President of GITAM (Deemed to be University), established in 1980 in Visakhapatnam, is also the son-in-law of actor-politician Nandamuri Balakrishna, the son of Telugu Desam Party founder NT Rama Rao.

In an exclusive conversation with South First, Sribharat shared his plans for Vizag and expressed views on various topics, including the three-capital plan.

Edited excerpts:

Q: Do you consider Visakhapatnam an even playground?

A: Visakhapatnam is predominantly urban. The public compares it with the earlier TDP government, which swiftly restored the city’s infrastructure within nine days after Cyclone Hudhud.

We’re now witnessing a different environment that lacks focus on development and urban quality of life. I believe that we will secure victory in all seven Assembly seats by a significant margin, and the Lok Sabha seat.

Q: Your opponent, Botcha Jhansi Lakshmi from Vizianagaram, says you are overconfident.

A; Vizianagaram’s politics is significantly different from that of Vizag. Vizianagaram is primarily rural, while Vizag is urban. Surveys have predicted the TDP to win 17 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

I am confident of winning Vizag by a huge margin.

Q: Jagan’s election pitch focuses on educational reforms. What are your thoughts on his educational reforms?

A: I believe quality is the primary factor in the education system. This government should address questions regarding the recruitment of new teachers. How many teachers have they recruited, and how many of them meet high-quality standards?

To my knowledge, there has been minimal recruitment of faculty or teachers in government schools over the last five years, with the DSC notification issued only a few months ago.

So, if new teachers have not been recruited, how can there be transformation? For instance, Delhi has partnered with international schools and collaborated with countries like Finland to enhance its education system by bringing in educators from abroad.

In contrast, renovating buildings or adding infrastructure doesn’t constitute genuine reform.

Also related: I will move to Vizag shortly, says Jagan

Q: TDP is pitching for a single capital, Amaravati. YSRCP promises to make Visakhapatnam the administrative capital. Are you caught between your party’s stance and the one-capital pitch?

A: The assumption that development hinges solely on the location of the capital is fundamentally flawed.

The people of Visakhapatnam want a higher quality life and economic prosperity than a capital city. They seek improved standards of living and more employment opportunities.

Therefore, whether Visakhapatnam is officially labelled as the capital or not is less important to them. What matters is progress and prosperity.

There will always be arguments advocating alternative locations. The decision regarding the capital’s location involved inputs from numerous stakeholders.

It’s crucial to recognise that Chandrababu Naidu consulted extensively before arriving at a decision. The chosen location was strategically positioned equidistant from the north and south districts of the state.

When Jagan was in the opposition, he had the opportunity to oppose the decision. He didn’t.

He supported Amaravati as the sole capital. He changed his stance only after coming to power in 2019.

Merely announcing Visakhapatnam as the capital does not automatically get public acceptance.

Compared to the progress seen in the previous five years, the current administration has witnessed the departure of investments, such as Franklin Templeton and numerous other companies.

Furthermore, establishing three capitals becomes unrealistic and impractical if the state faces financial constraints. Building even one capital, let alone three, is a formidable challenge.

Q: What led to your loss in 2019?

A: I could list a hundred reasons if I had to. One major challenge was the three-way contest. The presence of the Jana Sena candidate and former IPS officer JD Lakshmi Narayana, who garnered almost 2.8 lakh votes, affected the outcome. My margin of loss was only 4,000 votes.

Q: Now, the TDP is aligning with JSP and BJP. Are you banking on JSP and BJP votes?

A; The people are seeking a TDP-led government with Naidu as the chief minister. Even for an average candidate, a victory is possible, albeit with a potentially smaller margin. However, given my goodwill and support, I believe my candidature will substantially increase the majority.

Q: The BJP is absent from your campaigns. Do you believe that it supports you?

A: The BJP’s influence in the state is relatively minimal compared to its nationwide presence. I believe that the TDP-JSP alliance is well-positioned to win the elections. However, the BJP’s strength lies in its central leadership.

Given that the BJP is likely to form the government again at the Centre, it’s crucial for our party to collaborate with the Union government for the state’s development and to safeguard our interests, particularly considering the significant increase in debt under the current YSRCP government.

The BJP’s city president has organised meetings, and state committee members have facilitated discussions with BJP leaders and local representatives.

Q: Can you share one thing about your opponent that people should know and why they should not vote for her? 

A: I don’t focus much on criticising my opponents. But, over the past five years, the TDP has consistently stood against the privatisation of the steel plant, actively participating in numerous protests both as a party and as individuals.

In contrast, my opponent has not been involved in any such initiatives and has remained silent on the issue of steel plant privatisation.

We are committed to halting this privatisation. In the past, in alliance with the BJP, we successfully addressed this issue in 1999 and 2004.

The TDP had then appealed to Prime Minister Vajpayee to reconsider the decision. The prime minister listened to our concerns.

Unfortunately, the present state government has adopted a casual and indifferent approach to this critical issue.

Also read: Vision Vizag and Jagan oath

Q: Most MPs from Andhra Pradesh are businessmen. Do you believe they would work in the interest of the ordinary people and address issues like special status?

A: Our ability to advocate the state’s interests in Delhi has diminished significantly since the state was bifurcated, reducing our MP count from 42 to 25.

This weakened position is further exacerbated by being part of a majoritarian government, as seen during the BJP’s majority rule from 2014 to 2019.

In the 2019 elections, the YSRCP promised to bring about a change with their 25 MPs. However, they failed to fulfil the promise of special status for the state, ultimately deceiving the people.

The Centre’s stance on special status hasn’t significantly changed. However, we will continue to advocate for it. Nonetheless, regardless of whether we achieve special status, our focus remains on the development of the state.

Q: Telangana Congress chief and CM Revanth Reddy and AP Congress chief YS Sharmila alleged that Naidu and Jagan would work for self-interests rather than the state’s benefit. What is your response?

A: The Congress party’s credibility in Andhra Pradesh has significantly dwindled, especially given its role in the state’s bifurcation. Its last electoral performance reflects this decline, with deposits lost in 173 seats.

As the primary opposition party, the TDP is responsible for upholding specific standards. Making grand promises when you have nothing to lose is tempting. We must be mindful of our commitments.

We are confident in our ability to secure victory today or in the future, but that doesn’t mean we can make empty promises.

Q: The BC population is around 49-50 percent in the state, while the Kamma and Reddy communities each constitute less than 10 percent. However, these communities are disproportionately represented in politics compared to the BCs. What are your thoughts on this disparity?

A: In many states, including Telangana, certain communities dominate politics. For instance, out of 119 MLAs in Telangana, around 50 winning MLAs hail from the Reddy community, irrespective of their party affiliation.

This trend can be attributed to the significant influence of wealth in politics, as many affluent individuals in our country belong to forward communities.

In Andhra Pradesh, successful businessmen are predominantly from the Kamma and Reddy communities, which may contribute to their higher representation in politics.

Q: Can you describe in one word actor-politician and your father-in-law Balakrishna, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, his son Nara Lokesh, Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan, Congress chief YS Sharmila, and YSRCP chief and Jagan?

A: Balakrishna—child. Chandrababu Naidu—hard work. Nara Lokesh—future. Pawan Kalyan – Noble. YS Sharmila—aggressive. CM YS Jagan—iron-willed (Sribharat opined that YS Jagan, despite winning a historic mandate of 151 out of 175 seats, misused his power).

Q: The YSRCP government has demolished the compound wall of GITAM University, alleging encroachment on 40 acres.

A: The government land within our boundary wall is on public record. We conducted a survey, which revealed that around eight acres were within our boundaries.

It was not a deliberate encroachment. The university was established in 1983 and built following the then guidelines. However, technology and surveying methods evolved since then.

As soon as this discrepancy came to light, we expressed willingness to regularise the land by paying the market value to the government.

We are not seeking the land for free; we agreed to pay for it. It’s an act of revenge intended to inflict financial damage. As alleged, I don’t believe they did it to intimidate or persuade me to join the YSRCP.

Related: Vizag drugs haul politics

What is your response to the controversy surrounding the drug container caught by the CBI at Visakhapatnam port? The YSRCP has alleged the involvement of TDP and BJP leaders.

There have been multiple drug busts in Visakhapatnam in the past. However, the prevalence of drugs in the city has increased significantly.

This is due to the current state government’s lackadaisical approach, as there’s a possibility that members of the YSRCP are involved in this issue. Instead of merely making allegations, they have the entire system at their disposal to investigate and bring the accused to book.