Way forward for Andhra: Is Naidu in hot water post poll victory? Struggles of a CM in a debt-ridden state

Besides running the government to the people's satisfaction, the NDA dispensation in the state has the additional responsibility of facing the challenge of keeping the election promises.

ByR Dileep Reddy

Published Jul 11, 2024 | 8:00 PM Updated Jul 11, 2024 | 8:00 PM

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has an unenviable task of implementing the promises, with a dried up state coffers. Delay in delivering the promises will make face the anger of the same public, who had voted him to power.

South First brings to you a series on what the newly elected government in Andhra Pradesh led by Chandrababu Naidu has in store as it navigates fiscal, social-economic and policy challenges. The series will explore the concerns before the TDP government and possible way forward to address key sectoral issues. Read the first part here

The TDP-led NDA government in Andhra Pradesh should immediately implement the promises made to the people ahead of the general elections to earn credibility and acceptability.

All political parties make tall promises. But keeping them after coming to power is difficult. Regardless of how arduous the task is, the party that comes to power will have to embark on this course, since it has given its word to the people.

There is no scope for Raath-Gayi, Bath-Gayi attitude if a political party wants to survive.

Besides running the government to the people’s satisfaction, the NDA dispensation in the state has the additional responsibility of facing the challenge of keeping the promises.

The TDP, while releasing Praja Galam, its poll manifesto, said it reflected the people’s needs, desires, and aspirations. It explains why the government is according the top priority in implementing the promises made in the document.

Former chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has already begun taking swipes at the TDP, saying the manifesto — and not the ‘Red Book’ — should be the guiding spirit.

Now the Opposition leader, Jagan claimed to have implemented more than 90 percent of the promises in his Nava Ratnalu charter when he was the chief minister. He even challenged the TDP if it could emulate him.

From the tenor of Jagan’s voice, it appears he would be breathing down Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s neck for implementing the promises.

The immediate task before the government is to get the state’s finances in order. The past five years saw scant financial discipline. It led to a steep increase in the debt burden. The burden was a legacy the YSRCP government inherited from the TDP when it was in power between 2014 and 2019.

However, the damage done during the YSRCP rule between 2019 and 2024 was more rapid. The state exchequer hit the rock bottom. The present government inherited a financial mess worse than what it had bequeathed to the YSRCP in 2019. How the government would surmount these challenges is the million-dollar question.

Also Read: Challenges before the new Chandrababu Naidu government

Need for a sound economy

If the state has sound financial practices, it would help in the better administration of all sectors. But the experience has been that the state bit off more than it could chew in borrowing.

The debt that has been raised was invested in sectors that offered no returns. The state economy became pear-shaped. The state has reached a stage where it had to go in for more borrowings to service the debts it had already raised.

Statistics reveal that the state has been mired in a morass ₹13 lakh crore debt. The state could not spare money even for ensuring essential services such as laying roads, upkeep of sanitation, supply of drinking water and power.

People, unforgiving, punished the previous government for the economic ruin that it had pushed the state into.

This is exactly the reason why present Chief Minister Naidu is seeking liberal funds for the state each time he meets the prime minister or the finance minister. He is according top priority in persuading the Centre to release more funds to the state.

The previous government had earned opprobrium by imposing a burden on the people by raising taxes and charges. It had even resorted to imposing charges for the removal of garbage. The previous government, which was deaf to suggestions, ironically, appointed a record number of advisors, liberally spending public money.

The present government needs funds for the implementation of the promises made to the people. It would be possible only when there is an uptick in the financial position.

Economist and former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, referring to Andhra Pradesh, had said that the government would not be able to move forward unless there is an increase in non-tax revenues, maintains fiscal prudence, and strikes a balance between welfare and development.

There should be accountability for every paise spent. The government is the custodian of public money and is accountable to the people, he noted.

Related: Chandrababu Naidu pegs Andhra’s power sector legacy losses at ₹1.29 lakh crore.

Clarity on Capital City

The uncertainty over the state’s capital led to the downfall of the previous government. The YSRCP, after coming to power, jettisoned Amaravati, in preference to three capitals for the state.

It proposed the administrative capital in Visakhapatnam, the legislative capital in Vijayawada, and the judicial capital in Kurnool.

The government had argued that the plan represented decentralisation of power. The proposal was soon caught in a web of legal hurdles. The then-state government was uncertain when the capital city would come up and how the proposal would wriggle out of the maze of litigations.

Even the Supreme Court did not give any clear answer to the tangle.

For the then Opposition parties, the uncertainty came as a blessing in disguise. They exploited it during the poll campaign and benefited immensely.

Now the capital issue is back to square one. The new government has said that it would stick to the original plan, locating it in Amaravati. It has binned Jagan Mohan Reddy’s three capital plans.

Related: Chandrababu Naidu faces huge challenge to deliver ‘Super Six’ promise

Striking the development balance

The new government would have to take fresh measures both legislative and administrative. It has to convince the people in the other two regions that the location of the capital city in Amaravati did not amount to neglecting them.

How does the new government mobilise funds for the construction of Amaravati? The government has to come out with a clear statement on when the construction would take place and the number of phases required.

Also, it has to spell out its priorities in the construction of the capital city. The new government would have to give a convincing reply to Jagan’s observation that construction of capital may not cost more than ₹25,000 to ₹30,000 crore if it is located in Visakhapatnam as it is already a developed city.

However, developing a capital city in Amaravati, which has several limitations, might require an investment of ₹1 lakh crore.

The present government is rooting for only one capital in Amaravati. But it would be fraught with the danger of concentrating all development in one place like in Hyderabad.

There is a general feeling among the people that the concentration of all development in one place would sow seeds of dissension, create regional imbalances, and finally might work at cross-purposes with the motto of ensuring an integrated development of the state.

The state government should convince the people with actions that it would not allow disparities to creep in. The government should eschew practices of splurging money on events like paying tributes to media baron Ch Ramoji Rao, the likes of which were unheard of in the past.

Related: Report says TDP seeking more than $12 billion financial aid from Union government

Sense of dejection

Decentralisation of development is not a new concept. The people of the truncated Andhra Pradesh had lost Hyderabad to Telangana at the time of the bifurcation of the state. It was for the first time that a state that has been created anew should get the existing capital city of the combined state.

Since the days of the creation of states on a linguistic basis, the state that is created has built its capital city. Andhra Pradesh had to build its capital city after it was carved out of Madras state. But when AP was divided, as Hyderabad was located in Telangana, it became its capital.

The truncated state of AP was left without the capital city. For decades, development has been concentrated in and around Hyderabad since the formation of AP about 70 years ago. The people remained emotionally integrated with Hyderabad as migration took place to the capital from all parts of the state.

Every village in all the 23 districts in the undivided state of AP developed a bond with Hyderabad. Transcending all the regions, everyone felt a sense of belonging to Hyderabad.

The revelation that Hyderabad no longer belonged to them had taken a heavy heavy emotional toll on them. After the division of the state, the intelligentsia had decided that the same mistake of concentrating development in one place should not happen in the reorganised state of AP. They had proposed that the development should be decentralised across the state.

After winning the 2014 elections, the TDP which came to power in the state, came up with specific proposals in the Assembly for decentralisation of development. It announced district-specific plans comprising at least one or two major projects. But it slipped in implementing them.

The people who wanted decentralisation of development had noticed the digression. In 2019, it worked against the interests of the TDP. It suffered an ignominious defeat.

The TDP is back in power in AP and at least now it should sober up to the fact that it should not commit the same mistake it did in the past. It is the main challenge before the government.

Related: How Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu vows to revive brand Amaravati amid investor concerns

Don’t allow scope for agitations

Regional imbalances in the distribution of the fruits of development would breed agitations. Parochialism is an off-shoot of the feeling of neglect and injustice. The history is replete with several such struggles. They will lead to the demands for separate states to grow in strength.

Already, people in North Andhra and Rayalaseema are feeling alienated. During the last 10 years, there have been instances of people letting out their bottled-up emotions in these areas.

The leaders who felt that their regions were being neglected kept organising meetings and workshops and held consultations with one another on the way forward to get what is their right. The people in North Andhra have a feeling that they are missing the bus. They began agitating by distributing pamphlets and organising demonstrations.

Civil rights organisations in the Rayalseemaa region, too, are voicing dissent against the injustice that was being meted out to them. People under the banner of Rayalseema Rashtra Samiti and Seema Vidyavanthula Vedika have begun agitations. Those who have been wronged have already hit the streets.

Then some forces always bide their time to exploit any public anger at the government. In the Palnadu region, people are already growing impatient with development remaining a mirage. Steeped in poverty and exacerbated by lack of development, they are seething in anger.

The government could nip these problems in the bud if it implemented district-specific plans it had developed when it was in power between 2014-19. It focused on taking up major development projects that suit the local requirements.

For Srikakulam, proposals were made for Smart City, a seaport for Bhavanapadu, and an industrial corridor for Paiddi Bheemavaram. Similarly, for East Godavari, the government had proposed setting up a petroleum university, seaport, petro corridor, food park, Telugu University, coir-dependent industrial complex, and smart city projects for Kakinada and Rajahmundry.

For Prakasam district, the government contemplated building an industrial township, setting up a mines and mineral university, an airport for Ongole, and the location of a seaport at Ramayampet.

For Kurnool, proposals were made for a new airport, IIIT, the industrial township at Owk, developing a tourism circuit and a textile cluster, and so on.

The state government has to look at these proposals with fresh eyes or it would have to face a tough time in the future. The only solution to any problem is a sincere effort to ensure an all-round development of the state, giving each region what is due.

Related: Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu’s emotional kneel in Amaravati

Jobs or unemployment allowance

The present state government may have to face difficult days as there is no clarity on whether the Centre would accord special category status to Andhra Pradesh. This issue will continue to fester.

People tend to think that as it is the NDA that is in power at the Centre, the state has a responsibility to get what they need.

The TDP-led NDA in the state may find it difficult to come up with an answer to the criticism why it was remaining quiet when Nitish Kumar could exert pressure for special category status for Bihar.

If there is no way the state can get special category status, it should at least get an attractive package. The state should take the lead in creating avenues of employment for the youth. It should take the initiative in facilitating the private sector set up industries, and companies.

The Praja Galam has promised that the TDP would provide 20 lakh jobs, and in the event of not being able to do so, it would pay an unemployment allowance of ₹3,000 per month. The government needs commitment and seriousness of purpose in implementing the promise.

If it fails in this endeavour, it will have to face the wrath of the youth.

Related: Naidu promises steps to transform the future of SC/ST communities, Muslims

Wanted: Practical solutions

The state government is releasing white papers on the damages done to each sector under the previous government. But it cannot wash its hands of by just releasing the white Papers. It has to identify who is responsible for the rundown state of each sector and punish them. It should look for practicable solutions.

The state has to answer the gnawing question of how it would protect the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. The questions that remain unanswered are when would it complete the Polavaram Project? How is it going to infuse life into the agriculture sector which is steeped in a quagmire? How and when is it going to resolve land disputes for which people have been waiting eagerly? How is it going to satisfy employees who took up cudgels against the previous government?

Chandrababu Naidu has a special place in the Indian political tapestry. He took over as the chief minister for the fourth time after playing the role of the Opposition leader for one-and-a-half decade. He was unlike Jyoti Basu and Naveen Patnaik to remain in power for a very long period without any interregnum.

He now would have to ace the test of finding solutions to intractable problems, avoid pitfalls in the process, and rule the state to the satisfaction of all sections of people. It is going to be a tough challenge.

(Political analyst and commentator R Dileep Reddy is the Director, People’s Pulse. The Former Information Commissioner of undivided Andhra Pradesh, he had served ‘Sakshi’ as its Executive Editor. Views are personal. Translated from Telugu by Raj Rayasam. Edited by Majnu Babu).

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