When the Andhra Pradesh CM, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, swept to power, opposition parties coined a moniker to critique his policies - Tughlaq CM. He was supposed to emulate the Delhi emperor by subjecting people to unnecessary pain through irrational decisions. However, none would've expected him to replicate Tughlaq's actual historical blunders. The emperor was notorious for shifting capitals from Delhi to Daulatabad for reasons of better administration and securing himself from Mongol invasions.
Now, the proposed shifting of capital from Amaravati to Vizag is a move whose political, organizational, and developmental motives are mired in confusion and propaganda. Investments in manufacturing and service sector to be developed at Amaravati and Vizag (LuLu group and Adani Group among others) stand withdrawn or cancelled. Despite the mantra of 3 capitals, Vizag will be de facto capital as the all-powerful CMO, Secretariat, and heads of administrative departments will operate from Vizag. The state government doesn't have the power to shift the Andhra Pradesh High Court to Kurnool. Such a shifting requires the consent of the Supreme Court and the Union government under the AP Reorganization Act 2014, which is central legislation.
Vizag is among the fastest-growing cities in India and basing the capital there won't alter its growth path significantly. By building a new city to complement Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam as Andhra's premier growth engines, there would've been an additional revenue source to fund extensive welfare programs. Among the prime reasons justifying this move was the alleged acquisition of land in Amaravati benefiting only one caste. This article focuses on historical parallels to such a move and how a wide cross-section of communities located in Guntur and Krishna districts stand to benefit from the new capital.
Vijayawada - Once A Communist Bastion, Now A Communal Stronghold?
In 1953, on the eve of Andhra state formation, Kurnool became the capital of Seemandhra as per the Sribagh Pact of 1937 wherein the capital was to be in Rayalaseema and High Court in Coastal Andhra. Kurnool was chosen by Tanguturi Prakasam as an act of goodwill to gain the trust of Rayalaseema people in backing the formation of Andhra Pradesh. However, owing to its inadequacy as a capital, attempts to choose a new capital were made in the Madras Legislative Assembly in July 1953. Visakhapatnam, Tirupathi, and Vijayawada were rejected as options and the motion to situate capital between Vijayawada and Guntur was accepted by the Telugu members. This was defeated through voting by non-Telugu members despite an all-party agreement that only Seemandhra representatives will exercise their vote.
While the support of Rayalaseema was crucial, Congress leaders were also averse to having Vijayawada-Guntur region as the capital. Their dominance in Andhra was contested successfully here by the Communist Party of India (CPI). Vijayawada's first MP and most of the first MLAs elected from Krishna and Guntur districts were from CPI or had its support. Despite winning 29 of the 33 Assembly constituencies in these districts in the 2019 elections, the ruling party alleges that this region is dominated by the Kammas who developed Amaravati to the exclusion of other communities. Just as Vijayawada was seen to be dominated by a political party back then, Amaravati is now portrayed as the fiefdom of one social group.
The movement now, protesting capital-shifting, is also characterised as Kamma-led, communalising the discourse. Despite the lack of evidence, the previous government is alleged to be complicit in land-speculation in and around Amaravati. An overview of land-holders who gave up land gives us a clearer perspective on who gave up land and how.
Land-Pooling Scheme - A Model For India
In 2014, the Centre-appointed Sivaramakrishnan committee warned that land-acquisition could be expensive and cumbersome, but an innovative land-pooling scheme resolved this. Nearly 30,000 farmers from 29 villages in Guntur district gave 34,323 acres to build Amaravati. Small, medium and large land-owning farmers were a small minority and marginal farmers were the overwhelming majority - 20,490 had below an acre while 5,227 had between 1-2 acres. There were pockets of resistance but nearly 90% of the land-pooling was voluntary.
Based on their contribution, farmers were promised a proportionate smaller plot developed with infrastructure, sewage networks, and other urban facilities. Additionally, they'd be getting annuity payments between Rs. 30,000-50,000 per acre over 10 years. This was a major breakthrough considering tortuous land acquisitions in the recent past, whether in Bengal or Odisha, especially under the draconian Land Acquisition Act of 1894 (now defunct). This scheme made land, not money, as the primary mode of exchange for a state with weak finances.
Amaravati - Elite Dreams Or Egalitarian Capital?
Was the vision of Amaravati as an ambitious capital a case of elitist dreams being rubbed on an unwilling people? Maximum suggestions received by the Sivaramakrishnan committee preferred the Vijayawada-Guntur region to be the location of the capital. Muslims make up more than 10% of the Guntur district population; Christians constitute significant numbers too, as attested by the presence of 1300+ churches in the district. However, tenant farmers and landless agricultural labourers faced severe hardships with land becoming expensive to cultivate or simply being unavailable to work in. Labourers shifted from agricultural work to doing more remunerative construction work occasioned by the building of the city. They face an uncertain future with most of the construction work in the capital region, worth Rs. 50,000 crore, stalled after the elections.
Assuming allegations about caste-based insider trading were true, this is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Creating a capital has a positive ripple effect on the economy and society; delegitimizing it has negative effects inside and outside Andhra. Given land-holding and demographic patterns in the 29 villages under the CRDA (Capital Region Development Authority), it's evident SCs and STs, Kapus, Muslims, Christians and other BC communities make up a vast majority of those who gave up their land. Tadikonda Assembly Constituency under the Amaravati region has been an SC-reserved constituency since 1978. With all of them having a stake in its growth, Amaravati benefited the socially and economically backward sections of this region. The interests of farmers and locals of the capital region belonging to many communities in the socio-economic ladder could now be hurt through the shift in capitals.
Though Tughlaq's capital-shifting is perceived as a ridiculous decision causing huge suffering, some scholars argue Daulatabad served more like a second administrative capital to govern a huge empire. Culturally, it helped transcend the barriers between Gangetic Plains and the Deccan, rooting several institutions of the Delhi Sultanate among the people of southern India. Unlike what's happening now, this decision hurt the elites far more than the lower classes of Delhi.
Andhra Pradesh is neither as big as the Tughlaq empire nor can this shifting of capitals from Amaravati to Vizag improve fraternity among its three regions - Rayalaseema, North Andhra, and South Andhra. In fact, given the nature of protests spearheaded by JAC or by civil society all across the state - whether in Anantapur, Prakasam, or East Godavari - or in other countries, this decision showcased the unity of the people in standing up for Amaravati. If carried through, posterity might judge this capital-shifting more harshly than what happened centuries ago.
Also read: Amaravati: Protests Continue Against Multiple Capital Proposal By Jagan Government