Andhra Pradesh has barely recovered from the travails of a division that was punctuated by several agitations, sometimes violent. And now, it is facing elections to both Parliament and the newly bifurcated State’s Assembly. What impact will the agitations leave on the elections?
To me it appears that the so-called agitation for a united Andhra Pradesh was not in the grassroots at any point of time. It was sponsored by the state and the agenda was driven by the media. This is like a human chain. Boys and girls from the primary schools and the corporate sector were brought onto the streets. They sought the permission of the police department for half an hour or 15 minutes to form a human chain. And they had the media to telecast it repeatedly throughout the day as if something big is going on. But, normal life was not affected. And since it was state sponsored, the District Education Officer and other officials cooperated and police readily gave the permission. This could have been at the behest of the Chief Minister or people sitting at the helm of affairs. Under Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act, if children are used for any purpose other than their education by the management of the schools, they are liable to be prosecuted. But it went on for quite some time. Even employees of government departments went on strike. All sorts of falsehood was propagated. For example, the Chief Minister himself went on record umpteen number of times on the “war over water” issue. I’ll quote a few examples.
Way back in 1953, Andhra was taken out of the composite Madras State. At that time, a Board was established at Tungabhadra Dam to distribute water between Karnataka and the erstwhile Andhra which subsequently became Andhra Pradesh. This Board is 60 years old. It is functioning well. There is no remarkable dispute over distribution of water between Karnataka and Andhra for the past 60 years. But within Andhra Pradesh, there were several wars over water. In 1998, water was impounded in Srisailam. It was not let off downstream. There were floods upstream. Almatti was filled with water. There was an alert signal from the upper stream to release water. But the standing instruction was not to release water, because it is to be used for power generation. They had to seek the permission of the Chief Minister to release water but it did not happen because the Chief Minister was in Delhi. Then, power was delegated to the Revenue Minister. Those days the internet was a new invention. The children of the Chief Minister somehow connected the phone to the internet and the superintending engineer and other officers concerned tried to reach him for four to five hours. They were not successful. The water overflowed and inundated five or six generators of the Srisailam Hydro Power Project and the whole project collapsed for two-three months. Generation of power was affected and Rs. 1,500 crore worth of equipment at the power plant was damaged. Then suddenly water was released and downstream, on both sides of the River Krishna in Krishna and Guntur districts, there was inundation and crops were damaged. What I mean to say is that water flows downstream. Nobody can stop it. In the upper riparian state of Telengana, there are no reservoirs. The river is flowing at a level lower than the land. So, water needs to be lifted. To lift the water, it would cost something like Rs. 30 million each year towards consumption of power. So it was not that easy to build reservoirs. That’s the reason why it is not possible to construct more projects upstream. Had it been so, they would have constructed it long back.
Let me quote another example: In Rajolibanda, every year there is a problem. The representatives from the Rayalaseema region lift the [sluice] gates. Every year there is law and order problem. And water is forcefully let out to Rayalaseema. I can quote another example in Prakasam and Guntur districts: the Nagarjuna Sagar project. In the Nagarjuna Sagar project, there are two main canals: the left canal and the right canal. The right canal supplies water to Guntur and Prakasam districts. Prakasam district was created sometime during 1969-70. Earlier, it was a part of Guntur district. Under localisation, Prakasam district was supposed to receive water for irrigating four lakh acres of land. But it never exceeded three lakh acres. The usual practice is that they get enough water to irrigate about two lakh acres each year. Though we are in the same state, under the same Nagarjuna Sagar right canal project, Prakasam district never got what she deserves for her irrigation. What I mean to say is that a falsehood was propagated by the Chief Minister himself that there would be water wars between the two States if it is bifurcated. It went down well with the media: “The whole Andhra is parched. Delta is parched. No water is available and there are water wars.” But, the fact is the otherwise. It is all state-sponsored and is driven by the media. Media has got their own vested interests to perpetuate this system. Once the State is divided, they have to start another channel here in the Andhra region, which will cost something between Rs. 50 and Rs. 100 crore.
On the other hand, vast swathes of government land are available in Hyderabad. The administration at Hyderabad could easily distribute four or five acres to each channel. Therefore, I call it state-sponsored agitation, driven by the media. The agenda was fixed by the media, powered by the political parties in power, and with active support from the government.
The division is a reality now. People have taken that as the inevitable and have moved on. How will it influence the mind of a voter?
It does not have any impact on the voter. Several other factors will take over. We not going for a referendum on the bifurcation of the State. Now, the day-to-day issues on the price rise, employment, power supply, essential commodities, civic amenities and all local issues will take over. This bifurcation issue is no longer a problem. Now, every political party is coming out with a promise to develop Seemandhra. Some say they would develop the State into a Singapore, some others say they would develop it into a Kuala Lumpur, and still others say they would develop it into a Korea. What did they all do for the past 60 years? How come that they did not develop any part of the State? For example, more than Rs. 1 lakh crore was spent for infrastructure development in Hyderabad, including the Metro Rail, the Shamshabad Airport, Krishna Water Supply Scheme Phases 1, 2, and 3, Godavari Water Supply Scheme Phase 1, JNNRUM [Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission] and development of roads. There are 92 flyovers in Hyderabad, each cost around Rs. 4 to Rs. 5 crore. And to have a fly over at Guntur, it took ten years. Just imagine this: In Vijayawada, 60,000 vehicles cross the centre of the city every day. The National Highway 5 passes through the city. Not even a single flyover was contemplated for the past several years. Is there, anywhere else in the world, a coast with the length of 1,000 km so backward, so neglected and no development worthy of mention. The potential has not been unleashed.
In Andhra, a majority of people are farmers. And most of the villages and smaller towns are marked by a strong feudal social structure. The structure has found its way into politics as well: the rich and the powerful wielded clout in politics. Do the voters see the reality?
The voter sees the reality. But, the political leadership is not able to read that. I can quote one example: In 1972-73, an unprecedented agitation took place for a separate Andhra state. More than 350 boys and girls were shot dead by the police. And a very respectable and the tall leader, Kakani Venkataratnam, died during the agitation. He was the then minister for Agriculture. Bye-elections took place after a gap of seven or eight months. In the same assembly segment that Kakani Venkataratnam represented, Vuyyuru in Krishna district, his son was fielded as the candidate. He lost. Another leader, Mr. Lakshanna, resigned from the Legislative Council membership in Andhra state and contested in bye-elections in SriKalahasti. He forfeited his security deposit! And the late Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu threw a challenge that Madras belonged to Andhra and that there were a lot more Telugus living in Madras than imagined. Therefore, to demonstrate that, he run for election from the Harbour constituency in Madras. He forfeited his security deposit!
In the recent past too, Jaganmohan Reddy wanted to go to Mahboobabad to campaign for his new party. He was not allowed to step down from the compartment of the train. A mob pelted stones and agitated. So much so that police resorted to lathi charge and even firing. Two persons died, but he was not allowed to step down from the train. Here in Andhra region, all the ministers, either Central or State, moved around freely attending all social functions. Nobody resigned. Is it an agitation here? It is driven by vested interests.
But, the same people with the same vested interests, especially business interests, are being voted to power every time, either from this party or that.
There was no other go. The opportunity was not given to the voter to choose. Political parties fielded such candidates and they needed to choose between the devil and the deep sea. The leadership fielded those candidates. With nobody else in the field, what else can they do? It is a failure of the leadership. Another point is that in Andhra region, all the representatives — Members of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly — are merchants. There is no leader worth a mention. Post-2000, there’s no leader worth mentioning.
Do you know who represented the Vijayawada segment in Lok Sabha? Harindranath Chattopadhyay. Harindranath Chattopadhyay was the first member of the Lok Sabha from Vijayawada, followed by Bandaru Atchamamba, followed by K.L. Rao and Goday Murahari. Such tall personalities represented this place. And who are the members now?
One person goes to the house with pepper spray. There was an alert sounded by the SPG [Special Protection Group, the executive protection agency of Government of India], that snakes may be thrown into the House. It is yet to be verified but apparently the SPG alerted the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi to not sit in the Lok Sabha during the days of the debate.
So, you are saying that bifurcation of the State will not cut an ice with the voters. Rather, the local issues will play a larger role. How about the caste factor?
Yes, unfortunately the caste card has been overplayed only for the advantage of the leadership.
Would you like to elaborate on that?
Whenever the election schedule is announced, you will see newspapers coming out with special stories where they list members caste-wise from each constituency. To my understanding, it never goes according to the caste. Yet, they create an illusion propagating that caste is a major deciding factor. The political party leaderships, with poor academics and poor understanding of the dynamics of society, too follow it. Thus, the caste factor has been woven into the very leadership. So, during selection of candidates, they follow the same rule. Thereby, both the media and the political leadership are caught in the cobweb.
You have been especially critical of the media.
Yes, why not? And who are the people running the media? For example, The Hindu newspaper, they do not have any other business. But all the channels in the Andhra region are owned by some political party or political leader, directly or indirectly. I do not know if it is the same in other parts of the country.
In Tamil Nadu, media ownership by political parties is quite prevalent.
May be we are following them. In one of the reports of the London Economist , they mentioned that there is mushrooming of channels in India. For want of resources, they always engage in shallow and aggressive discussions. The participants in those discussion are shallow and aggressive at the same time. They readily provoke the opposite guys and that war goes on in the media. It is drama. People mention about the so called direct telecast of the proceedings of the House. A lot more hue and cry was there when it was blacked out on that particular day.
If media has not been neutral, where does it leave the people of the State?
They are leading them from bad to worse. Instead of being a catalyst for a social change in this country, they became a monster.
What is your understanding of what will be the caste-based equations? How will it fan out electorally?
I don’t think that it really matters at the ground level. But unfortunately they are caught in the cobweb.
I have spoken to a few people who said they would have to look forward. The party that comes out with a vision to rebuild the State will be acceptable. In this context, YSR Congress may fall short of expectations and Chandrababu Naidu, with his development track record, will have an advantage. What is your take on that?
I am not a great admirer of anything, and I do not have any stake at all. Every politician of moderate literacy, sociability and accessibility gathers around him an admiring crowd consisting of journalists, academics, other professionals and even some who pass as intellectuals. They delude him into believing that he is capable of great deeds, but not before he has entrapped them into believing that he has capacity and equipment for such tasks. I read it long back.
Somewhere during 1975, when I was inside the prison during Emergency, Ashish Nandy published an article in Quest . The title of the article was, “Invitation to a beheading: A psychologist’s guide to assassinations in the third world.” He was here during last month. I referred to that article. Later during Emergency, L.K. Advani also mentioned that reference. He said in that article: The flamboyant style of such a leader is that he cannot believe wholly or truly anybody. The only exception is in case of the family members and in case of those people who are recruited from outside politics, who do not have any base of their own at all. The may act sometimes as connoisseurs, reminiscent of a railway compartment. People coming into his favour and falling off his favour. They may act for sometimes as connoisseurs, that’s it. That is the major weakness of any leader of a flamboyant style, he mentioned in that article, which is something like 40 years old. In the recent past, about seven days ago, I received a mail from Italy, in one of the editorials of newspapers. In the similar manner, it was mentioned. The title of the article was: Politicians are good liars. It is one of the editorials in an Italian newspaper. He mentions that politicians knowing pretty well that they are not giving out truth, may be they are unaware of that. He quoted the example of Nixon in Watergate, Bill Clinton in Monica Lewinsky case and George Bush on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Knowing pretty well that it is false, they repeatedly mentioned falsehood. Politicians are good liars, a big legacy is the title of this one.
Since people did not have much of stake in the agitation for a unified Andhra, will they vote on the bifurcation issue?
Agitation is not in the minds of the people. They have moved far ahead.
Now, every party is coming out with their vision for the Seemandhra State. In this scheme of things, which party do you think has the edge and why?
Vision document is also not going well with the people. May be it is limited to the upper middle class and urbanites. About the lower strata, their own daily needs, their health card, their fees reimbursement and their piece of land or any welfare measures goes well with the lower strata. Vision document will not go well. About developing Hyderabad is also in the interest of this area. All right, you developed Hyderabad. That is a fact. But it is after hypothecating the development of the rest of Andhra. For example, there were about 450 Union government outfits in Hyderabad, including the Tsunami Warning Centre, including the Naval outfit. When Andhra Bank was started with headquarters at Machilipatnam, it shifted to Hyderabad. And there was a move – land was also identified – to locate the Air Force Academy at Machilipatnam, not Hyderabad. And there was a move to locate synthetic drugs units at Machilipatnam, moved to Hyderabad by IDPL. Hyderabad developed at the cost of these districts and every village has remained as a hold age home. Every artisan, plumber, carpenter, barber, washerman, priest in the temple, soothsayer, beggar – all moved to Hyderabad.
No able bodied person in living in any village in these parts. So the villages are deserted. So the wealth of Hyderabad is created by all these people. But the misfortune is that in the major portion of the state, they are not eligible to pursue education for their children or pursue an employment of their children at Hyderabad. They won’t care to. Nowhere else in the entire world such a situation is there. The major portion of the State, they are not eligible to educate their children nor to seek employment of their children because they are non-locals. Therefore, the development of Hyderabad is not in the interest of this area. If somebody claims that I am responsible for the development of Hyderabad, it is a negative factor here.
But it is playing out in his favour.
I don’t think so.
What do you think will the core issue be here when people in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema go to vote?
Credibility gap is the core issue. There is a gap between promise and performance, there is a gap between the cup and the lip. I have mentioned earlier, about 92 flyovers are there in Hyderabad, how come that 60,000 vehicles pass through the centre of the city in Vijayawada without a flyover or whatsoever. And traffic moves at a snail’s pace in Vijayawada. Even to reach a place like Kankipadu which is away by 12 kilometres, it takes an hour. Can you believe it? Can you believe that the flyover at Guntur, worth Rs. 5 crore, took about 10 years to complete? There were three MPs in between. And the minister for Railways who happens to be from Hyderabad visits this place in a special train, a salon. And every alternate day these guys will publish their photos in the newspapers expecting the construction of the flyover. But it took 10 years. Is it not a shame?
Let’s leave Andhra Pradesh for a bit and look at the rest of India. There is the rise of this one man, who has become bigger than the party itself, his background, his alleged non-secular credentials, 2002 riots, all these have been the talking points. How do you see that influence trickling into Andhra Pradesh? Will it have any kind of influence, the Modi effect? I want to mention about the article in Economist . Among three things they mentioned, one is about the mushrooming growth of channels in India. Second is the instant judgement of the so-called urban elite. They immediately jump to a judgment, which is not liberal in their outlook. If there is a rape, they will just come out and conduct a dharna or a procession or a human chain. These people will project it in the media or the newspaper and publish their pictures. They demand [instant justice], immediately lynch that fellow, immediately skin that fellow, hang that fellow. Immediately they jump to a conclusion. The third aspect is the growing influence of the regional parties which is not conducive to the development of liberal thinking in society. Because for a national parties, there are some checks and balances at least. But for regional parties it is their own fiefdom. They change. The picture was different about 25 years ago. Every outfit is having their own self fiefdom. You take Lalu or Mulayam, in Karnataka or in Andhra or Tamil Nadu, they are filled up with family members.
The tag that comes along with Mr. Modi, does it trouble you?
You might have come across an article in The Hindu BusinessLine by Chandrasekar and Jayati Ghosh. It mentions about the model of Gujarat growth. Growth is different from development. Growth is always quantitative whereas development is qualitative. May be there is growth in Gujarat but not development. My feeling, my vision is that for society you should have the Human Development Index, you should have civic amenities, you should have social infrastructure, you should have ample opportunities for employment. That is my vision. When umpteen number of industries are getting closed, umpteen number of small and medium industries are getting shut and people are driven to odd jobs, I don’t think it is desirable. That model I don’t want. May be the per capita income is less than Gujarat in Kerala but the human development index is very high. May be the per capita income is less in Bengal, but it is developed from other States. So my vision is development, not growth.
But Modi is being promoted as the development man.
That is because people do not know the difference between development and growth. It is misconstrued and mis-defined.
How will the development card find acceptance among people?
Seven lakh acres were there at the disposal of the State when it was created. Nowhere else in the entire country such huge tract of land was available at the disposal of the State. In the earlier days, they used to allot huge tracts for public sector units, like 20,000 acreas for BHEL. A complete new city was built up for residential purpose as well as for the units. 6,000 acres was allotted to IDPL. For Rajendran Nagar Agriculture University, 1,800 acres was allotted. Even as recent as in 1974, 2,000 acres was allotted to Central University. In Rajendran Nagar, as soon as the Agriculture University was there, several central government institutions like MANAGE (National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management), CRIDA (Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture), like NAARM (National Academy of Agricultural Research Management), NIRD (National Institute of Rural Development), [Directorate of] Rice Research, [Directorate of] Oilseeds Research, ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics), several agricultural institutes came up around Rajendran Nagar. In addition to that, the state government formed various cooperative societies and Housing Board allocated land for the houses. And all small time employees like clerks, superintendents were allotted houses and they were given a facility to pay Rs. 50 or Rs. 100 per month. In Kukatpally, Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills, Vanasthalipuram, Dilsukhnagar, Ameerpetta, Sanjiva Reddy Nagar, Shantinagar Colony, Vijayanagar Colony, everywhere houses were built for small time employees. The same house with 400 square yards is now selling at Rs. 4 crore and they are coming up with apartments.
Unfortunately for the last 15 years, the whole system was completely given a go by and huge swathes of land was allotted to individuals – 800 acres to M.R. Properties, some 1,000 acres to some other guy. So they created an atmosphere that the middle class employee is no longer eligible to dream about his own house in Hyderabad. May be he will suffice with a small two-bedroom apartment, that too with the support of a bank loan. Therefore, this was almost driven. The second aspect is that for the last 15-16 years, since 1999-2000, a new class is created in Andhra Pradesh. Up to 1999-2000, that new class people were representatives of trade unions, of farmers, chambers of commerce or representatives of sports or games in legislative bodies. Now for the last 15 years, the new class are only merchants who are there in legislative bodies. All the political cadre who came into public life with a devout aim of serving the public are completely driven out. Leave alone the sharing of power, but also in public life. It became so expensive in Andhra Pradesh to conduct a meeting, to conduct a press conference, and press was bribed by the political parties. I don’t know the goings on in other states, but all the evils of all the places we acquired in Andhra Pradesh. Can you imagine that a participant in a meeting costs Rs. 1,000 to a political party? A spectator, not on the dais but among the audience. It costs Rs. 1,000 to get a person in a meeting. Such a public activity became so expensive in the last 15 years in this State. Therefore, elections turned to be a game of moneyed people.
We also hear that a lot of unaccounted money is being caught.
In the entire State, not even Rs 40 crore or Rs 50 crore was caught [throughout the year] but Rs. 70 crore was caught in the last one month in Andhra Pradesh by the police. Nominations have not yet started. Even paid news business is also more in Andhra Pradesh than in other States. We acquired all evils, not virtues. And I was mentioning about the real estate affair and comparing it with growth and development. Suppose the airport comes up there. Suppose the outer ring road is contemplated there. That guys sitting in the helm of affairs gives a hint to his henchman. Eventually, they acquire some land there. The Outer Ring Road goes around that land and the metro train also goes around that, and Krishna water also reaches there. Thereby, the Rs. 5,000 an acre land turns into Rs. 40,000 per acre. Therefore, everybody loves to be in Hyderabad. Another aspect is that they wanted Hyderabad to continue as the combined capital. I never came across in the annals of history that any king or emperor having his fort and ruling his kingdom from outside his kingdom. There is a devious proposal for it. Somehow, legally or illegally, these guys acquired some land there.
The principle of economics says that when bureaucrats and politicians enter into real estate business, there is all the more vested interest to develop that area. That applies to Hyderabad. Politicians entered real estate business. So therefore, they developed that area at the cost of the entire State. They want to continue there because they are very much afraid that in the absence of any political power, if some other State government comes into existence, it will be very difficult to sustain that illegal property.