Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu decided to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, putting a spin on BJP-led Centre's 2019 plans.
When Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was presenting the Union Budget on 1 February, even while the political parties in Andhra Pradesh protested inside and outside Parliament, Jaitley bluntly rejected Special Status category to Andhra and continued to harp on Central version of Special Package implementation which is at variance with the assessment of the State government. Instead of assuaging the feelings of people from Andhra Pradesh, the finance minister's statement further fuelled sentiment in the state making it more difficult for the TDP to continue its political voyage with BJP.
Addressing the late night press conference on Wednesday, Naidu said that Jaitley's statement had hurt him a lot and Centre's unilateral approach made it inevitable for him to take this decision.
The TDP-BJP combine was catapulted to power on the promise that the NDA would grant special category status to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. This promise, made by none other than the then prime ministerial candidate of NDA, Narendra Modi, caught the imagination of the people of the truncated state at a time when people of Andhra strongly and emotionally felt that they need hand-holding due to the arbitrary manner in which the united Andhra Pradesh was divided.
Hyderabad was the bone of contention between the protagonists of separate state of Telangana and the people from Seemandhra. The then UPA government decided to keep the sprawling city of Hyderabad with the state of Telangana as it is geographically located in this region. The residuary state of Andhra Pradesh felt that it has lost the major source of finances and jobs. This resulted in the demand for special category status which was authored by senior leaders from Bhartiya Janata Party like M Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley. These facts gave enormous credence to Modi-Chandrababu promise of special status to Andhra Pradesh.
Instead of conceding to this demand, Modi told Parliament that the UPA government divided the state closing the doors to Lok Sabha. But, Modi was oblivious to the fact that the state bifurcation would not have been passed without the support of the then major opposition, the BJP.
Now, the BJP-led NDA government says it cannot accord the special category status to Andhra Pradesh as the 14th Finance Commission has scrapped such a scheme of devolution of Central funds to states. In fact, Chandrababu agreed to the Centre's offer of special package in lieu of special status. Naidu has taken greater political risk by accepting for special package though the public sentiment is for special status. But, as the promises made in the special package and the provisions of bifurcation act remain unimplemented, Chandrababu came under tremendous pressure to raise a banner of revolt against the Centre of which TDP is a part.
Adding fuel to fire, opposition leader Jagan Mohan Reddy, in an apparent bid to put Chandrababu in dock, announced that Members of Parliament belonging to his YSR Congress would resign on the last day of the Parliament session if the demand for special status is not met. This compelled Chandrababu to revert to the original demand of special status while pressing for the implementation of agreed special package. It would be politically difficult for TDP to remain in the alliance led by BJP even after the Centre remained adamant on the basic demands of the state. The proactive stand of Jagan Mohan further precipitated the crisis in the ruling NDA leading to the estrangement of TDP with the BJP.
Meanwhile, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao hit a salvo by declaring war on Modi dispensation by calling for third front comprising of non-Congress and non-BJP parties. KCR's battle cry has further galvanised the public opinion in the neighbouring Telugu state against Modi government making it difficult for the TDP to continue to sail with the BJP.
The finance minister after deliberating with the delegation of TDP and the representatives of the state government refused to yield anything and continued to assert his unilateral position. He further said that sentiment does not offer more central funds directly hitting at the ongoing agitation for the redressal of the grievances of the beleaguered state of Andhra Pradesh.
The bifurcation of the state was predicated upon the promise of special status. The finances of the residuary state became unviable after the arbitrary bifurcation of the state. The unviable finances of the state can be a ground to accord special status.
The 14th Finance Commission has never made any recommendation specific to Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the Parliament can take "supplemental, incidental and consequential measures" to effectuate the bifurcation of the state as per the article 4 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court has upheld this constitutional position in number of its judgments like Mangal Singh case, Mullaperiyar case, etc. The promise of special status may not be technically part of the bifurcation Act. But, politically speaking, it is part of the bifurcation exercise. Therefore, any provision, in this case promise, made during the bifurcation holds special constitutional stature. Thus, the promise of Special Status made at the time of bifurcation cannot be set aside due to the recommendations of the Finance Commission which came at a later date.
Though Jaitley claims that all the benefits that would accrue due to special status would be given to the state, Andhra Pradesh government dismisses these claims as a cruel hoax.
The revenue deficit is pegged at little over Rs 4,000 crore by the Centre, while the CAG estimated it to be over Rs 16,000 crore. The state was given industrial incentives that were offered to all the backward districts. But, no special industrial incentives that were due to Andhra Pradesh as part of the bifurcation act or under special category status were not given to the state. Similarly, the promises of 90 percent central component was not implemented to the satisfaction of the state government though Jaitley professes his commitment to this provision. Similarly, the railway zone for Visakhapatnam, steel plant at Kadapa, Petroleum refinery and cracker unit, Dugarajapatnam port, fiscal support for the construction of Greenfield capital at Amaravati, funds for infrastructural development in the backward districts, setting up of educational institutions with proper funding , adequate flow of funds for the Polavaram Project, fiscal support to metro projects in Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam, etc. still remain unresolved and unimplemented.
Therefore, Chandrababu was rather constrained to walk out of the NDA ministry. The political implications of TDP's decision can be anybody 's guess. But, the slogan of Third Front would certainly get shriller in the wake of Naidu's decision.
The author is former MLC in Telangana, former editor of The Hans India and professor of Journalism at the Osmania University
Updated Date: Mar 15, 2018 16:55 PM