HYDERABAD: N Chandrababu Naidu completes two years in office on Wednesday as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, but unlike in neighbouring Telangana which last week celebrated his counterpart K Chandrasekhar Rao’s second anniversary with gusto, the festivities are low-key.
Naidu finds little to cheer in his latest stint as the chief minister. Present-day Andhra Pradesh, following its bifurcation to carve out the new state of Telangana, is much smaller in size and clout as Naidu is figuring out the hard way. He helped create Hyderabad as the IT hub during his earlier stints as the chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, but the city having now gone to Telangana, Naidu is left governing a state without even a functional capital.
He admits it has been a big climb down for him since his heyday. “True, I had enjoyed national and international attention when I was the chief minister of combined Andhra Pradesh for nine years. During the regime of AB Vajpayee, I had immense clout in Delhi with 35 MPs. But that is history. I am the chief minister of a smaller state with just 13 districts now,” Naidu told HT in an exclusive interview.
A downsized Andhra has considerably shrunk the clout of Naidu, who is rarely seen or heard in national media. “Naidu is just a shadow of his past,” points out an aide not willing to be named. At the helm of a state groaning under a mounting debt of ` 18,000 crores made worse by the crippling loss of 40% of the state’s revenues that came from Hyderabad, the Andhra CM is faced with daunting challenges.
Instead of celebrating his second anniversary, Naidu has chosen to mark the day as “Nava Nirmana Deeksha” – renewing a pledge to make a fresh beginning. He will be taking a “Maha Sankalpam” (Great Resolution) at Kadapa on Wednesday to rebuild the state.
The foremost task at hand is to build a new capital for his state. “The biggest challenge for me is to create infrastructure for the new capital and shift administration from Hyderabad to Amaravati. I started functioning from a bus; then moved to a temporary camp office, and now we are building the state secretariat complex. We have acquired land for the capital and we are now focusing on capital infrastructure,” he said.
But building the capital in Amaravati that will cost some ` 27,000 crores is easier said than done. Infrastructure is not in place and thousands of government employees who need to move in are resisting plans to relocate from Hyderabad. Naidu has unveiled grandiose plans for the capital, saying it would be state-of-the-art, but finds himself struggling to give shape to his plans.
His biggest obstacle is the paucity of funds. “We have started off with a negative balance sheet. That is why we have been requesting the Centre to come to our rescue, whether it is by way of granting special category status or special financial package. We never wanted a separate state. It is the responsibility of the Centre to provide all resources either by revising its policies or granting additional resources to AP till it gets the level-playing field with other states,” Naidu said.
For someone who was once courted by the likes of Bill Gates, Naidu with just 16 MPs is finding it hard to be heard in Delhi. Despite his repeated visits to the national capital, no special financial assistance has been announced for Andhra Pradesh yet. It has also sparked speculation that the BJP is seeking to undermine him with a view to emerge as a political alternative in the state.
Naidu though remains diplomatic. “I am pursuing all the issues with the Centre strongly. But we need to maintain a lot of restraint, since AP is just a two-year-old baby. I have to handle the relations carefully to get maximum benefits for the state,” he said.