Amaravati: As we travel from Vijayawada towards the Guntur city, the view on both sides of the National Highway 16 is an unending stretch of big buildings and skyscrapers, some fully constructed and thousands of such buildings under construction, all on agricultural lands. The region is the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh, and a crucial poll plank for the upcoming Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in Andhra Pradesh.
“If YS Jagan Mohan Reddy becomes the next chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, he will obstruct the development of Amaravati, and will not even hesitate to change the capital region to another place of his likes.” This has been a repeated allegation by CM N Chandrababu Naidu during his current elections campaign across the state. While the main opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) has countered this allegation by calling it baseless, and a mere political ploy, Naidu’s point is not attracting even his own party supporters.
“There is no question of changing the capital region from Amaravati to another place. All such things are negative campaigning against opposition parties,” says 45-year-old Pratipati Prasad, who hails from Kapu community, and is a staunch supporter of Telugu Desam Party in Rayapudi village of Tullure Mandal in Guntur district.
Rayapudi residents have given away their lands under the land pooling system for Amaravati construction. There are about 400 households, consisting of 150 families belonging to Muslim community, 100 families from backward caste Kapu community and 100 families are Dalits (Mala and Madiga communities).
In 2014, the TDP government declared Amaravati the new capital of the bifurcated state. It comprises region between Vijayawada and Guntur alongside the river Krishna, comprising 24 revenue villages, covering a total area of over 53,000 acres. The state Cabinet enacted Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority Act, 2014 and established the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) for the purpose of “planning, coordination, execution, supervision, financing, funding and for promoting and securing the planned development of the capital region and capital city area for the state of Andhra Pradesh”.
Although the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 mandated that Hyderabad will be the common capital for both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states for a period of 10 years, CM Naidu had moved all crucial departments of governance to Amaravati, which are functioning in temporary or rented buildings. The state government has estimated that Rs 58,000 crore will be required for the construction and development of Amaravati.
The state is witnessing a tripolar contest among TDP, YSR Congress and an alliance of Jana Sena, Communist Party of India, CPI(Marxist) and Bahujan Samaj Party. Although the Congress and the BJP are in the race in all 25 Lok Sabha constituencies, the regional parties have taken over the electoral ground this time.
It is to be noted that the Congress secured only 2.8% vote share in 2014 elections against 40.7% in 2009 and 50.4% in 2004 elections. Similarly, as the state resounded with the ‘Special Category Status’ demand, the reluctance of the central government led by BJP has crashed the support base of the saffron party in the state.
In the 2014 elections, out of the total 175 Assembly seats in Seemandhra, the TDP won 102 and the YSRCP won 67 seats, but the difference between their vote share was just 2.6%. YSRCP got 44.47% votes and TDP got 46.3%. In the parliamentary elections, of the total 25 MP seats in the state, TDP won 15 seats, YSRCP won 8 and BJP won 2 seats.
Film star Pawan Kalyan founded Jana Sena party in 2014 and extended his support to the TDP. Political analysts say that this factor helped in TDP’s victory last time.
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“It is unbelievable that the state government acquired over 30,000 acres of agriculture land in a span of few months in 2015. The TDP ministers and the party supporters have resorted to coercion tactics in convincing the farmers to give their consent for land pooling system,” says Y Kesava Reddy, president of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam. “Why does a capital city require thousands of acres of fertile land despite numerous concerns raised by environmentalists?” questioned Kesava Rao.
“Majority of the people in Guntur and Krishna districts are happy with the construction of Amaravati, as the land rates have skyrocketed after the announcement and they would have easy access to the benefits of the capital city,” says Meghavath Shiva, a local journalist based in Guntur. He says that the government could control people's dissent on large scale by paying a pension of Rs 2,500 per month to all landless households who lost their work opportunities with the acquisition of land for the capital city.
Sources say that the cost of one acre agriculture land in Guntur and Krishna districts, that was valued at some lakhs before 2014 is now priced in crores. Both the districts together comprise 33 Assembly segments and four parliamentary segments.
Voters surveyed by Newsclick in the two districts have varying views on the development around Amaravati.
“The TDP government has started numerous projects in Amaravati, which have great potential of creating jobs for the local people. If another party comes to power, the development will get halted midway,” said Srinivas from Vijayawada.
Vijayawada Central Assembly constituency
The three key contestants for Vijayawada central assembly constituency from the Krishna district are TDP candidate and sitting MLA B Umamaheswara Rao, YSRCP candidate Malladi Vishnu and CPI(M) candidate Ch. Babu Rao. Speaking with Newsclick, Babu Rao said: “The TDP candidate and YSRCP candidate are facing allegations for their involvement in illegal land dealings and liquor mafia rackets respectively. While both of them were elected MLAs in the previous elections, they have sidelined the real issues concerning people, but focused on their illegal business activities. The Jana Sena-led alliance has given a hope for alternative politics prioritising people’s matters.”
Babu Rao claims that the youth are looking for a “change” from the bipolar politics between the TDP and YSRCP.
Mangalagiri Assembly Segment
“It is the Mangalagiri town that has seen massive development in the last five years as the constituency is the central part of Amaravati capital region,” says Sheik Riyas, a TDP member from Mangalagiri. “That is why CM Naidu has fielded his son Nara Lokesh from there,” he says. Lokesh is pitted against YSRCP’s sitting MLA Ramakrishna and CPI candidate M Nageswara Rao and an independent trans-woman candidate Tamannah Simhadri.
As Amaravati is crucial for the future of Andhra Pradesh, it appears that the people of Guntur and Krishna districts are divided over its “development” setting stage for a tough fight.
Read more election stories from NewsClick here.
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