Raze, Rebuild, Repeat

At a distance from India’s current political discord and economic slowdown, but inevitably connected, has begun a spree to demolish what is there and to build afresh — state capitals, cities, conference complex and more.

Take New Delhi. It is barely a century-old, when other world capitals, ancient and modern, stay where they are. Over a dozen old cities that preceded it were invaded, occupied, abandoned and re-occupied over two millennia. Now, the first case of massive refurbishing is about to begin.  

The Parliament’s present complex will become a museum. Radical changes await the vast boulevard that stretches from Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace on the Raisina Hill to India Gate. Built post-Independence, Dozens of government office buildings built around it post-independence, will be demolished and re-built into modern, supposedly environment-friendly glass-and-concrete structures. On Friday, March 20, the Centre approved the land use change for execution of the Central Vista redevelopment project with the issuance of a notification to Urban Affairs ministry. The face of the Government of India built during the British era by Sir Edwin Lutyen is set to change.

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There is tearing hurry, it would seem. A new triangular Parliament will be ready by 2022. Only, estimates of the entire exercise are not worked out. The security angle is high, with plans to re-locate the Prime Minister’s residence close by and a tunnel to connect it with the office.

It is nobody’s case that new constructions should not come up or old ones should be repaired. But no priority, no rationale is put forward. The total cost is going to be staggering. 

Save Le Corbusier-deigned Chandigarh, a resource-starved India did not build a major city for a half-a-century. After years of discord, Haryana and Punjab settled for Chandigarh that also houses its own administration.

Perspectives have changed with the century. Chhattisgarh built Naya Raipur without much acrimony. But Uttarakhand, created on the same day doesn’t have a capital after 19 years. Gairsain, centrally located – near the tri-junction of Almora, Garhwal and Chamoli districts, was to be the state capital. But Dehradun located in the state’s extreme corner remains the ‘temporary’ capital.

Five successive governments have failed to take decisions. The state that was created essentially to undo severe neglect of the Himalayan hills when under Uttar Pradesh still has its capital in the plains.  Once-pristine ‘Dehra’ is getting congested, but its political pull is too strong for any government to consider a shift.  Just symbolically, one legislative assembly session is held at Gairsain.

If New Delhi is planning its splurging, the state satraps are having their own. In Hyderabad, which is five year-old Telangana’s capital, Chief Minister K. Chandrshekhar Rao, has built a sprawling hundred million rupees mansion that can beat the palace(s) of the erstwhile Nizam, the princely house that was one of the world’s richest in the last century.

In 2014, when Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, it was decided that Hyderabad would remain the joint capital of the two states for a maximum of 10 years. But Rao pushed Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to build a city for himself. Naidu, who created Cyberabad, India’s first Information Technology hub, took the challenge.  From here starts the southern splurging saga that has gone haywire.

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Naidu nursed Amravati, locating it on the banks of Krishna, harking back to “the glorious capital of the Satavahanas,” the ancient kingdom that ruled the Deccan region for five centuries.

He needed 33,000 acres of land. To encourage farmers to give up their land voluntarily for the project, his government launched a land pooling scheme. Publicized as farmer-friendly, the scheme was, however, seen as the state government’s way of circumventing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

Naidu also managed funds from abroad and brought a Singapore consortium on board. His ties with the Narendra Moi-led government were never close enough to get central funds. That Modi’s party aspired to make political gains at Naidu’s expense was also a factor.  And then, Naidu lost the elections last year to his rival, neither to the Congress nor the BJP, but to debutante Jagan Mohan Reddy.

By that time, work at Amravati, touted as a world capital, was 60 percent complete. It has involved Rs.10,000 crores investments from various agencies including central government assistance of over Rs.2500 crores.

Prior to the political change of guard, Amaravati was bustling with construction activity and tenders for projects worth Rs. 43,000 crores were already issued. The World Bank had agreed to finance the Singapore consortium. Now, investors have vanished.   

A green-field city with its revenue generating urban centric developmental model with an estimated three million population in next ten years is now being demolished even before it is born. The futuristic vision of Naidu, which he hard-sold to the people, especially the farmers who surrendered land, now lies shattered.

Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government is alleging wrongdoing and wants the city project, now at standstill, completely scrapped. There is none to ask what is to be done about the huge effort at constructing the city and the money that has gone into it.

That’s not all.  Reddy has mooted three different capitals for the state. He wants legislative capital retained in Amravati, judicial capital moving to Kurnool and the executive capital shifting to the coastal Visakhapatnam. Why a state having 13 districts needs, three capital cities, remains doubtful. Critics cite South Africa’s failed three-city experiment.  

Allegations fly around in any such project — they did even when Chandigarh was built. Jagan and his party leaders are being accused of inside trading of lands around Visakhapatnam, just as Naidu group was accused of doing around Amravati. 

Cash-strapped Jagan — the state has been revenue-deficit since 2014 and has run a debt of over 2.5 lakh crores — is lobbying with Modi for “special status” for the state, which means more funds. The unstated offer is willingness to join, or stay close to, the ruling alliance. Letting the kilkenny cats fight, the Centre last week refused to intervene.

That, again, is not all. Reddy has got two bills passed envisaging three capitals in the Legislative Assembly where his party enjoys a brute majority. But the Legislative Council where Naidu’s party has the majority has stalled the bills, sending them for further deliberation to the Select Committee. Now, Reddy wants to dissolve the upper house itself to push his three-capital project!  

The two regional satraps, instead of making a collective effort to salvage Amravati, are running highly personalized and caste-based political campaigns, damaging social harmony and the economic progress.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee And Mayawati

Do Regional Parties Hold The Key?

The performance and preference of regional parties will be watched closely as they could play a crucial role in deciding who forms the next government in the event of poll results throwing a hung house

While the various pre-poll surveys for the upcoming Lok Sabha election have predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has an edge over its opponents, they have also forecast that “others” or regional parties not aligned with either the saffron party or the Congress, can win anywhere between 100 to 138 seats.

The performance of these regional parties needs to be watched closely as they could well play a crucial role in deciding who forms the next government if neither the BJP-led alliance nor the coalition stitched up by the Congress is unable to cross the half-way mark in the 543-member Lok Sabha. The regional parties do not have a wide-enough presence to form a government on their own but they are certainly in a position to play kingmaker in case of a hung Lok Sabha.

The “non-aligned” regional parties can be broadly clubbed into two categories. The Biju Janata Dal, led by Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, headed by Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and YSR Congress Party’s Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. All the three parties maintain they are equidistant from the two national parties but will have no qualms in going with the winner.

In fact, it is informally accepted by BJP leaders that these three parties will be amenable to a post-poll deal with them if their alliance falls short of the requisite numbers. From all accounts, the three parties are well-placed in their respective states and their leaders have not given any reason to believe that they will not be willing to do business with the BJP if it comes back to power.

The second category of regional parties includes Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, Akhilesh Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. Their home states – Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh – collectively account for 147 Lok Sabha seats.

It is expected that these regional satraps will not align with the BJP and will instead drive a hard bargain with the Congress-led alliance after the elections. This will, of course, depend on the final tally and whether this grouping is in a position to form the government.

This was evident from Mamata Banerjee’s speech at an election rally in West Bengal’s Raiganj constituency on April 9 where she declared that the Congress will not be able to form a government on its own and that “the Rahul Gandhi-led party will have to seek help from others if it wants to form a government at the Centre”. The Trinamool chief is playing to win a maximum of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in her home state West Bengal so that she is in a position to call the shots after elections and, maybe, position herself as a Prime Ministerial candidate. To improve her acceptability outside West Bengal, Banerjee has directed that her party’s press conferences held in Delhi be conducted in Hindi. One such press meet was held on the eve of the first phase of elections on April 11.

All attention is currently focused on former bitter political rivals in UP, the BSP and the SP, who have now joined hands along with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal to take on the BJP in the electorally crucial state. They have deliberately kept the Congress out of this alliance as they would like to maximize their gains in the election to be able to negotiate from a position of strength after the polls.

It has become imperative for this grand alliance (maha-gathbandhan) to succeed on the ground not only because the survival of the regional parties is at stake but also to weaken the BJP in Uttar Pradesh where the party bagged 71 of the 80 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Though the BSP failed to win a single seat and the SP was reduced to four seats thanks to the Modi wave, the two parties have posted good results in the past.  

A good showing by these regional forces this time will improve their political fortunes in Uttar Pradesh and, at the same time, give them an opportunity to decide who forms the next government at the Centre. Like Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati is also looking to play a larger national role. Though her party’s vote share has been declining, the BSP has fielded candidates across states to bump up her tally by garnering a sizeable number of Dalit votes. Mayawati made her intention clear when she told her party cadre recently that she may have decided to keep away from the electoral fray but this will not impede her chances of becoming Prime Minister as she has the option of contesting a Lok Sabha election within a period of six months.

Chandrababu Naidu is pragmatic enough to realise that he is not in the race for the Prime Minister’s post but he certainly has ambitions of playing a kingmaker at the Centre. After he parted company with the BJP over his demand to secure special status for Andhra Pradesh, Naidu has made consistent efforts to bring together opposition parties on a common platform. He played a similar role in 1996 when a set of regional parties formed the government at the Centre by cobbling together a coalition. The hurriedly forged United Front forced the Congress to lend it outside support in order to keep the BJP out.

Naidu, who was the convener of the United Front, has now predicted that 1996 will be repeated this year. In other words, he is convinced that regional forces will be at centre stage while the Congress will be the pivot of this grouping. The game plan of the regional parties is self-evident. They want to be in the driver’s seat and want the Congress to align with them but on their terms.

Regional parties have realized their potential ever since coalition politics became a recurring feature of Indian polity in the late eighties. Having a presence at the Centre gives the regional leaders a place at the high table, helps them push the interests of their respective states and even influence national policy.

For instance, Mamata Banerjee walked out of the Manmohan Singh government in protest against its policy to open up the retail sector for foreign direct investment. Similarly, the Trinamool chief did not allow India to sign the Teesta river water sharing treaty with Bangladesh on the ground that it did not favour West Bengal. Regional autonomy and preserving the country’s federal structure are the buzz words in a coalition era. But, most important, a role at the Centre also ensures personal protection for the regional satraps and their party members as many of them are guilty of misdemeanors and need necessary legal safeguards.


Non-BJP CMs Hold a Message for 2019 Polls

By Vipin Pubby The constitutional crisis in the wake of recent dharna by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his senior ministers inside the Delhi Raj Niwas, and the support lent by four non-BJP and non-Congress chief ministers, has led to an unprecedented situation and is a significant turn on way to the next general elections. While Kejriwal claims that the IAS officers deputed to the Delhi government are on ‘strike’, the Lt Governor of Delhi as well as IAS officers association refute the claim. Aam Aadmi Party Government is also demanding full statehood for Delhi. The stand-off has paralysed the functioning of the state government and has raised questions on the functioning of the federal system. The current crisis has its genesis in the alleged roughing up of the chief secretary by supporters of AAP when he was called late in the evening for a meeting. The officers had lodged a protest and it may be possible that some of them may have adopted go-slow approach. Kejriwal has alleged that the officers don’t take calls, abstain from meetings and keep sitting on files. He pointed out that the problem has its roots in a central government order in 2015 which took away the powers of the Delhi government to transfer and post IAS officers in Delhi. AAP government had been having frequent run-ins with the Lt Governors and IAS officers posted with the state government. The Centre has also taken away some other powers of the Delhi government, including the functioning of the police. One of the major causes for the peculiar problems with Delhi government is that Delhi is not a full-fledged state. Making a submission in Supreme Court the government had said recently that Delhi enjoyed “special status” among Union Territories under the Constitution but that did not make it a state. Article 239AA of the Constitution, which deals with power and status of Delhi government, is silent on awarding co-extensive executive and legislative powers to the Delhi government. The Centre has taken the stand that Delhi government was empowered to take care of daily utilities of the national capital but the real administrative powers were vested with the Centre and the President. There was not much of a problem till the central as well as the Delhi government was run by the same political party or coalition like the UPA for a decade before the advent of the Modi government. It is obvious that the humiliating defeat suffered by BJP in Delhi, a year after the Modi wave swept most parts of the country, had set up stage for a perpetual stand-off between the Centre and the Delhi government. Now the joining of hands by the non-BJP and non-Congress chief ministers to back their counterpart in Delhi has significantly added muscle to the demands of AAP government. The four chief ministers, Mamata Banerjee from West Bengal, M Kumaraswamy from Karnataka, Chandrababu Naidu from Andhra Pradesh and Pinarayi Vijayan from Kerala, have also warned the Centre against undue interference in the affairs of the states. Each one of them nurses some grouse or the other over meddling in state affairs by the Centre. These include devolution of funds, allocation of projects, putting conditions on utilisation of funds under various schemes and seeking to impose schemes not suited for all states. The issue is likely to be taken up more vociferously by non-BJP CMs in the run up to the general elections. Their joining hands with Kejriwal, who has successfully changed the agenda for the next elections in Delhi, is also of concern to the Congress. The party had been critical of Kejriwal’s moves and considers itself as its main political rival. It has now been isolated with the non-BJP parties joining hands and emergence of Mamata Banerjee as head of the third front. It shall force the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi to re-think its strategy if it has to be part of a non-BJP alliance. Significantly, the four CMs who came in support of Kejriwal included one from the Left Front which is otherwise daggers drawn with Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. With the growing resentment against the NDA government, and its declining performance in Assembly and Lok Sabha by-elections, a political storm is building up before the next general elections. It would be vital how the alliance partners get along in spite of the differences. Similarly the BJP shall have to learn to deal better with its alliance partners. Telugu Desam Party has already pulled out of the NDA and the Shiv Sena has been embarrassing the BJP on various issues. Even the Shiromani Akali Dal is not feeling comfortable with ‘arbitrary’ decisions being taken by the BJP. This has evidently prompted BJP chief Amit Shah to rebuild bridges with alliance partners. He had been meeting leaders of other alliance partners and is already strategising for the next elections. The non-BJP alliance, however, lacks a charismatic leader who could lead the 20-odd parties including the Congress which still believes that there is no alternative to it for leadership. It shall have to re-strategise its role if it is not able to take all non-BJP parties along.]]>