Andhra Let Down Not By Centre But Chandrababu Naidu

Time hasn't healed the wound that the UPA-led bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh left in Indian democracy. The promises contained in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, and those left outside its purview, still pave the course for national politics.

When the Bill was proposed, leaders from 18 national parties realised that the bifurcation would leave the successor Andhra Pradesh largely an agrarian state with dismal financial accounts. They appropriately demanded special measures to ensure that the state's development be at par with other states.

On February 20, 2014, amidst chaotic sloganeering in the Rajya Sabha, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the country that the successor state of Andhra Pradesh will be granted Special Category Status for a period of five years. In the following month, the union cabinet directed the Planning Commission, then the pertinent body, to implement the assurance.

Despite these facts, why have claims recently emerged that Andhra Pradesh cannot be accorded the Special Category Status? The reflexive response seems to be that the Fourteenth Finance Commission's recommendations disallow the government from according any state with Special Category status. This claim is hogwash and so easily disproved that it's ludicrous that newspapers have been parroting it without a factual disclaimer.

Firstly, the Fourteenth Finance Commission made no such recommendation. It only proposed that no distinction be made between Special Category and other states for the purposes of the centre's devolution of taxes to States and revenue deficit grants; it did not recommend doing away with the Special Category Status itself. Several members of the Fourteenth Finance Commission have come on record to correct the disinformation, and have added that the other benefits that come with the Special Category Status, including greater assistance for central schemes and relaxed norms for externally-aided projects, still apply. In the words of M Govinda Rao, a member of the Fourteenth Finance Commission, the Commission had "no business to make any recommendations on the [Special Category Status] issue."

Secondly, the Commission's report was placed before parliament almost a year after the aforementioned cabinet direction to the Planning Commission. The recommendations are not retrospective in nature; even if they contained such a recommendation, they would have no effect on Andhra Pradesh's legal right to the Special Category Status.

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Now, union ministers belonging to the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) have resigned over the issue at the behest of their party leader Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP has pulled out of NDA. In their press conference, the former ministers said circumstances necessitated the move as the Special Category Status has become a "sentimental" and "emotional" issue for the people of Andhra Pradesh. Could something be more disrespectful than reducing a people's struggle for their legal rights to a mere emotive display? The statements have only betrayed TDP's stunted understanding of democratic agitation, law and policy.

The fact is that in 2015, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu himself traded away the promised Special Category Status for a "special package", which, he has now realized, is wholly inadequate to compensate for Andhra Pradesh's woes. The complete u-turn in his stand, which is easily confirmed by consulting news reports from 2015 through 2017, might be shocking to some but is easily explained. By asking TDP members to exit the Modi Cabinet, Naidu now seeks to shift his odious record in development and governance - particularly the mismanagement in the building of the new capital in Amaravati and the financial irregularities in the Polavaram irrigation project - to the central government.

It should be amply clear that Andhra Pradesh is legally entitled to the Special Category Status. After the dissolution of the Planning Commission, the relevant responsibilities of allocating funds to states have fallen to the Finance Ministry. Since the government is a continuous body, the legal sanctity of the March 2014 cabinet decision still stands. Perhaps in the fight for the Special Category Status, the people of Andhra Pradesh, including me, have sent the wrong message to the public by using the word "grant" where we should have used the word "implement" instead. Clearly, the implementation of the Special Category Status for Andhra Pradesh just awaits political will. And as the nation will soon see, there is no lack of it in Andhra Pradesh.

V. VijayaSai Reddy is National General Secretary, YSR Congress Party and Rajya Sabha MP.

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