Back-to-back statements made by Union ministers in Parliament in the past one week, ruling out special status to Andhra Pradesh have disappointed Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. However, he has made it clear that his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) will not leave the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre because of this. Naidu has two ministers in the NDA government at the Centre. Naidu conveyed this to his Cabinet colleagues, who called on him at Vijayawada on Thursday after the Central government made it clear in the Lok Sabha during a discussion on the Finance Bill that the Centre had done whatever it could as per the AP Reorganization Act 2014 and would do its level best to help the newly carved out AP that faced a huge revenue deficit.
During a discussion on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2013, special status to AP was promised by the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. This would enable the state to get tax concessions and investment sops for a period of five years. However, the promise was not included in the AP Reorganization Act 2014.
The issue became morally binding on the BJP as both Arun Jaitley, then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Venkaiah Naidu, a Rajya Sabha member, demanded that the UPA government should give special status to AP for a period of 10 years in view of its revenue deficit status. Even Narendra Modi, the then Gujarat Chief Minister, during his 2014 electioneering in AP, talked of special status to the state for a decade.
Naidu is under tremendous pressure from within and outside the TDP that he should pull out of the NDA in protest against the Centre not giving special status to AP as per the promises made by BJP leaders to the state during the passage of the AP Reorganization Act in 2014 that bifurcated erstwhile AP two years ago. The Chief Minister was clearly unhappy with Union Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha’s written reply to TDP MP from Anakapalli, Muttamsetti Srinivasa Rao, stating that there was no proposal before the Centre to grant special status to AP. Already under attack from the opposition parties, including the YSR Congress, Congress and the Left, after a statement made by Union Minister of State for Home Haribhai Chaudhary that AP did not need any special status, Naidu got in touch with BJP seniors, including Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu, and urged him to ensure some damage control on this issue. The statement in the Lok Sabha came after that.
Venkaiah Naidu, who belongs to AP and is being accused of not working hard enough to get special status for the state, told Chief Minister Naidu that some clarity on the issue would be provided in Parliament on Thursday. However, this was not done.
This sparked off instant protests by political parties and people’s organisations across Andhra Pradesh’s 13 districts where effigies of both Naidus were burnt and slogans were raised demanding the exit of the TDP from the NDA government. “Both CM Naidu and Venkaiah Naidu promised special status for AP for 10 years, but have now gone back,” Chalasani Srinivas of the Andhra Intellectuals Association told The Sunday Guardian.
Two senior TDP legislators, Bonda Umamaheswara Rao (Vijayawada Central) and Gorantla Butchaiah Chowdary (Rajahmundry City) have accused the BJP of betraying Andhra Pradesh on the issue of special status. “Knowing full well that the people of AP are eager to get special status, the Centre has ditched us. We will not keep quiet,” said Butchaiah Chowdary, a senior TDP leader.
Naidu’s position became untenable as YSR Congress leader Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy announced protest rallies at all district collector offices on 10 May on this matter. Even Congress and Left parties threatened rallies and shutdowns in AP in the coming days, seeking special status. Some efforts are underway to intensify the stir if the Centre fails to grant special status to AP by the end of June.
Sources told The Sunday Guardian that Naidu ruled out the possibility of TDP quitting the NDA at this juncture. “The CM is disappointed, but told us that the TDP would not leave the NDA now. Even if we leave, the BJP will not face any problems as they have a full majority in the Lok Sabha. Our CM will work even harder to achieve special status,” a minister told The Sunday Guardian on Friday.
At the same time, BJP leaders are not amused by the protests from the TDP. “Where is the question of the Centre denying special status when it was not included in the bifurcation Act? Moreover, as the UPA government has not incorporated special status in the Act, the Congress has no right to talk on this,” said former minister and senior BJP leader Kanna Lakshminarayana.
Lakshminarayana also said that the Centre was liberal in releasing funds to Andhra Pradesh to the tune of around Rs 11,000 crore under various heads, even though the state had not shown proper accounts of the expenditure. “We will not keep quiet if the TDP leadership tries to blame us on this. There is enough scope for the Prime Minister to consider special status for Andhra Pradesh,” said the BJP leader.