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Special Status Or Pure Politics?

The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s ultimatums and warnings to the NDA over ‘Special Status Category’ is only a trigger for a larger political manouevre

Protests and ultimatums to the Centre. A threat of exiting the alliance by March 05. MPs dressed in costume as sages. This is the Andhra special fare ahead of elections slated for 2019.

The ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), an ally of the NDA, had, from Day One, defended the BJP-led Centre and accepted a ‘special package’ instead of ‘special category status’ for Andhra Pradesh. ‘Special Category Status’ was a promise given by the Centre during bifurcation of the state in 2014.

But now the same party is on the warpath, despite earlier accepting a demotion. “This is a battle akin to the freedom struggle,” said TDP supremo and AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu on Sunday. He applauded party MPs for their protests in Parliament and government employees who joined the AP Bandh last week, effectively crippling the state for a day.

“We have been observing Mitra dharma (code of friendship) for the last three and a half years and sacrificed a lot in endorsing Modi regimes, especially socio-economic steps like demonetisation, GST and Ram Mandir. But the last Budget of Modi’s regime has symbolically bitten the hand that nursed it,” Naidu said on Sunday. He then urged party MPs to keep up the fight and also rope in other opposition parties. Already six allies of the UPA including the Congress and seven NDA partners have pledged their support to Naidu’s battle with the BJP.

During the debate on a private Bill for Special Status for AP in Rajya Sabha moved by a Congress MP KVP Ramachandra Rao in 2016, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that it was mandatory for the NDA government to fulfill the assurances he had given on the floor of the House.

“(When) I, as the then Prime Minister, (had) made six promises on the floor of this august House… the then Leader of the Opposition, and now the Leader of the House, ShriArun Jaitley, satisfied with these promises, withdrew all the amendments he had proposed… Sir, in light of these promises, I urge the Union government to implement and, thereby, protect the honor of this august House,”he had said.

The AP Reorganisation Act, 2014 was passed by Parliament on 20 February 2014.On 01 March 2014, the Union Cabinet endorsed all promises including Special Category Status and sent a draft ordinance to the President but as the election process began, the ordinance could not be issued, said Singh. “Had that ordinance been issued in due time, the issue of Special Status for AP would be a dead horse now,”said political observer P Jagannadh Naidu.

The TDP says it has given a temporary reprieve to the BJP and NDA on the issue but will raise it again when the Parliament meets to approve the Money Bill. Union Minister YS Chowdhary from AP helda series of meetings with BJP president Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley along with other TDP MPs. “BJP leaders are repeating the same thing again and again but no specific statement on how much and on what route – through EAP (Employee Assistance Program) or through grants, the benefits of the special package will reach the state,” said Chowdhary on Friday night.

BJP Hits Back With Statistics

In the meanwhile Andhra BJP president K Haribabu, a loyalist of Venkaiah Naidu issued a 27-page counter to the TDP campaign that nothing was done for AP by the NDA. TDP also released a counter to that point by point. Here are the salient points of dissent.

 

Category TDP’s claim BJP’s claim Reasons
Total revenue loss for AP due to bifurcation Rs 5 lakh crore Rs 67,000 crore BJP cites Niti Aayog and 14th Finance Commission reports
Compensation given by Centre for revenue deficit caused to AP due to bifurcation Rs 3800 crore Rs 3959.5 crore

 

Additional Rs 22,113 crore by 2020

TDP quotes CAG report
Capital given for Amaravati

 

Rs 1500 crore Rs 3500 crore Total project estimate: Rs 42,935 crore

 

New estimates suggest the project cost would exceed Rs 2.5 lakh crore

Funding for Backward Regions Package along the lines of Bundelkhand and Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi packages Rs 1050 crore Bundelkhand and Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi packages were allocated Rs 6000 crore TDP demand was Rs 24,500 crore

While in opposition, the BJP demanded a Special Status Category for five more years as against 10 years approved by the UPA cabinet. The NDA government in 2017 said it will cancel all special status assistance but later reinstated the same. “Finance Minister Jaitley announced a special package for AP in 2016 through the EAP route but though Rs 18,857 crore worth of proposals were sent, nothing has been granted so far,” said a TDP spokesman and MLA Bonda Umamaheswar Rao at Vijayawada.

Andhra’s prestigious Polavaram irrigation project too is a bone of contention. The BJP’s note said that the Centre has granted Rs 4662 crore for Polavaram.TDP said the project cost Rs54,000 crore, of which the state government has spent over Rs 8000 crore so far. “Centre’s intervention in the construction of spillway, cofferdam and spill channel works and tenders is driving cost higher,” said a senior minister in the TDP cabinet.

What Is Special Category Status?

The Constitution does not include any provision for categorisation of any State in India as a Special Category Status (SCS) State. It was first introduced in 1969 by the 5th Finance Commission and planning commission to facilitate Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Nagaland with additional Central assistance and tax concessions.

There are five guidelines to grant this status – hilly and difficult terrain, low population density or sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighboring countries, economic and infrastructural backwardness, and non-viable nature of State finances. Now eight more States are on the list – Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura, and Uttarakhand, according to an NDC document.

The BJP-led NDA had dissolved the Planning Commission and set up Niti Ayog in its place by 2015. Since then Union Finance Ministry has stopped the practice of mentioning the additional grants made to SCS states in the Union Budget. The SCS states will get everything from the central pool directly in the form of EAP projects, Central Sponsored Projects, according to the ratio mentioned when SCS was granted. Mention about new grants is made in the Budget for only such states which do not get SCS grants, explained a source in the Union Finance Ministry. “Perhaps that is the reason why the Union Budget of 2018 could not specify any special grants to AP under a ‘special package’ as was assured earlier by the BJP,” said BJP spokesman Krishna Sagar Rao.

The AP Chief Minister has sent Vice Chairman of the AP Planning Commission C Kutumba Rao to Delhi to work out and verify the claims made by the BJP and Union Finance Ministry.

Is The Grouse Only About Special Status?

TDP MPs and legislators are keen to get out of the NDA alliance as they find the situation embarrassing. A senior TDP Rajya Sabha MP and a close confidante of Chandrababu Naidu, CM Ramesh said – “We have waited long enough. Our leader Chandrababu has supported the BJP in all the critical situations in and out of Parliament. It is time for the BJP leadership to make up their mind and honor the commitments they made to 5 crore people of AP.”

Political observers say that Chandrababu Naidu is also worried over minority and Left votes going against him due to a continued alliance with the BJP. Left votes form a large population in Guntur, Prakasam and Krishna districts.Some surveys and pollsters by former Congress MP of Vijayawada L Rajagopal have given an edge to the opposition YSR Congress in view of a consistent campaign for special status.

The YSR Congress is smirking at the TDP now. “Naidu has opened his eyes now for Special Status only when the rural voters are swinging for Jaganand has renewed the demand for Special Status which he had abandoned all these days,” charged YSRCP MP Vijaysai Reddy.

Reddy has also protested as to how a partner of the NDA ruling combine –TDP could stage protests and disrupt the proceedings of the Parliament. He has written to President Ramnath Kovind also to take action against the erring members.

But this is not the first time that Naidu allied with the BJP and parted ways subsequently. He had given outside support to the AtalBehari Vajpayee government in 1998-2004 with 34 MPs and enjoyed enormous clout. The TDP chief had even demanded the ouster of Modi after the Godhra burning train incident and resultant riots.After the poll disaster in 2004, Naidu had blamed BJP as a communal party and snapped ties with them.

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