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Quixotic Decision

Quixotic Decision

The Indian Express on September 8 published a feature by Sreenivas Janyala under the title, “What is in store for Amaravati as Jagan govt. halts all works at Naidu’s dream capital?” The article not only gives a gloomy picture of the present scenario characterized by uncertainty and anxiety but also highlights the ramifications of the decision of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s decision. After going through the write up, one gets the impression that the decision of the Andhra Pradesh government to halt the work on the new capital is nothing less than a disaster.

As soon as YS Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power, the government stopped all works, pending enquiries. The new government had alleged irregularities in awarding contracts by the TDP government. Another reason for halting the works, according to the Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, is lack of fund to pay the contractors. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government also pulled down ‘Praja Vedika’, a hall built by Naidu to meet people and hear their grievances, in Amaravati. As a result a Rs. 8 core has gone down the drain. Will the people tolerate the act of squandering the taxpayers’ money?

On August 29, Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, Botsa Satyanarayana, declared that only those projects in the city which were 70% complete would continue, while tenders for the rest stood cancelled. Nothing was said about the payment to the contractors for the works already done. What about other projects in which substantial amount of money is already invested? The current situation appears to be uncertain and confused not only for the government, but also for all stakeholders.

The article has pointed out the heavy loss to various stakeholders involved in the building of the new capital as well to people of AP in general. As per the report, “a workforce of more than 50,000 has left gradually, leaving the workers’ colonies empty; all the eateries and hotels are shut; the concrete plants and mixers that once hummed round the clock stand silent; while site offices of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA) are deserted.”

Larsen & Turbo alone has moved over 20,000 of their workers and thousands of tonnes of steel and machinery. Institutions like Vellore Institute of Technology-Andhra, SRM University, NID, Amity, NIFT, AIIMS at Mangalagiri and the Indo-UK Institute of Health that have already started functioning from Amaravati are anxious about their future. Chandra Babu Naidu told The Sunday Express last month, “Even the direct  Vijayawada-Singapore flight has been stopped by this government.” As per the article, the halting of work at Amaravati is having an adverse effect in the neighbouring Vijayawada and Krishna and  Guntur districts too, which had seen a boom in construction in the capital’s wake.

What is surprising is that the government has not stated clearly what its plan with regard to new capital is. According to an officer, “most likely Amaravati will be just an administrative capital rather than the grand capital city that was envisaged. The government is looking at decentralised development.”

Some other decisions taken by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy also have become highly controversial. The 55,548.87-crore multi-purpose national project of Polavaram has been in the works since 2004. On July 29, the Jagan government cancelled the contract to Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd (NECL), despite objections by the Centre that is funding the project meant to provide water for irrigation, industry, and drinking purposes to cities like  Visakhapatnam. The future of this project is also under clouds. It is reported that with the government stopping payments to NECL, nearly 20,000 workers have lost jobs, while over Rs 1,000 crore of machinery is lying unused.

Another controversial decision of Jagan Mohan Reddy government is to pay Rs. 5000/- per month to pastors, as it was one of the promises made in the election manifesto. The Minorities Welfare Department had asked all district collectors on August 27 to enumerate the pastors through the village volunteers and submit a report within 15 days. The BJP was quick to condemn the decision. “It is blasphemous on the part of a government to favour one religion over another, using state funds, especially when pastors mock and proselytize the deprived and poor people of other religion”, tweeted the BJP National Secretary Sunil Deodhar. In order to counter the BJP, the YS Jagan Mohan government has pointed out that the honorarium for the Hindu priests and the Muslim clerics are increased. 

The Jagan Mohan Reddy’s party was elected with a massive mandate in the assembly election held in May 2019. It has won more than 150 seats out of total 175 seats. People of Andhra Pradesh had a lot of expectations from YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. But the performance of the YSRCP government so far has not been very encouraging and inspiring hope. Instead of taking controversial decisions his government should have focused on governance.

A new government has the responsibility to honour the contracts made by the previsions government. Not honouring the contracts with construction companies and other agencies like World Bank will adversely affect the credibility of a government. The norms of good governance require that a new government should continue the projects started by the previous government, taking action if there are any irregularities. Even if the new government decides to review the projects initiated by the previous government, it should be done within a timeframe, giving no room for uncertainty or confusion. While taking the decision to stop the works in the new capital, Amaravati the YSRCP government did not indicate the timeframe needed for investigating the “irregularities”. Moreover, confusing signals are given with regard to future of the new capital Amaravati itself.

If the Jagan Mohan Reddy government is shifting the capital to another place, even partially, it will definitely incur huge loss to the exchequer because a lot of groundwork has been done and construction of many building is already started. No government has the right to squander tax payers’ money. Reversing crucial policy decisions, involving billions of rupees, without any grave reason, is not acceptable.

Why do many of our political leaders indulge in quixotic decisions and actions? They lack vision; they are guided by ambition. A visionary leader is guided by the wellbeing of the people and the development of the state or nation. A visionary leader is altruistic and adopts the process of dialogue with all sections, including adversaries, to arrive at consensus. A visionary leader is quick to accept his/her mistakes and even ready to apologize for the mistakes.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby on Tuesday visited Jallianwala Bagh memorial and asked apology for the Jallianwala massacre on April 13, 1999. "I am ashamed and sorry for the impact of the crime committed. As a religious leader, I mourn the tragedy, he said. "Here I come only seeking in sorrow and repentance before the people who have suffered in the hands of British bullets. Again I cannot speak for the government but I speak with repentance," he added. The act of Archbishop of Canterbury is a noble example for the Indian religious leaders, who clamour for taking revenge for the mistakes that happened centuries ago.

On the other hand an ambitious leader is selfish, egoistic and self centred. He may declare that he/she is ready to die for the people and the nation. But his actions prove that he is guided by hatred and revenge. A visionary leader in a democracy will never say that he dreams the death of a particular political party. Hatred and revenge are the sings of an ambitious leader. The article on Amaravati published in The Indian Express had quoted the statement of an industrialist on anonymity as follows. “The thinking in the YSRCP camp is that if Jagan continues to build the capital as planned by Naidu, then the former CM will take all the credit, and Jagan would not want that. That is the reason Amaravati, Polavaram, PPAs… everything that has Naidu’s stamp on it… is being stalled.” If this is true, the future of Jagan Mohan Reddy government is in peril. 

India is a pluralistic country and our constitution demands the state to be neutral with regard to the religious affairs of the people. Article 25 of the constitution states, “ The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of religion only and that the State shall have no religion of its own and all persons shall be equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. Unfortunately the political parties in power from time to time have violated the spirit of this part of the constitution because of their vote bank politics.

It is quite natural for the BJP to favour the majority religion because its ideology is Hindutva or Hindu Nationalism as advocated by VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar. But one wonders why the Jagan Mohan Reddy government is favouring a religion whose followers constitute only a miniscule minority. It appears to be an unintelligent decision on the part of Jagan Mohan Reddy. He is providing a golden opportunity to the BJP to polarize the Hindus of a state where it is eagerly waiting to get a foothold. Jagan Mohan Reddy may reverse the decision of providing honorarium to Hindu priests, pastors and Muslim clerics for the sake of his own interest and the interest of his party as well as honouring the Indian constitution.   

The interest of the people of Andhra Pradesh and of India demands that Jagan Mohan Reddy government should continue the projects already started by the previous government, especially building the new capital, Amaravati. Definitely the new government has the right to investigate if it has found “irregularities” and take corrective measures. It can also make the needed modifications. By continuing the good works started by the previous government Jagan Mohan Reddy can prove that he is a statesman and not a mere politician.

(Published on 16th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 38)