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Do Andhra politicians lack courage to demand special status? How will debt-ridden state develop?

"This is a good time to achieve special status for Andhra Pradesh. If Chandrababu decides, it would be easy to achieve special status. There is no better time than this to achieve special status easily. Instead of aiming for cabinet positions, this opportunity should be utilized to achieve special status," - YSRCP

Do Andhra politicians lack courage to demand special status? How will debt-ridden state develop? AJR
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First Published Jun 18, 2024, 11:13 AM IST

For the past ten years, the issue of special status has been tantalizing for the people of Andhra Pradesh. However, neither Chandrababu Naidu, Jagan Mohan Reddy, nor Pawan Kalyan have made strong demands for it. Currently, Andhra Pradesh is burdened with a debt of over Rs 6 lakh crore. Without special status, how can the state hope to develop?

The BJP did not achieve a full majority at the center, making the support of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Janata Dal United (JDU) within the NDA coalition essential. In the general elections, the BJP secured only 240 seats on its own, making it necessary to rely on allies for another 32 seats to form the Modi 3.0 government.

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"This is a good time to achieve special status for Andhra Pradesh. If Chandrababu decides, it would be easy to achieve special status. There is no better time than this to achieve special status easily. Instead of aiming for cabinet positions, this opportunity should be utilized to achieve special status," said leaders like YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, Vijayasai Reddy, and Gadikota Srikanth Reddy recently.

Previously, despite YSRCP having 22 MPs, they often mentioned that they couldn't ask for special status because the BJP had 300 seats. Now they claim that if they had the opportunity that Chandrababu has, they would have demanded and achieved special status.

Is special status the future agenda of YSRCP?

YSRCP seems to be gearing up to pressure the TDP-Janasena-BJP government in Andhra Pradesh on the issue of special status. Although Jagan's government did not speak up about special status during its five-year tenure, it is now vocal about the issue after losing power. YSRCP's approach indicates that it is preparing to make special status its main agenda for the upcoming struggle.

Despite a humiliating defeat in recent elections, YSRCP has not realized its mistakes. The party leadership, including Jagan, does not seem to recognize that their own mistakes led to the severe defeat in both the assembly and general elections. They are speaking as if people mistakenly chose the coalition.

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From 2014 to 2019, while in opposition, YSRCP claimed that achieving special status was its main agenda and exerted significant pressure on the ruling TDP-Janasena-BJP coalition. They promised to twist the central government's arm to get special status if they won all 25 parliamentary seats. However, despite winning 22 Lok Sabha seats and 151 assembly seats, YSRCP did nothing substantial. They focused on depositing money into people's accounts through DBT, repainting government offices, and pasting stickers on schemes funded by the central government.

How did the demand for special status in Andhra Pradesh arise?

In 2014, Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, and the Congress government at the center introduced the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act-2014 in Parliament. The bill received the President's assent on March 1, 2014, and Telangana became the 29th state of India on June 2, 2014.

The united Andhra Pradesh with 23 districts was split into Andhra Pradesh with 13 districts and Telangana with 10 districts. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced in the Rajya Sabha that the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh would be granted special status due to the economic losses incurred. The central cabinet also approved this.

However, the BJP government that came to power in 2014 did not implement the status. The TDP coalition government, which came to power in the newly formed Andhra Pradesh, did not fight strongly for it. Initially insisting on special status, Chandrababu Naidu later settled for a special package, trying to convince people that there was no significant difference between special status and the package.

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This issue led to YSRCP pressuring TDP, resulting in TDP withdrawing from the coalition and resigning from the central cabinet. Despite YSRCP's threat to move a no-confidence motion against the central government if special status was not granted, nothing significant happened in those five years.

In 2019, aiming to achieve special status, TDP allied with Congress for the elections. YSRCP, which had strongly voiced the issue, also presented it to the public. Surprisingly, YSRCP won 151 assembly and 22 parliamentary seats, while TDP, allied with Congress, was reduced to 23 assembly and 3 parliamentary seats. However, after winning the elections, YSRCP never strongly raised the issue of special status in Parliament. Instead, they undermined the capital development initiated by the Chandrababu government with central support, sidelining Amaravati and proposing three capitals, which led to their downfall in the 2024 elections.

Janasena's struggle:

Janasena also voiced the demand for special status for Andhra Pradesh. Being part of the coalition from 2014 to 2019, Janasena reacted strongly when special status was not granted. Janasena President Pawan Kalyan, with the support of left parties, undertook a padayatra (foot march) for special status. Janasena activists organized dharnas and protests across the state. They criticized BJP for betraying the cause and questioned why TDP continued in the central cabinet. In the 2019 elections, Janasena, allied with the left parties, won only one assembly seat.

After continuing its alliance with BJP, Janasena did not speak again about special status. In the 2024 elections, Pawan Kalyan played a crucial role in NDA's victory in Andhra Pradesh. Although TDP took two central cabinet positions, Janasena did not take any posts and has not made any announcements regarding special status.

Will Chandrababu Naidu achieve special status for Andhra Pradesh now?

Given Chandrababu Naidu's significant role in the Modi 3.0 government, opposition parties are questioning whether he will achieve special status for Andhra Pradesh this time. They are asking if he can bring the debt-ridden state onto the path of development and fulfill his promises of progress before the elections. They argue that only by achieving special status can the state fully develop and are strongly communicating this view to the public.

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History of special status:

The concept of special status was introduced in 1969 based on the recommendations of the 5th Finance Commission. Initially, it was granted to Assam, Nagaland, and Jammu & Kashmir. Later, due to demands and local conditions, it was extended to eight more states. 
Currently, 11 states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura, and Uttarakhand, have special status. Recently, states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Rajasthan, along with Andhra Pradesh, have also been demanding special status.

Benefits of special status:

- States with special status receive financial assistance from the center in the form of grants to improve facilities.
- 30% of the funds allocated by the central government are given to states with special status first, with the remaining 70% distributed among other states.
- In central government schemes, 90% of the funds are given as grants and 10% as loans to states with special status. There are also tax exemptions.
- Industries are given incentives and concessions, including deferral or rescheduling of loan repayments.

(Venugopal Bollampalli is the Editor for Asianet News Telugu)

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