Politics

To Leave or Not to Leave – Chandrababu Naidu’s Dilemma Over Hyderabad

Beyond his well-known love for the city, Naidu needs to deliver an important political message to those inhabitants of Hyderabad whose origins lie in Andhra Pradesh – ‘I am around to take care of you, don’t be worried’.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu Credit: PTI

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu Credit: PTI/Files

Hyderabad: N. Chandrababu Naidu, the maker of modern Hyderabad, is facing an existentialist dilemma – to leave the city or not. At one level, the choice was made for him the moment Telangana was created on June 2, 2014. Now two years and four months later, on Dussehra, the last of the Andhra Pradesh government offices has moved to Velugupadu – the makeshift interim secretariat in Amaravati. What remains is Naidu’s office in the L Block of the old secretariat, which the Andhra Pradesh chief minister seldom uses when in Hyderabad. A year ago, Naidu had moved his chief minister’s office to Vijayawada and now to Velugupadu and is seldom seen in Hyderabad. But in what appears to be a contradiction, Naidu is yet to clear out of Hyderabad and does not propose to do so till June 1, 2024. Until then, Hyderabad will be the joint capital of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The buildings vacated by the Andhra Pradesh secretariat will remain in the possession of that state government and will not be handed over to Telangana. Thus Hyderabad will be the de jure capital of Andhra Pradesh while Amaravati will be its de facto seat of power.

If this is the case, what was Naidu’s tearing hurry in moving the entire secretariat lock, stock and barrel to Amaravati to a makeshift, incomplete secretariat complex? This is particularly curious given that the soft infrastructure – such as proper housing for staff and officers, and even schools and colleges – do not exist. A few months ago, Naidu had told this writer: “When we have to ultimately move, it makes sense to not delay things.” This was his raison d’être for compelling hapless babus and unwilling officers to move to Amaravati. Many have done so without moving their families.

But analysts had averred at that time that the real reason lay elsewhere. The cash-for-vote scam that broke out in mid-2015 had hit Naidu hard and forced his hand; cops from Telangana produced tapes that had a voice that sounded like Naidu promise allurements to an MLA supporting the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana in return for support in the forthcoming legislative council elections. A Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLA was caught in a sting operation in the same case and jailed. It was reasoned by pundits that Naidu feared the TRS could arrest him in the case and scooted to his own state. In the melée, Naidu abandoned his grand plans of raising the TDP in Telangana with the ultimate objective of winning the elections in 2019 in not only Andhra Pradesh but also the new state, thus becoming czar of the Telugu-speaking regions once again. Seizing the opportunity, Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao broke up the TDP in his state and almost all its MLAs joined the TRS camp along with a sizeable number of supporters.

But those who know Naidu say that his heart is still in Hyderabad. The ambitious lad from Kuppam in the southern Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh – which is closer to Chennai and Bangalore than to Hyderabad – made his fortunes in the erstwhile Nizam’s city. First, he married the daughter of TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao and then, as the ageing chief took a second younger wife, Naidu deposed his father-in-law in a palace coup to take on the mantel of leadership. After that, powered by ambition and a strategic vision, he became the first chief minister in India to take advantage of liberalisation to attract investments to Hyderabad – creating a cyber city in what was hitherto a laidback feudal bastion.

Evidence of the Naidu’s continued love for Hyderabad comes from the fact that he has recently started constructing a farm house in the Madinaguda area in the outskirts of the city. Naidu’s 1990 vintage house in the upscale Jubilee Hills area of the city, from where he ruled as chief minister, is also being refurbished. All this while the Andhra Pradesh government has moved.

Political analysts say that alongside his love for Hyderabad being known, it is also important for Naidu to deliver an important political message, especially for those inhabitants of Hyderabad whose origins lie in Andhra Pradesh – ‘I am around to take care of you, don’t be worried’.

In all fairness, after all its anti-Andhra rhetoric in the Telangana movement, the TRS has softened now and is busy wooing everybody. If he appears to not care for his folks, Naidu will lose traction in his home state where the electorate wants him to safeguard Andhra interests in Hyderabad. This also means taking care of broken families of employees who have stayed back. Naidu provided a Rajya Sabha berth to the seat-less railways minister Suresh Prabhu with the hope that he would oblige Andhra Pradesh with goodies. Prabhu has not disappointed with special trains from Hyderabad to Amaravati and vice versa – especially on weekends – that allow employees to move to and fro.

Naidu will continue to keep one foot in Hyderabad even as he tries to consolidate his position in Andhra Pradesh. Perhaps he has no other option.

Kingshuk Nag is the former Resident Editor of  The Times of India in Hyderabad. He is the author of several books, including one on the making of Telangana.