In Andhra Pradesh, where caste plays dominant role in politics, it was not surprising that the row over the state capital Amaravati too has a caste angle to it. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government alleged that Amaravati was planned and designed as the state capital to benefit Kammas, a dominant case in the region but opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has rubbished the allegation.
The leaders of the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) alleged that the then chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu chose the location and made Amaravati plans in such a way that Kammas, a community he belongs to, get the maximum benefit from it.
Analysts say by mooting three capital ideas and killing Amaravati as envisaged by Naidu, Jagan Mohan Reddy is trying to deny his bete noire the credit for developing what was projected as a world-class city.
After coming to power in May, YSRCP, which was dominated by Reddys, the political rivals of Kammas, stopped the construction work in Amaravati, citing huge lands scam and irregularities committed during the TDP rule.
Jagan alleged insider trading in the project and claimed that those close to Naidu purchased lands in and around Amaravati at throwaway prices before the government selected it as the location for building the state capital.
Municipal Administration Minister Botsa Satyanarayana claimed that Naidu chose Amaravati to benefit his Kamma community people who had purchased lands through insider trading.
A cabinet sub-committee, which probed the allegations, submitted its report and the Jagan government is mulling an inquiry either by a judge or by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Kammas, however, feel that the Jagan Reddy government is targeting the community by dumping Amaravati. "The single point formula of this government is anti-Kamma. There is no other reason," V. Ramakrishna Prasad, who runs a restaurant near State Secretariat at Velagapudi, told IANS.
He pointed out that the police collected data about Kammas doing business in Amaravati. "A police official came to the restaurant and wanted to know the name of owner, his native and what he was doing earlier and caste. Why do they want to know the caste," he asked.
The restaurant, which was doing good business before elections and was supplying food to many sections in the Secretariat, saw a drop of 40-50 per cent in the business during the last six months.
Some farmers said the Kamma issue was raised to divide people on caste lines. "The fact is that 90 per cent of those who gave their lands for the capital are from the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, backward classes, and minorities," said K. Nageshwar Rao, a farmer in Tullur block headquarters.
Jagan government also opposed Amaravati on two other counts. The ministers and YSRCP leaders claimed that the region selected for state capital is flood-prone. They also claimed that since the project required over Rs 1 lakh crore and the state due to the financial crisis is not in a position to provide such huge funds. They said YSRCP government's priority is not to build a big capital city.
Naidu, who slammed Jagan for killing what he called a golden goose for the state, argued that Amaravati is a self-financed project.
"The government is only trying to find some excuse to kill the Amaravati project. There have never been floods in our villages," said E. Shivaiah, a farmer of Nekkalu village.
Interestingly, both the Assembly seats in the Amaravati region were won by YSRCP in the recent elections. Kammas constitute 10-15 per cent of the voters.
"YSRCP won because its leaders had told the voters that if the land value in Amaravati doubled under Chandrababu Naidu's rule it would be quadrupled if Jagan becomes the chief minister. However, after coming to power they destroyed the capital," said Shivaiah.
The farmers said YSRCP leaders interpreted the defeat of TDP as the unhappiness of Amaravati people with Chandrababu Naidu. "They are using this as justification for shifting the capital out of Amaravati," said M. Srinivas Rao, another farmer.
Jagan government proposed to develop Visakhapatnam and Kurnool as administrative and judicial capitals respectively.
Amaravati is now proposed to house only Assembly and Raj Bhavan. With Secretariat and the chief minister's office moving to Visakhapatnam, the coastal city will become the state capital for all practical purposes.