Besides more material things, ‘special category status’ is a matter of emotion for Andhra Pradesh, trying to pick up the threads of its lifeworld from a bifurcation that left it without Hyderabad and that sense of pride from being part of a bigger, organic landmass. The status would have been an acknowledgment of the sacrifice it had to make by letting Telangana go. Counting both quantifiable losses and subliminal scars, can AP be blamed for feeling the way it does?
Its participation and energies were involved in Hyderabad becoming a buzzing metropolis, a hub of IT and education. Andhra members of the last Lok Sabha had fought tooth and nail to stall the bifurcation. Chandrababu Naidu rode the anger to depose a Congress caught in its own luckless chess play and keenness to please both Telangana and Andhra. PM Manmohan Singh had no option but to promise AP compensation with ‘special category status’: the Centre was to underwrite the construction of the new capital and the Polavaram project.
The successor government has no compulsion, political or constitutional, to redeem New Delhi’s pledge. The BJP has not managed to build any great stake in Andhra politics. It is, therefore, quoting the Y V Reddy-headed 14th Finance Commission, which advised against stretching special status to any new states beyond J&K and the Northeast region.
Of course, recommendations are for the greater good of the people and have little meaning and sanctity if they go against their aspirations. It’s a Catch-22 situation. The Centre cannot encourage profligacy or open a Pandora’s box where 20 other states line up demanding similar packages. However, the Andhra CM too has little scope for manoeuvre—his main political rival, YSRC chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, is hounding him. Naidu must deliver on the promise of a spectacular capital that rivals Hyderabad for the people of Andhra. That’s perhaps the only way their pride can be restored. So he is back to his brinkmanship. How that will impact 2019, only time will tell.