It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that the police had overreacted to the call by netizens for protests at the RK Beach in Visakhapatnam on Republic Day for special category status to the State. Coming as it did on the heels of Tamil Nadu’s successful campaign for jallikattu, the protest call had the police, who feared a repeat of the same in AP, on their toes.
As the protest was called on the eve of the CII Partnership Summit, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu took it as a prestige issue, and did not want students to play spoilsport. He did not want to leave anything to chance and let Visakhpatnam’s image be tarnished since it is the only city worth its name in Andhra Pradesh to talk about.
Vijayawada is still a fist-sized trading city where not much activity on any other front is ever seen. Though Naidu keeps saying that a Singapore-like city would come up in Amaravati, it is clear that he would have to travel thousands of miles before he could sleep.
In fact, Tirupati has better acceptability as a city since it is the abode of Lord Venkateswara and everyone in the country and outside keep visiting it. As Visakhapatnam is the only city that Chandbababu Naidu could showcase as the “promised land” for investors both in India and abroad, he did not want anything to go awry since it would be the beginning of the end of the dream of a throbbing Andhra Pradesh.
With clear instructions to the police to prevent students from taking the streets over, the guardians of law did feel that they had a carte blanche. As the coast was clear for them, they swooped on students who had never thought the police would react so fast. Within hours, the police imposed an unofficial curfew on the beach road, making it completely out of bounds for students as the venue of the Partnership Summit was also close by.
Finally, Naidu has achieved what he wanted - the protests were foiled even before they began and the Partnership Summit the next day went without any hitch. The delegates at the Summit gave a standing ovation to the Chief Minister for his presentation on what the future had in store for not only Andhra Pradesh but also for India and for his ability to sell the State as the ultimate destination for investment.
With Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley too making it clear that AP would continue to be ahead of the national average in growth, there was no stopping for Naidu in showcasing AP as the safest place for investment.
But Naidu, unwittingly, also earned considerable disdain from those who disapproved of his methods in curbing a democratic movement - the protest called by the netizens. The only point that was in Naidu’s favour for curbing the movement was that it was Republic Day but his contention that such rallies should not be held ahead of investors’ summit did not appear to hold much water, with people citing protests even on the occasion of inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the US as the essence of democracy. A party in power naturally does not like protests and that is exactly the reason why protests should be allowed in the interests of democracy to act as check as there is a clear possibility that the ruling party might err.
A visibly upset Naidu had questioned why he should allow protests when the demonstrators’ intention was to set fire to Visakhapatnam, implying YSRC chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was not allowed even to step out of the Vizag airport. By directing the police to put Jagan back on a Hyderabad flight, Naidu proved that it was he who calls the shots.
As far as Jagan is concerned, Naidu seldom recognises him as Leader of Opposition, For him, he is his sworn enemy and not a political rival and therefore, he should not cede even a inch of ground on any issue, whether it is democratic or not.
Denial of permission for the protests has also opened a debate that it does not bode well for democracy and that it has even turned counter-productive to Naidu himself with his ally Pawan Kalyan and rival Jagan slamming him for arresting the youths who only wanted to organise a peaceful protest. Naidu knows that in politics, the best way to deal with a rival is to ignore him. But he did not because does not like Jagan to the point that he is ready even to risk political backlash.
Had Naidu allowed the protest, it would have gone unnoticed since the students were not as restive or as rebellious or as militant as their Tamil Nadu counterparts who staged a massive protest on Marina Beach for jallikattu. As if this were not enough, his colleague Union Minister Sujana Chowdary caused embarrassment to him by comparing the spirit of the students’ agitation to pig fights, evoking protests from the Opposition once again.
The contention of the police officials that the demonstrators could as well hold lighted candles in their houses instead of coming on to streets evoked a derisive criticism from a former Congress MP who said: “Why should Naidu take up padayatra all over the State? He could have done it on a treadmill.”