Andhra Pradesh ministers quit govt

Row between chief minister, BJP over new state capital worsens in fight for special status

A row between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party over the status and funding of the building of a new state capital and other projects has come to a head.

Mr Naidu has pulled two ministers out of the central government and threatened to quit the alliance with BJP, in a political statement ahead of state elections next year. India's President Ram Nath Kovind has accepted their resignation.

Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Minister of State for Science and Technology YS Chowdary resigned from the federal Cabinet on Thursday.

Two BJP ministers in the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet also quit that day.

Mr Naidu, who is building the capital city of Amaravati from scratch with help from Singapore, has been seeking special status, including tax breaks and special funds from the federal government, for his state.

Special status was promised by the previous Congress-led government when India's newest state of Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014.

The two states were to share the capital Hyderabad for a decade, giving Andhra Pradesh enough time to build its new capital and special status to cover any loss of revenue.

TAKING A STAND

It's a crucial time...

We have to stand, we have to fight, we have to get it done.

ANDHRA PRADESH CHIEF MINISTER CHANDRABABU NAIDU, on his difficulties in seeking special status, including tax breaks and special funds from the federal government, for his state.

"It's a crucial time... We have to stand, we have to fight, we have to get it done," tweeted Mr Naidu, who leads the Telugu Desam Party.

He told reporters he had gone to Delhi 29 times to discuss the issue, returning empty-handed each time.

Mr Naidu's decision will not destabilise the BJP, which enjoys a solid majority in Parliament, and saw successive recent state election wins in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday it was not constitutionally possible to give Andhra Pradesh special status, but the government was willing to provide a matching economic package.

Analyst K. Nageshwar described Mr Naidu's decision as "inevitable" because of public sentiment.

He said: "Andhra people were promised special status as compensation for bifurcation and losing Hyderabad.

"He has to politically convince people that he had tied up with BJP for the sake of Andhra Pradesh."

The controversy has also highlighted the difficulties Mr Naidu is facing in funding Amaravati.

Singapore has been involved in the project since 2014. Last year, it was announced that a consortium of Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp Development would be master developers for its commercial core spread over 6.84 sq km.

Mr Naidu, who has so far received 25 billion rupees (S$506 million) of federal funds, had expressed disappointment that Amaravati was not given an allocation in the latest federal budget.

Analysts noted that the showpiece project, estimated to cost upwards of 1 trillion rupees, was already running behind schedule.

Said Dr N Bhaskara Rao of the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies: "There are only temporary buildings in Amaravati. The concept is there but he (Mr Naidu) needs to show progress by the time he goes to the polls in 2019.

"That may be difficult now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Andhra Pradesh ministers quit govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe