Telugu Desam’s claim of special status for Andhra Pradesh is merely a power game

Telugu Desam’s insistence on special category status for Andhra Pradesh is bound to have political repercussions leading to possible severance of its links with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. TDP chief and state chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is a seasoned political campaigner and he seems to be have attempted recalibrating his party’s relations with the NDA through the demand for special category status.

Having burnt bridges with the UPA, parting of ways with the NDA may not help his cause either given the fast changing political arithmetic in the state. But, that has not prevented Naidu’s TDP from turning openly belligerent with an adjournment motion against the NDA and disrupting the Parliament last three days. Most interestingly, TDP opted for an adjournment motion while it continues to be part of the alliance headed by prime minister Narendra Modi and the Union government.

After having devolved 44 per cent tax proceeds to states in sync with 14th finance commission recommendations, several central schemes were either wound up, transferred to states or merged with others. Hence, special category status (SCS) has no definitive meaning in the context of Andhra Pradesh expect for deriving political dividends.

Secondly, the commission has restricted special category status to the seven northeastern and three hill states including Jammu & Kashmir. TDP understands this fully well and hence had initialed on an equivalent economic package in 2014.

Keeping the political slugfest aside, Andhra Pradesh does not fit the bill for assigning SCS. Even on Wednesday, finance minister Arun Jaitley’s assertion that centre would fulfill every commitment made in the separation agreement with financial implications is a very significant concession and special treatment to Andhra Pradesh.

Though the state is not eligible for 90 per cent grant otherwise given to SCS states, Jaitley’s offer to route the grants through Nabard and a special purpose vehicle fulfills the purpose. Modalities are yet to be worked out though.

The sore point, however, is on the revenue deficit incurred in 2014-15. While Telugu Desam has projected Rs 16,000 crore as the deficit for compensation from centre, Niti Aayog trimmed it to over Rs 4,000 crore. This issue needs serious analysis and dissection before both BJP and TDP call it quits. Time though is running out as Naidu has given a March 10 pull out deadline.

If economic backwardness of states were the basis, Bihar and Odisha would be far more eligible candidates for assigning SCS and not Andhra Pradesh. On tribal population as the key matrix, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand that were carved out of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar would definitively get the backward tag. From development indicators like per capita income, education and healthcare, Madhya Pradesh will have to be given precedence over Andhra Pradesh on SCS. Chief minister Naidu will have to seriously consider the offer of special financial assistance package offered by Jaitley on Wednesday within the constitutional constraints. But, if it does not suit TDP’s political narrative, then it would force a divorce between BJP and TDP.

This will not augur well for both the parties. TDP has benefited from the Modi wave of 2014 that catapulted it to power after sitting out for two terms. For BJP, it’s a huge setback given that it has just begun making inroads as a political party in coastal districts. Parting of ways between TDP and BJP would be advantageous to the YSR Congress headed by Jaganmohan Reddy and the fledgling Jan Sena Party of popular cinema actor Pawan Kalyan.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s announcement that his party would accord special category status to Andhra Pradesh if voted to power in 2019 is rather flippant but significant. The grand old party seems to have attempted at gaining traction with this announcement in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

However, political considerations cannot be the basis for providing SCS or special financial assistance package for Andhra Pradesh. Given that the state has gone through turbulence, all political parties and stakeholders will have to give a serious thought on the way forward rather than tryoing to score brownie points for a few votes.