The 2019 elections in Andhra Pradesh will veer around two critical issues-the developmental measures taken up by the Government defying and conquering all odds and more importantly the painstaking efforts taken in putting the Polavaram project on fast-track.
The BJP State leadership too has been supporting and has been cooperating with the ruling party though there were some occasions when it did give pin-pricks. At one point in time, it almost appeared that the relations had gone sour and had reached a point of no return, implying that it could well mark the beginning of the end of the political arrangement.
However, it now appears like the political heat is once again picking up. The letter dated November 27 by the Union Water Resources Secretary asking the State government to withhold fresh tenders called for construction of spill-way and channel works of the irrigation project, stating that it was a premature step that might lead to contractual litigations and cost overruns, has come as a rude shock to the government.
The tone and tenor of the letter also indicated that there might be irregularities in calling for tenders with a short notice for works costing a whopping Rs 1400 crore. Naidu, who generally does not react so strongly to such issues and with his political expertise and experience tries to find an amicable solution, this time appeared to be totally miffed and found fault with the BJP-led Union Government for the hurdles that were being created to the measures it proposed to take to complete the project before 2019 elections and for going slow in releasing the special financial package announced by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitely in September last year.
In fact speculations are doing the rounds that it was the state BJP leaders who were instigating the Centre. Whether it is true or not, the fact remains that the issue has now raked up a major controversy and has pushed the state BJP into a defensive situation. After all, there is no smoke without fire.
Naidu’s deft move utilising the State Assembly has caused major embarrassment to the state BJP besides creating a situation where the state leaders of the saffron party had to commit that they would go to Delhi and talk to the Centre to resolve the issue. The way Naidu had brought the letter before the Assembly announcing that the Centre had ordered stalling of tenders for selecting a new contractor for executing some works related to Polavaram project was nothing short of a timely trump card. It had its effect as the BJP was caught on wrong foot.
What came as a bigger shock was that Naidu said he was "observing restraint" only because the BJP is a TDP ally. He also added that he would hand over the Polavaram project (for execution) to the Centre if it persisted with its current stand and that they would go to the people and explain why they could not complete it as promised. He said if the State stops the tender process at this stage as directed by the Union Water Resources Secretary, it would result in a delay of another six months, which could be a suicidal step as it would not be possible for the State government to put the project back on track.
Expressing his anguish, Naidu said, "If they (Centre) want, we will stop the process. If they continue with such a stance, I will greet them with folded hands and hand over the project." Issuing a sort of veiled threat, he said, "We are observing restraint only because we are allies. I am unable to understand why these many problems are being created (for Polavaram)."
"I tried speaking to Gadkari (Union Water Resources Minister) but was told he was in London. I will speak to him once he returns. I will also meet the Prime Minister over this," Naidu added just to indicate to his rank and file not to make any comments on the issue, which may further complicate the matter and if the friction between the yellow and saffron parties increase it could help the opposition politically. He said that he was ready to take the opposition parties in the state to the Centre on the issue. Naidu said, "For years, the project works did not progress at the desired pace but once I took over as Chief Minister in June 2014, I streamlined everything and things are now moving ahead."
A sum of Rs 12,000 crore was so far spent on the project while another Rs 42,000 crore is required to complete it, the CM said. ‘My only intention is that it should do good to the State as Polavaram is our lifeline. The State will prosper if Polavaram is completed."
Polavaram has been declared as a national project under the AP Reorganisation Act-2014 but its execution responsibility was entrusted to the State government. For over three months now, it has been trying to replace the main contractor Transtroy India, saying it was unable to execute the works as desired but the centre is not allowing us.
The TDP perhaps felt that this has come as a godsend opportunity to corner the saffron brigade and has achieved its objective. Perforce the BJP had to attend the coordination meeting convened by the government and state that they would go to Delhi and talk to centre.
Naidu also apprised the Cabinet which met later about the developments. It is said that they were also contemplating to work out strategies in case the Centre wants to continue with its rigid attitude. Analysts feel that if the Centre does not adopt the strategy of one step forward and two steps backward, it would find itself in a difficult situation.
The State leaders realised that they had landed in a big soup but found it difficult to defend their parent party. They came up with illogical arguments that the letter does not have any sanctity since it was written by an officer who is due to retire within a month. They too know that this is a ridiculous argument and that there were no takers either in the government or the general public. It is obvious that an officer of the rank of secretary will not dare to write a letter on his own.
He would have done so only after the Ministry of Water Resources had instructed him to issue the instructions to stop the tender process. Secondly, government is a continuous process, it does not matter whether the officer has some service left or is about to retire within a month.
Naidu also successfully utilised the occasion to raise other issues that have been troubling him as the Centre was not implementing its assurances made in the AP State Reorganisation Act. He said though the Centre had sanctioned 13 educational institutions it had released only Rs 475 crore while the requirement was to the tune of a staggering Rs 11,676 crore!
For IIT, it had given only Rs 37 crore as against the requirement of Rs 3000 crore. The Centre was also dragging its feet in setting up Girijan University, which was part of the Act.
Analysts aver that the TDP in a subtle manner had pulled a faster one and had given clear indications that if the Centre does not intervene it could become an emotive issue in the next elections giving an edge to the TDP. That was smart politics by the wily Naidu.