Three capitals and no capital
News analysis

Three capitals and no capital

S. Sivadas

S. Sivadas

When the state of Telengana was formed almost at the stroke of midnight in 2014, when there had not been any strong agitation it was intended to check the growing influence of the breakaway Congress faction and its energetic leader, Jagan Mohan Reddy, but that calculation seems to have been rather misplaced.

In the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections he romped home with a vengeance defeating his arch enemy Chandrababu Naidu. That Telugu Desam leader, who had, in the course of his two- decade rein completely transformed Hyderabad into the futuristic Cyberabad and had made it the electronic hub, which seemed at that time to be the first halting place for honchos like Mircrosoft’s Bill Gates and even US President Clinton, suddenly found himself deprived of his dream city that overnight went to the new state. Undaunted, Naidu went on to plan another futuristic city, a ‘global city’ in Guntur district. This city, Amravati, was designed on an even grander scale and he had experts flown in from Singapore to provide the modernistic touches. He also planned to have a water front in Vizag, the natural port city, so that it would rival the popular Thailand tourist resort of Pattaya. Thousands of acres of rich tobacco and rice farm land in Guntur were acquired for the Amravati project even though at the time of bifurcation it was agreed that Hyderabad would remain the common capital of both states for ten years. After all Chandigarh had remained the capital of two states of Haryana and Punjab and the Union Territory ever since Punjab was bifurcated and it still is. But Naidu was in a hurry and went about building his dream city.

But all his grand schemes came to nought with Reddy winning the elections and dismantling methodically all these structures. In the process he had to overcome so many hurdles, like the lush farmland that had been acquired that had to be returned, the contracts that had been signed with many Singapore companies had to be annulled and the litigation that this would involve. But Reddy is a man in a hurry and has chalked out an even grander plan, and that is to have three capitals. There is some logic to this because Andhra Pradesh being such a vast state to administer it you need to have the capital within reach. That is the reason for his plan to have capitals spread evenly across the state, one at Kurnool in the arid and neglected Rayalaseema region, the other at Amravati and the third at Vizag, each dispensing with administrative, judicial and legislative businesses. This is a unique concept in the Indian context where we had so far only summer and winter capitals for states like Maharashtra in Mumbai and Nagpur.

But Reddy is not only a man in a hurry but also one who is determined to push through his plans whatever be the obstacles in the way. He had the three capitals bill passed by the Andhra State Assembly but in the Legislative Council where he did not have a majority he would have run into trouble. So, he quickly introduced a bill for the dissolution of the upper house itself. That process too had been rushed through. Now there is nothing that stands in the way of the state getting tree capitals.

If that is two too many for a nascent, or truncated, state, the northern state of Uttarakhand that had been formed 19 years ago still waits to have one capital and has been operating from a temporary capital in Dehradun. That is despite the state having elected five different governments and seen eight chief ministers belonging to the two rival Congress and BJP parties alternatively in its nearly two decades of existence. This 27th state, carved out of Uttar Pradesh in November 2000, did not address the question of its capital. and Dehradun was officially named as a temporary capital till a suitable one was selected.

Those who fought for and obtained the state had originally selected Gairsain as the capital because of its central location, at the tri-junction of the districts of Almora, Garhwal and Chamoli that would ensure equal development of all the regions and not lead to lopsided progress in certain regions to the exclusion of the others. They had learned this to their cost when the region was ruled from distant Lucknow when it was part of Uttar Pradesh.

There was also the additional grouse that the specific needs of the hill region were not being adequately attended to by those ruling from distant Lucknow. In the hill region also there was the imbalance between the British administered Kumaon and Garhwal and to balance these factors Gairsain was chosen. And so Dehradun, the best administered city in the region and which had the necessary infrastructure, was selected as the temporary capital, but this ‘temporary’ capital was far away and situated in one corner of this Himalayan state.

As invariably happens in Uttar Pradesh things are not so simple and they came to a settlement with Dehradun and the news pretender sharing the space. So those with vested interested interests in Dehradun struck a compromise and suggested that one assembly session be held in Gairsain while Dehradun enjoys the power of being the state capital with all infra-structure being in place, even if this agreement was temporary. That seems a nice compromise between the winter and summer capitals of Maharashtra and three capitals of the inheritors of the Kakatiya empire and the wonderful coexistence that Corbusier’s concrete structure had shown in sharing a capital between two states and a union territory.

Meanwhile those at the helm have not been keeping quiet. After all the Capital built by Lord Curzon had developed wrinkles and that needed to be given some botox treatment. The Central Vista that had been silent witness to many historic events like the last journey of Gandhiji, that apostle of non-violence, in a gun carriage, and that had received President Eisenhower and where the Republic Day parades were held every year is being given a face-lift and perhaps even a shift. Delhi had been mute witness to so many face-lifts and expansions in the last 70 years that this would dwarf all the capitals built by the seven dynasties that had ruled here in the last 1000 years. Ironically, India had submitted a dossier to the Unesco in 2013 to nominate the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (LBZ) area to be included in the list of World Heritage Cities which dossier identifies the Outstanding Universal Value of the heritage of the area.

There has been no dearth of town planners and architects for the Capital and there is also an Urban Planning Council that monitors any infringement of the environmental and urban zoning prescriptions. But despite all their surveillance and political influence, these have invariably been flouted with impunity. As for the aesthetic aspect of all these edifices that have come up during the international events like the UNCTAD conference, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, it is surprising that this city still does not have an auditorium with perfect acoustics. This became evident when the celebrated Mumbai-born composer Zubin Mehta brought his orchestra did not find any of the venues fit for the concert. Finally he chose the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium where with thick curtains he improvised the venue for his concert. The only acoustically perfect auditorium,it has been discovered, is the Bahai Temple.

VK Krishna Menon once commented that India is not a poor country, as is being projected by the West, but a rich country of poor people. One could improve on this quip and describe India as a country of poor people ruled by rich builders and leaders.