Chandrababu Naidu is back; so is the Amaravati project

The CM has revived his dream of building a capital from scratch

PTI06_12_2024_000160A Back with a bang: Naidu with Modi at the swearing in ceremony of the TDP government in Amaravati on June 12 | PTI

HOURS AFTER THE results of the Andhra Pradesh assembly polls were announced, a number of heavy vehicles made their way to Amaravati, part of the state’s proposed capital region. Much to the surprise of local people, the city once again become a hive of activity.

The following days saw as many as 100 earth movers clearing overgrown vegetation near streets and under-construction government buildings intended for bureaucrats. Long lengths of pipes appeared along major roads. Amaravati was being dusted and cleaned like a showpiece.

After the alliance led by Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, which includes the BJP and the JanaSena Party, won 164 of 175 assembly seats, Naidu wasted no time in getting down to business. He has revived his dream project of building a capital from scratch; it had been paused by the YSR Congress Party government for the past five years.

The project, backed by big names like movie director S.S. Rajamouli and renowned architect Hafeez Contractor, has two layers―the Amaravati capital city with an extent of 217sqkm and the surrounding Amaravati capital region, spread across 8,000sqkm near Vijayawada. The project is a new playing field for Naidu, who is credited with transforming Hyderabad into an IT powerhouse when he was chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh from 1995 to 2004.

Naidu hails from Naravaripalli village in the erstwhile Chittoor district. He was a Congress MLA before he joined the TDP after marrying Bhuvaneswari, daughter of legendary actor and TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao.

V. Hanumanth Rao, Congress leader and former Rajya Sabha member, who was Youth Congress president when Naidu became its vice president, said Naidu struggled as a young leader. “Though he belonged to the powerful Kamma community, he was born into a poor family,” he said. “He did not even have money to travel. I met him many times in Tirupati when he was an NSUI (the National Students’ Union of India) leader who liked to hang out at a café near the railway station. He was committed and smart even then, taking on his adversaries effectively.”

Rao credited Naidu with developing Hyderabad. “Beyond Banjara Hills, it was jungle before he became the CM. He expanded and developed HITEC City with his master plan. Beautifying Necklace Road in the heart of the city was also his brainchild,” said Rao.

In his first two terms as chief minister, Naidu placed emphasis on training government officials. The Marri Chenna Reddy Institute of Human Resource Development is an example of his penchant for learning. “Nobody cared about the [institute] those days, but Naidu activated it. He had a room there, and he would come there regularly as CM,” said Jwala Narasimha Rao, the institute’s former additional director.

The Centre for Good Governance, which provides services to several state governments, was also born during this time. “To train the trainers at the institute, we finalised a name who was the best in the country and was employed with the Army. It was proving difficult to get him on board, so we approached Naidu with the proposal. He immediately called up defence minister George Fernandes and followed it up with a letter, and the trainer soon made his way to Hyderabad,” said Jwala Rao.

Naidu is known to be friendly with journalists, which has helped him build his brand. Veteran journalist Dasu Kesav Rao remembers an incident in 2002, when a team of legislators went on an official tour of Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, China and Thailand. Rao was part of the media delegation that accompanied the legislators.

“We were greeted by an Indian embassy official who said we had come from the ‘land of Chandrababu’, instead of [saying] ‘land of India’. This was the impact he had made,” he said. “He once had a meeting with industrialist Anil Ambani and came all the way to the lift to see him off despite being the CM. He made use of every opportunity he had to make it big.”

In 2004, Naidu suffered a humiliating defeat, winning just 47 of 294 seats. He remained in the opposition for a decade. In 2012, he embarked on a padyatra that covered 2,800km in 208 days. “His feet got injured during the walk,” said Prakash Reddy, TDP leader who was a volunteer then. “It was bleeding and had swollen so much that it was difficult to take off his shoe. The average goal was to complete 20km daily, and that day he had covered 17km. He insisted on covering the rest of the distance, and we had to cut the shoe for him to put it on. Such is his determination.”

The padyatra helped Naidu return to power in 2014, after Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh. Days after becoming chief minister of the residual state, Naidu met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed with him the issues concerning the state government. “I logged 26 hours of his work that week that went into preparing memorandums, pitches and important points to discuss with the PM,” said P.V. Ramesh, former IAS officer who was principal finance secretary from 2014 to 2017. “He is hardworking and brings sheer energy to the job.”

After a gap of five years, Naidu is bringing the same tenacity to the Amaravati project. To acquire land and develop the new capital city, he has proposed a unique approach to farmers. “To get thousands of farmers to contribute 33,000 acres of land, he convinced them of [the benefits of] a joint development model. He came up with innovative packages for them for the short term as well as for 10 years,” said Ramesh.

With the TDP having won 16 seats in the Lok Sabha, he has become a crucial ally of Modi and the BJP, whose tally of 240 seats is 32 short of the majority mark. All eyes are on Naidu, known for his well-crafted moves in the 1990s―when coalition governments were in power. And Naidu, for his part, has his eyes set firmly on Amaravati.