Two years after Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated into Andhra and Telangana, the two states have moved on different trajectories. Telangana continues to ride the euphoria of statehood. The truncated Andhra Pradesh appears to have shed its bitterness about the separation and is rebuilding with a new purpose. Barring the occasional sparring over the sharing of Krishna waters, the two states seem reconciled to a relatively peaceful coexistence and asset sharing. This has helped the economies of both states to stabilise, and, in fact, record better growth this fiscal year than in the previous year. Both states have announced elaborate plans to broadbase their economies, with Andhra focused on developing industrial clusters attached to ports and Telangana consolidating its mineral wealth.
But both states appear to converge on a governance model that is excessively centred on the leader. This arguably signals a departure from the political character of undivided Andhra Pradesh, where politics revolved around movements more than personalities. The peasant mobilisations in the pre-independence era and, later, under the CPI, the anti-Nizam revolt, and the Visalandhra movement stood out for the participation of the masses, not for their charismatic leaders. The exception was N.T. Rama Rao, who capitalised on his popularity as a film hero to build a political party and win office. But NTR’s Telugu Desam (TDP) was not merely about his personality; the success of the TDP was also the outcome of a carefully crafted political narrative around regional pride. When NTR failed to turn that swell into tangible gains for the people, he lost power. However, politics in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh is increasingly becoming a projection of the respective chief ministers. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which spearheaded the statehood demand, threatens to become a family enterprise of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao. With no sign of a decline in its popularity, MLAs from opposition ranks have been steadily oscillating to the TRS. In Andhra, CM Chandrababu Naidu, who tried to overcome his lack of charisma by projecting himself as an efficient manager of politics and government, has taken a leaf out of KCR’s book to project his persona on the government. Like emperors of the medieval age who embarked on building large public works to leave their mark on history, Naidu has been focused on building a grand capital city to memorialise his rule. Amaravati could turn out to be an expensive realty project that sucks in too much capital and the CM’s energy and time at the expense of the rest of Andhra’s needs.
As they reach the half-way mark of their tenure, both CMs could do well to look beyond the mirror. Self-rule, indeed, was the impulse that drove the Telangana movement, but it was born out of frustration with the incompetence of previous rulers. Similarly, Naidu’s unexpected win in 2014 was helped by his image as a doer. Both leaders need to do much more if they have to satisfy the rising aspirations in both states.