Both government and opposition failed miserably this week in taking on board popular anxieties about the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Much of the concern in the region — in the proposed state of Telangana and Seemandhra — centres on the status of Hyderabad, and the legislative diktat about the transition status of the city as a joint capital is unlikely to address worries on either side of the divide. Hyderabad has been one of the most dynamic hubs of economic and social change, post-liberalisation, and the proprietary demands by people from Telangana and Seemandhra are depressingly easy to understand — to lose a connect to Hyderabad is seen as being cut off from avenues to fulfil individual aspirations. It is unfortunate that the Central government is still addressing the “capital city” tussle as crisis management, instead of articulating it as an opportunity to upgrade cities across the state, even build new ones.
Andhra Pradesh has been a fit case for imagining and building urban hubs. In a state that gets so much of its economic vitality from the coastal belt and the Krishna-Godavari basin — a factor in Telangana’s demand for separation — it has been a failure of planning to disregard urban renewal. Hyderabad, like most of India’s other mega cities, has grown in size on account of both the force multiplier of existing infrastructure and the absence of other urban avenues to set up business in. In fact, this failure is evident in the competing claims from the Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra regions that Kurnool and Visakhapatnam be the capital of Seemandhra.
Indeed, that these cities are thirsty for an upgrade, that the lack of an urban vision has kept a dynamic stretch of the eastern seaboard looking inwards, highlights a larger malfunction. India’s politics has miserably failed to factor in urban governance. It is not a coincidence that its regional capitals are its most economically and socially vibrant hubs in their respective states, with politicians loath to cede urban magnets to local governance away from the state capital, for fear of losing avenues for patronage. Therefore, cities are prevented from finding their own momentum, and new businesses and industrial centres find it easier to affix themselves to already sprawling mega-cities. It would be a valuable beginning, therefore, if this crisis over Hyderabad were to be used as an opportunity to unveil a more modern template: planning a new state capital and simultaneously upgrading other cities as business and educational hubs.