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Big cities have been the object of political greed and envy through the history of mankind. In older times,cities attracted...

Written by Shekhar Gupta |
December 12, 2009 4:12:20 am

Big cities have been the object of political greed and envy through the history of mankind. In older times,cities attracted conquering hordes who wanted to sack them for their riches. Now,in democracies,the political class knows that while their votes lie in the countryside,the real money sits in the cities and their real estate. For ordinary people too,big cities become objects of status and pride. That is why most of the argument following the Centre’s sudden decision to allow the creation of Telangana has been confined — more or less — to the status of Hyderabad. Most Andhraites,it seems,won’t mind the loss of the other Telangana districts,but Hyderabad? Similarly,most of those who belong to Telangana are not even willing to accept sharing Hyderabad as their capital with Andhra as,probably,a union territory.

Chances are,some “temporary” solution like that will be worked out for Hyderabad. After all,you can’t suddenly create a new capital for either of the two states. Then,as often happens in India,that “temporary” status will continue to be extended indefinitely,through many spasmodic agitations,crises,loss of work days and life. This,in fact,will be the only immediate option. But in the long run,it will make both states,Andhra and Telangana,unhappy — and Hyderabad a crowded,run-down political orphan,hosting two governments,but getting very little in return. Could we,then,think of the unthinkable now? Let Hyderabad go to Telangana and help Andhra Pradesh build a brand new capital city. Of course their government will have its transit accommodation in Hyderabad until that happens.

It is the peculiarity of the division in Andhra Pradesh that makes the job of a commentator so difficult. How does one describe the two sides? Both are Telugu,both have the same caste mix,same ethnicity,culture and so on. The clamour for a separate Telangana is a regional aspiration,or a case of the “inland” districts wanting their own political space in a state where the power structure is dominated by their own ethnic brethren from the richer,coastal districts,or from the eastern grain bowl between the two great rivers,Krishna and Godavari. Telangana’s districts are drier,poorer,have had only very limited benefits from the large hydel projects in the state,and see Hyderabad as their only real asset. The more entrepreneurial,energetic and richer coastal districts,on the other hand,believe that the buzzy new Hyderabad is both their reward and their creation. But it also distorts their perspective.

Andhra is essentially a coastal state,but the presence of Hyderabad on its western inland flank has forced its people,particularly its entrepreneurs,politicians and intellectuals to look inwards,rather than outwards to the sea and beyond where real opportunities and riches lie. Given the economic growth in its coastal districts,booming agriculture,and nearly $35 billion worth of under-construction irrigation projects,new ports and power plants,the natural inclination of Andhraites should be in that direction. But the mere presence of Hyderabad makes them look inwards. This,at a time when the second largest hydrocarbon discovery in the world after the Gulf of Mexico has been made along their own coastline. YSR knew this,and was therefore focusing on power and fertiliser plants in the coastal districts,to try and grab as large a share of this newly found energy for his own state,for its own consumption,as well as value addition and job creation. Maybe the loss of Hyderabad will now persuade coastal Andhraites to look at this zone of incredible promise.

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India has always had an East-of-Kanpur problem. Generally,as you go eastwards from Delhi,economy,quality of life and governance decline. But the fall is precipitous as you cross Kanpur. Maybe it is because of poor politics,or just poor luck or,who knows,bad Vaastu! But the fact is that the entire eastern coast is failing to keep pace while the western seaboard has become India’s engine of growth and prosperity. With the exception of Kerala,all its states are investment-friendly and a very large proportion of all new investment in India is being made there. It may be just a coincidence,but all the new,modern and grand private airports being built in the country are in cities that are generally closer to the western coast. The east,on the other hand,is inhabited by some truly moribund states,like West Bengal and Orissa,or one of relative status quo,like Tamil Nadu. Andhra,under YSR,had been emerging as the eastern seaboard’s one rising state. Some of us bemoaned the fact that his death killed that new energy as well. This division,ironically,may help prevent that.

If the new Andhra can get over the loss of Hyderabad,use what it gets in compensation and its own enterprise to build a new capital city — hopefully closer to the coast — it has the opportunity to create both an asset its people can be proud of and a magnet of opportunity that looks outwards,across the Bay of Bengal,rather than inwards,as with Hyderabad. Besides,its politicians will figure soon enough that the money-making opportunity a new city offers is much greater than an old metro nearing saturation,howsoever energetic.

Like conquerors of the past,India’s politicians love to rule,and plunder cities. But unlike the Mughals,they rarely build new ones. We only build a new city when it becomes necessary to provide a new state a capital. That is how Chandigarh and Gandhinagar came up and New Raipur will eventually be built. India needs great new cities,and Andhra enterprise — not for nothing are India’s builder-contractors usually called “Andhrapreneurs” — can now build one for India,and themselves. And how desperately India — if it has to fix its East-of-Kanpur problem and its inter-regional growth imbalance — needs a booming state on its eastern coast which,like all growing economies,is focused seaward and beyond,rather than inwards.

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