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 September 30, 1999
  The Rediff Election Special
Andhra Pradesh in the time of Naidu

J S Sai lately in Andhra Pradesh ......................................................................................................................

Just a month after we had bought our new Maruti car we were driving out of Bombay in March 1997. So smooth was the drive to south India -- despite two difficult ghat sections, one before we touched Pune and the other in the vicinity of Kolhapur -- that my confidence had gone into an overdrive.

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''We should touch Bangalore by late evening,'' I told my wife as we entered the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. And my car began behaving funnily. It would go smoothly for a while, and then would toss about like a boat caught in a stormy sea. There was nothing wrong with it. What else could it do if crater-deep potholes keep showing up unexpectedly on an otherwise smooth surface?

We broke our drive for the night, and drove into Bangalore early next morning. Later that evening, as we entered the Andhra Pradesh border, I was cursing myself for ignoring The Rough Guide's advice about my home state:

'Exploring Andhra Pradesh takes a lot of time and effort that you may well end up feeling would have been better spent elsewhere. Its infrastructure is rudimentary -- in particular, if you don't have your own vehicle you're at the mercy of an extremely poor public transport system that does little more than connect the major towns.'

I had my own transport, but was no better off because of the sad state of roads. There were only potholes, little road in sight. But the Tirumala ghats had excellent roads, thanks to Lord Venkateswara.

Our woes got worse the next morning, when we drove towards Nellore. There was no road. No potholes. Only miles and miles of gravel... Towards the evening we reached a relative's place in the coastal town of Kavali (about 300 kilometres from Madras), but could not sleep the whole night as there was no power.

What was happening? Were the reports about 'the working Chief Minister' Nara Chandrababu Naidu's hi-tech projects just hype?

By then, Naidu had been at the helm for nearly two years, assuming the mantle as he did in 1995. But there was very little improvement in the basic infrastructure...

August 1999. Landing at Bangalore, I took a bus to Anantapur and then toured the state for three weeks.

Now I feel the stunning change. No, it is not just hype. Things are happening. But for several stretches in places like Bapatla, Srikalahasti and Vizianagaram, roads have shown a vast improvement. So has the bus service, with non-stop buses linking several major towns.

Maybe The Rough Guide would not improve the state's rating, but there has been a sparkling change as far as the roads and the power situation is concerned.

Equally impressive is the creation of 10,292 water users's associations of farmers, which have desilted several canals in the state, bringing a tremendous boon to the farmers. And the Janmabhoomi programme, under which several development schemes had been implemented in the state with the people's contribution -- both money and labour. In fact, even the remotest villages have a Janmabhoomi plaque listing the projects executed under the scheme.

''Even his worst enemy would agree that roads have improved,'' says Professor D Narasimha Reddy of the University of Hyderabad's economics department, refusing to give him credit for the improved power situation. ''No major project has been cleared by the Telugu Desam Party government. Naidu did well by encouraging the projects cleared by the Congress and by policising the existing ones. Also, the good monsoon over the last nine years have improved hydel power generation. However, Naidu has encouraged the creation of several captive power units.''

''We have better infrastructure now -- better roads, better power situation and a cleaner environment,'' says Narender Surana, past president, Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry. ''It is not just hype, investment to the tune of Rs 30 billion has been made, I am told.''

''The intelligentsia and the common man now feel there is a government which is functioning for the people's welfare and development,'' says Professor Ch Shyam Sunder, head, business management department, Osmania University. ''He is making people feel he is doing a professional job.''

Wherever I go, I am greeted by such torrents of praise about his efforts to improve the roads. People, especially in the urban areas, also rave about Naidu's drive to improve the state's image. Again there are isolated voices of dissent -- which grew stronger in the rural areas. But I would go along with the majority in this regard.

For, till Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao had founded the Telugu Desam Party in 1982, Andhra Pradesh (though it was the first linguistic state to be created) had been struggling to establish its identity among the amorphous 'Woh Madrasis' (that is how the north still refers to the south Indians). And till Naidu had arrived, the outside world seemed to talk only of Andhra Pradesh's mindless productivity on the sleazy cinema front despite its distinction in innumerable areas.

''As far as investment is concerned, Naidu has certainly raised expectations,'' says V K Srinivasan, former AP additional chief secretary. ''The investments may or may not come.''

''Chandrababu Naidu has marketed the state -- and in the process the country -- very well,'' says B V R Mohan Reddy, chairman and managing director of Infotech Enterprises Limited. Reddy is said to have pioneered the introduction of CAD/CAM in the country when he was the managing director of the now-defunct OMC Computers Limited.

Mohan Reddy has aptly summed up the mood of the elite and the middle classes. Maybe Naidu has marketed the state very well. But perhaps he forgot to check if the state had the most important 'P' of marketing -- product.

Industries had been closing down even as the agriculture sector failed to look up in most parts of the state. Rather, those depending on the latter seem perched on the brink of a disaster in several areas of the state, as my journey on a passenger train between Tenali and Chirala, two coastal Andhra towns, indicates.

Countless farm labourers travelling by the train say it was the only conveyance they could afford as they paid nothing. ''How can we buy rail tickets when we get work only for two months in a year? And we are paid peanuts at Rs 40 a day?'' they ask. While some of them seemed indifferent to politics, others seem to prefer the Congress.

''The agriculture sector has been in a very precarious condition, it went through the worst turmoil -- remember the cotton growers's suicides?'' asks Professor Narasimha Reddy. ''But no one is offering them any sense of security, and Naidu has had no concrete programme. All risks are compounding on the small and marginal farmers. Instead of providing good back-up, the government has been washing its hands off the whole thing by providing compensation whenever a farmer committed suicide.''

If this is the plight of farmers in the coastal areas, one can imagine the situation in most parts of Rayalaseema, which have not seen a good monsoon in years. ''North coastal areas are better,'' says a farmer hailing from the area.

But no area in the state has seen as much prosperity as Kuppam, Naidu's constituency, and the people there including Muslims would vote for him even if he joins the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Kuppam has shown mindblowing development -- including a five-star government hospital -- but the engine of their prosperity is the mushrooming of borewells, thanks again to Naidu. An area that used to cry for a pot of drinking water is now growing grapes, sugarcane and paddy. While the neighbouring areas struggle to grow one crop in their rain-fed lands, Kuppam can effortlessly reap three harvests in a year, bring more work and more money for the farmers.

''He tried to provide buoyancy to the rural economy,'' says Professor Chandra Mouli, head, political science department, S V University, Tirupati. ''By starting rythu (farmers) bazaars he has given an opportunity to rural folk to sell their produce directly to consumers in the urban areas, eliminating middlemen.''

''The rythu bazaar is a very good scheme in the urban areas,'' says Professor J V Prabhakar Rao, director, Centre for International Business, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. ''But in the rural areas middlemen have already entered. The farmer is still being cheated. If the government really wants to help them, co-operatives like the one at Anand should be created.''

However, despite such criticism, the fact remains that the concept has been widely appreciated. It may have ended the farmers's marketing woes, but the rural economy continues to flit from one disaster to the other.

It is in this scenario that the Congress has made the promise of free power for farmers. ''There is no harm in providing a productive subsidy like free power,'' says Professor J V Prabhakar Rao. ''The farmer has been silently suffering torture.''

As if the bleak agriculture scene was not enough, more and more industries all over the state are closing down, whether it is in Andhra, Rayalaseema or Telangana. The lower middle class and the poor had been grumbling about lack of jobs.

''The rising sickness among the smaller units stems from the entrepreneurs' greed,'' says Narender Surana. ''However, the situation is not bad considering the slowdown at the national level. Moreover, serious attention must be paid at the national level to industrial policy. Who is to blame for the crisis in Hindustan Motors, for instance? All this while it was not allowed to tie up with any foreign firm, and suddenly the flood gates of liberalisation were opened...''

However, Professor Narasimha Reddy blames the Naidu government for the closure of several cement units in the state. ''Thirty-two cement units have been closed down in the recent years. Of these, 18 could not continue operations because of the higher power tariff. Several heavy-power consumption units have also shut shop because of the same reason.''

''Very little seems to be happening at the ground level,'' says a professor of Andhra University. ''Industrial growth is stagnant. Or maybe it is going down as several public sector units have been facing rough weather. The scene is no better in the private sector with several small and medium industries closing down. There have hardly been any new projects.''

''Naidu's performance with regard to the ground realities is not encouraging,'' agrees Surana.

Naidu has also been accused of neglecting the public sector. ''They are deliberately killing the public sector,'' says another Andhra University professor. ''It is not the ideal solution for India.''

''In the last 10 years VSP (Vizag Steel Plant) was the last big project -- no PSU has come to AP,'' says Surana. ''Despite his good equation with successive central governments, Naidu has failed to bring in any new project to the state.''

''Is there no saving grace for the public sector?'' asks Professor R V R Chandrasekhara Rao, former vice-chancellor of the Commonwealth Open University. ''A chief minister should give at least one hour of his time to think of the implications of privatisation. Even P V Narasimha Rao used to do this... Globalisation is the parochialisation of privatisation.''

With the public sector in a bad shape -- several units like the VSP and Bharat Heavy Vessels and Plates are in doldrums -- the ancillary industries too have taken a beating, with no new jobs being created in the state as the existing ones disappeared into thin air. Even the state government, which is considered the biggest employer, had only two major recruitment drives in the last five years. What are the posts? Constables and teachers, who were recruited quite recently.

The crippling job situation is best summed up by a youth who could not find a job even two years after graduation, and his septuagenarian neighbour who could barely manage to hobble around with the help of a walking stick. They seem rather poor, and I am a little surprised that they could afford air-conditioned rail travel.

''You used to work for the railways?'' I ask the elderly person, thinking he must have got a free pass. ''No, I am a freedom fighter, and can take him (pointing to the youth) as a companion free of charge,'' he says. ''We have been hunting for B Ed seats. The minority colleges are demanding a fake conversion certificate, and a donation of Rs 70,000. But we can afford only Rs 60,000.''

The two Hindus -- the elderly person wants a seat for his son -- were willing to embrace Christianity or Islam -- at least on paper -- to get a degree like B Ed which had no takers all along.

Explaining their desperation, the youth says, ''In the next two years, thousands of government school teachers will retire. We hope to get a job.''

In case they land the 'dream' job, what is the salary? Rs 1,200 per month.

So blind are people to reality in the face of desperation that they fail to realise that they can earn at least Rs 600 per month if the same donation is put in a government security. Add the cost of commuting, books and annual fees, and you know how futile the exercise is. But the point here is not the futility of a B Ed degree, but the dwindling job opportunities.

Naidu did his bit to correct the situation with the Development of Women and Child in Rural Areas. The DWCRA scheme, now having 3 million self-help beneficiaries, came as a boon. So popular has been the programme that a DWCRA group in Kuppam had paid Naidu's security deposit for the assembly election.

The scheme was intended to bring back women, who had deserted him after the lifting of prohibition in the state, to the TDP fold.

Immediately after assuming power, Chandrababu Naidu went to town with his hi-tech projects. Was he right in doing this?

''I am not sure whether he has got all his priorities right,'' says V K Srinivasan, the former additional chief secretary. ''I don't think he has sequenced his priorities... He always talks of hi-tech. In a state like AP, which has a multi-sectoral configuration, agro-processing and other areas should have been a priority. Today what is going to threaten AP is not the lack of plans but lack of employment for its youth. IT is not the solution. We have to choose a mix which would provide more jobs.''

''We did not believe his Silicon Valley dreams as we could see through his plans,'' says Alur Chandrasekhar of the Human Rights Action of Anantapur. ''We do not want a Silicon Valley. What we want is jobs. Even our computer engineers do not need a Silicon Valley. Is there any guarantee that they would be in Hyderabad -- or for that matter India -- if they get a good break in the US? So why are we wasting government money?''

''Why do you want to spend Rs 1 billion and establish another Silicon Valley in Hyderabad? How many people can you take? What is the population of Andhra Pradesh? Eight crores. You think you can develop the state by giving jobs to 6,000 people?'' asks L Hanumantha Reddy, a retired superintending engineer of the Andhra Pradesh State Electircity Board.

''His priorities are more in the realm of advocacy,'' says Professor R V R Chandrasekhara Rao, former vice-chancellor of the of the Commonwealth Open University. ''I never thought he began with a list, sat down, and discussed his priorities. There were some obvious priorities like the consolidation of political power, doing something for the people and doing something about privatisation... The writings on the wall are your private list also. He has never attend to that.''

If his priorites had been tottery, how can the state planning assume a firm direction? ''In the 1960s and 70s the AP planning was very strong. Today it is very weak,'' says V K Srinivasan, former AP additional chief secretary. ''Today some consultant comes and tells you what to do, and you get carried away.''

Statistics would speak more eloquently of the grim situation.

''In the second and third plan five-year plans, the per capita AP plan investment has more than the national average. Since then there has been a decline, and now it has come down enormously,'' says V K Srinivasan who is the honorary director of the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Economics. ''During the second five-year plan, AP's per capita outlay was 52 paisa while the national average was 51. In the third five-year plan (1961-66), AP's outlay was Rs 91 while the national average was Rs 92. In the fifth five-year plan, AP had Rs 236 while the national average was Rs 262... The gap has progressively increased... In the seventh five-year plan, AP had Rs 841 while the national average was Rs 1026. In the eighth five-year plan, AP had Rs 1579 while the national average was Rs 2201.''

But there are other experts who feel that Naidu is on the right track. ''Naidu is giving a direction to the state by blending hi-tech, industry and agriculture,'' says Professor A Prasanna Kumar, retired rector, Andhra University. ''He has always been target-oriented.''

''He is one leader who should be appreciated no matter what your political affiliations are,'' says P Koteshwara Rao, advocate in Bapatla and senior Congress leader. ''Till the 1998 LS poll, his policies were perfect. With his strength in the Lok Sabha coming down to 12 in that election, he had to think of welfare measures. I think he would go back to his liberalisation drive if he wins.''

''Though he did not have a plan, he was initially on the right track with his laudable concept of 'no free lunches','' says Srinivasan. ''But he had soon backtracked.''

''Initially he had good ideas,'' says Anantapur-based L Hanumantha Reddy, a retired superintending engineer of the APSEB. ''He had a good vision. But everyone was hostile. Now everything is topsy-turvy because of the election.''

''He has done whatever he can in the short span of time,'' says D V Subba Rao, former Vishakapatnam mayor who is presently with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

However, Narendra Luther, former Andhra Pradesh chief secretary, strikes a more optimistic note. ''It is good to see that somebody wants to make long-term impact.''

Facts do not seem to justify such optimism. ''He has initiated the effort, but not made the efforts,'' says Narender Surana, past president, Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry. ''Sometimes you feel there is a lot hype. But not much has been done.''

''I feel he has made a major investment on his own publicity,'' says Professor D Narasimha Reddy of the University of Hyderabad. ''For him it is the most useful instrument. He wants the private sector to do the rest of the work... Such is the power of the hype woven around false promises that whatever Naidu says is likely to be carried by the media - and maybe believed by the people... There is so much noise about foreign investment, but nothing much has been done... No other politician has projected himself so well with so little done.''

''The spread of the present communication system is such that one always hears more about people and things than what they really are,'' says Professor R V R Chandrasekhara Rao, former vice-chancellor of the Commonwealth Open University. ''There is always that atisheyokti, that exaggeration. In fact the Western media's praise is also revelatory of its stereotyped compliment to a Third World country and its leader. 'This man from the Third World country is also talking about computers?' You see, it is a back-handed compliment. It is no compliment. They may be patronising, but they do wish well.... So it is very difficult to say whether he has lived up to his reputation.''

''People keep asking me, 'What has he done?' I can't think of one area where there has been good growth,'' says Professor Narasimha Reddy.

Andhra Pradesh's growth rate continues to lag behind the national average (less than five per cent now - but it is better than earlier) and there is little visible sign of burgeoning industrial activity all over the state.

''The state industries department would cut a sorry figure if you ask for details of the new projects that have come to AP. In the last four-five years, no project worth more than Rs 10 billion has been started. Only four-five projects worth more than Rs 1 billion have come our way. This shows the sad state of affairs,'' says Narender Surana, past president, Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry. ''The government has also not done anything to help the local industry to come out of its shell.''

''There is not a single project which I can put my finger on and say this is a foreign project. As for Microsoft, it has pumped in just Rs 1 billion. It is peanuts. Our neighbours like Tamil Nadu have quietly got a couple of mega projects like Ford and Santro,'' says Professor D Narasimha Reddy of the University of Hyderabad. ''But in Andhra Pradesh, not a single rupee has gone into industry.''


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