The word referendum has a huge implication beyond Andhra Pradesh, and the Central government won’t hanker for it fondly.
Even though accusations of vendetta and a visceral tendency to undo everything by his predecessor government abound against the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Andhra Pradesh government, all democratically-inclined citizens must rise above partisan sparring to welcome the now near-certain exit from Amaravati as a capital city.
The loss of Hyderabad as a capital post bifurcation was never going to be easy for either the people or leadership of the truncated AP state to accept, despite the minor consolation of having the metropolis as a common capital for a decade.
But the decision of TDP boss N. Chandrababu Naidu to leave Hyderabad, after being exposed in the infamous cash-for-votes scandal, showing the murky underbelly of realpolitik across parties, and, with allegations of phone-tapping, entrapment, as well as bribing of legislators, leaving little scope for trust or rapprochement between the two chief ministerial counterparts, was not enough justification to seek to build a Rome in a single term.
Despite advice from politicians, analysts, economists, environmentalists, and official commission recommendations, a pertinacious Chandrababu Naidu would heed no counsel, save his own personal need to assert a myth that he was destined to build two great capital cities in his lifetime. The vain hope it would prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy came unstuck; far from being hailed as a visionary who built Amaravati, a great modern city, people who held his contribution in carving Cyberabad as a modern marvel, and a truism of what a single leader can do, began to have doubts, and started to dissect spin from reality; concluding that his role in making Hyderabad a great modern city was lesser than he claimed.
The moment elections results ushered in Mr Reddy as next leader of Andhra Pradesh, it was abundantly clear to most people that the city of Amaravati was bound to die before it was fully born. Given the economic, ecological and social costs involved, it was never worth it. Little wonder that Mr Reddy set about into motion several steps to indicate he would abandon the grand plan for a capital and distribute government assets and offices — a great move in our times.
However, much as it is welcome as an end, the means and manner Mr Reddy wishes to adopt, seeking a popular referendum, possibly to avert any allegations of having being led by political one-upmanship in making this decision, are fraught with risk. In the history of Independent India, no government has resorted to referendum as a tool for taking decisions. Elections, marked by manifestos, debates and public discussions, are considered abundant as a method to gauging, influencing and creating public opinion on issues.
The word referendum has a huge implication beyond Andhra Pradesh, and the Central government won’t hanker for it fondly. Mr Reddy is convinced he is doing the right thing, and has public support for it. Let him go for it and not get caught in the optics and drama of conducting a popular referendum.