As Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu sets the State on a course of building a new capital, Amaravati, failure is not an option for him. He has no alibis lined up. He has declared a 2018 deadline for the completion of the first phase of the project. By that time he expects the State to have its own Secretariat, Legislature, High Court and other core administrative centres. It is notable that 2018 is the year before the next election. This is an implicit, but bold, declaration that the Chief Minister will seek a renewal of his mandate on the strength of his success in building the capital. If Amaravati fails, Mr. Naidu could well fade into history – albeit as an astute trier – because he has staked his all on it. But there is an important proviso to consider here: Amaravati will not be judged merely for the building of it; it will be judged a success only if it works for the people of Andhra Pradesh. It should bring jobs for its youth, power the economy of the entire State, and help the displaced farmers and workers find new livelihoods.
Indeed, that is Mr. Naidu’s vision. He has a nuanced understanding of the mandate given to him against all expectations in 2014 in an election in the throes of the bifurcation. He thinks he has been brought in to build a powerful urban economic hub that will pull the State out of its excessive dependence on agriculture. He thinks his task is to give the State a tall city that commands the eastern sea coast and speaks the language of commerce to the great capitals of East Asia and South-East Asia. He thinks he is the man for it, and that the people look to him because he has had experience in such endeavours. If the people wanted to keep residuary Andhra Pradesh as it is – pastoral and provincial – why would they have him? Some analysts think Mr. Naidu in his second stint as Chief Minister is a chastened man, having been humbled earlier by rural voters despite his success in building the Cyberabad quarter of Hyderabad. He is wiser, certainly, but not necessarily chastened. In fact, his commitment to Amaravati is even more fierce, but tempered by the realisation that a city is not just the sum of the economic operations within it but of the opportunities it transmits to all corners of the State. The Amaravati foundation-laying ceremony on October 22 is Mr. Naidu’s first step into the waters. In the days ahead he will no doubt encounter challenges in the form of distressed farmers in drought-hit pockets, displaced workers in the capital region, and dissatisfied youth in Rayalaseema. But Mr. Naidu believes he can ford the river this time.