Monday, February 15, 2016

Burning Air Miles to wee High and Mighty ...... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ February 14, 2016

Burning Air Miles to Woo High and Mighty, Naidu Shrinks His Political Share at Home

Naidu with Yoshiro Tanaka, chairman of Mayekawa Manufacturing Ltd 
Naidu with Yoshiro Tanaka, chairman of Mayekawa Manufacturing Ltd 
A vassal with a vessel has become PM Narendra Modi’s man at alms. Of the five southern CMs, Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu is perhaps the most mobile and visible political chief executive of any state. He is in New Delhi almost every month, either to seek special status for his state or special packages from Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. After NDA II came in, he has visited the capital 23 times and spent 27 days—the highest number of days any CM has spent in the capital. Naidu is on the prowl. Going by his mobility, both in India and abroad, he is spreading his carbon footprint far and wide. And he is quite proud of it. He thinks burning air miles is the most effective way of making his state globally known. A few months after taking over as chief minister in June 2014, Naidu asserted, “Our state needs proper marketing and I have done that for Hyderabad in the past. Now I will do it for Andhra Pradesh. Every two or three months, I will visit a foreign country.” Even after 20 months in office, his Market Andhra mission is still to deliver dividends. Naidu’s office is always seeking new destinations at home and overseas for him to visit and organise road shows to attract investment. So far, he has visited five countries over seven visits and has spent 29 days trying to convince global investors and MNCs to put their money where his mouth is.

The Andhra leader’s current woes stem from the steadily declining financial position of his state. According to reports, Andhra Pradesh’s first budget after the division of the state revealed a revenue deficit of `60.6 billion for 2014-15. It got worse during the second budget, when the revenue deficit saw a substantial upward revision to `142.4 billion because revenue generation had declined by 9 per cent. Even now the state cannot meet 25 per cent of its capital expenditure. The chief minister, however, is obsessed with the construction of new capital Amravati. Naidu expects that he would showcase his expertise in creating modern cities by making Amravati one of the world’s state-of-the-art metropolises. He had earned global laurels by making Hyderabad one of the most attractive IT cities of India when the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was part of NDA I. Despite his love for technology, Naidu was mauled in the state elections and remained out of power for over a decade.

But the Andhra apothecary of financial ailments hasn’t given up his obsession with foreign investments and chasing glamorous infrastructure ideas, when instead he should be focusing on deliving basic amenities to the majority of the five crore denizens of his state. For the past 19 months, he has been spending more time with foreign or Indian corporate leaders to set up new projects in a state, which is not showing any significant rise in demand. During his trips abroad or to New Delhi, Naidu has been parroting the same demands to potential investors and political leaders. For example, he has visited Singapore twice. In November 2014, he spent three days inspecting wastewater treatment systems and studying the Singapore Model for the development of a new capital for Andhra. He was back there in September 2015 to discuss details for the development of Amravati and invite Singaporean PM for the inauguration function to be held weeks later.
A similar story unfolded during his two visits to Japan. He flew to Tokyo first in November 2014 for a five-day trip. He signed four important agreements with Sumitomo and persuaded Isuzu to show some interest in investing in Andhra Pradesh. He was back in Japan nine months later to convince them all over again to set up new plants or at least open offices in his state. Being comfortable in the company of corporate honchos, Naidu is one of the few CMs who are conspicuous by their presence at the World Economic Forum—an annual rendezvous for the world’s rich and mighty who go to Davos to make merry and network at lavish dinner parties than do any serious business. Naidu was present in 2015 and 2016, and confabulated with numerous MNCs in a specially created meeting hall where officials from his state made hi-tech presentations. It’s true that Naidu seems to be dead serious about what he is doing, but so far, he is yet to make public the outcome of his foreign forays. This has forced even his party leaders and opposition to question his opulent style, while pillorying him for neglecting the state’s drought-affected areas.

Even his capability to influence Modi is under scrutiny. Two decades ago, Naidu was the kingmaker. In 1996, he played a key role in making both HD Deve Gowda and I K Gujral Prime Ministers. He could gain any concessions for his state from the Centre. But this time, he has hardly succeeded in getting a special financial package or status for his state. Two weeks ago, he was in Delhi to persuade Modi to grant Andhra special status—a demand made twice earlier. Naidu has adopted any excuse to get a boarding pass to Delhi, whether to hold meetings with medical equipment manufacturers, to invite PM Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and other Union ministers to attend Amaravati’s foundation stone-laying ceremony or to meet numerous ministers to get various pending projects off the tarmac. None of the other non-BJP chief ministers such as Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav or Jayalalithaa are seen in New Delhi chasing Modi’s ministers.

Many TDP leaders in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are unhappy over Naidu’s excessive periods of absence from state politics. Some are even deserting the party. After being routed in the recent Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, the TDP is now facing an exodus of MLAs and the threat of being reduced to a non-entity in Telangana. Last week, the TDP legislator from Quthbullapur, A P Vivekananda Goud, joined the ruling TRS and claimed more desertions would follow. The TDP won 16 Assembly seats in 2014. About half the legislators have left the party. If Naidu’s party is on the verge of extinction in Telangana, it is also confronted with massive disenchantment in Andhra Pradesh. Most party leaders, including MLAs, have been unable to meet the CM for a long time. Naidu’s over-emphasis on urban development at the cost of ignoring rural areas and small towns has provided ammo to his foe KCR to create an adverse political atmosphere against the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. Naidu’s future lies more in making his state a viable, stable and healthy entity than creating isolated oases of affluence. By flying high at state expense to woo the high-end audiences, he is shrinking his share in the local political marketplace to a shadow of what it was.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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