Anything that moves

How Chandrababu Naidu’s new capital Amaravati has turned into a train wreck

A grand project has slid into a morass of superstition, bad taste, the favouring of special interests, and the use of public funds to further all of these.

In December 1994, the late NT Rama Rao returned to power as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh for the third time. His coalition had won an overwhelming victory in the state’s election, taking 250 seats out of 294, with the share of his Telugu Desam Party being 226. The erstwhile ruling party, the Congress, was reduced to a mere 26 seats in the Assembly. Despite the scale of the triumph, NTR was insecure. To ensure he stayed in power, he turned to vaastu shastra. Informed by his vaastu advisor that he was entering the Assembly from the wrong direction, NTR built a new gateway, having a group of shanties demolished and constructing in their place a wide road that approached the premises from the optimum angle. Within weeks, he was ousted by his son-in-law in a palace coup. Within months, he was dead.

NTR’s example did nothing to diminish Hyderabad’s vaastu obsession. K Chandrashekhar Rao, the chief minister of what is now Telangana state, is notoriously vaastu-obsessed. His plan for ensuring a long reign goes much farther than shifting an entranceway or demolishing a small slum: he wants to move the entire Legislative Assembly and Secretariat to a more vaastu-compliant location in Secunderabad known as the Bison Polo Ground. Citizens have protested the boondoggle, but KCR is utterly set on the shift.

The other half of the formerly united Andhra Pradesh has a bigger task at hand than merely moving a couple of buildings. With Hyderabad going to Telangana, Andhra Pradesh has been left without a capital. The man in charge of the rump state is Chandrababu Naidu, the son-in-law who usurped NTR’s throne back in 1995. During his first stint in power, Naidu came to be known as a dynamic, pro-business leader, a forerunner of Narendra Modi without Modi’s bigotry or charisma. His wooing of technology companies induced journalists to rename Hyderabad Cyberabad.

The name of his new capital reaches to the past rather than the future, invoking the ancient Buddhist site of Amaravati. But Naidu has not given up on his commitment to technology. He briefly considered building a city without fuel pumps, where only electric vehicles would ply. He hired a Singapore-based consortium to develop the city’s master-plan. For the government complex, which will house the legislature, High Court and Secretariat, he announced an open competition in which quality rather than budget would be paramount. An unimpeachable committee of experts was tasked with choosing the winners. From a distinguished shortlist, which had the firms of two Pritzker Prize winners and one of India’s greatest living architects BV Doshi, the jury chose the proposal of the Fumihiko Maki-led Maki & Associates. So far, so great. If a new capital was to be built, this was the way to go about it.

For the government complex in Amaravati that would house the Assembly, High Court and Secretariat, Chandrababu Naidu announced an open competition in which quality rather than budget would be paramount. (Credit: Reuters)
For the government complex in Amaravati that would house the Assembly, High Court and Secretariat, Chandrababu Naidu announced an open competition in which quality rather than budget would be paramount. (Credit: Reuters)

Vaastu complications

Then came the hiccups. After the Singapore consortium handed over its plan, it was asked to rework everything based on vaastu principles. The reasoning was that home buyers were likely to have vaastu on their minds, so why not make the buildings east- or north-facing to begin with? It would have helped, of course, to have informed the planners about this detail before they produced their design.

By May 2016, Naidu and his advisors had cooled to Fumihiko Maki’s concept. They wanted a more Indian feel. Indian architects were invited to propose designs for the main buildings, without considering that these might not cohere with the overall plan. Maki & Associates were taken aback, but, as narrated in a scathing letter sent to India’s Council of Architecture and signed by Fumihiko Maki, the firm agreed to taking an Indian collaborator on board. It chose an associate, only to be commanded to work with Hafeez Contractor, though his proposal had apparently been placed last among the Indian entries in the official report, which has not been made public.

In December, Maki & Associates were summarily removed and replaced by Foster and Partners, headed by Lord Foster of Thames Bank, without open tendering or a fresh competition. The new designers of Amaravati were also instructed to work with the Naidu government’s favourite architect, Hafeez Contractor. Contractor is to architecture what paneer manchurian is to cuisine. A love of paneer manchurian or of Hafeez Contractor’s buildings is an unmistakable sign of terrible taste. Even those who dismiss this view as elitist or snobbish will agree that people who adore paneer manchurian ought not to consult the Michelin guide, book a table at Sukiyabashi Jiro, and then complain the food is bland.

That is basically what Naidu and friends did. Then, having left Jiro’s restaurant in Tokyo without paying the bill, they headed to the Ivy in London, and were disappointed it did not serve anything close to paneer manchurian either. The designs produced by Norman Foster’s firm lacked the spice and fusion Naidu sought. Even the forced cohabitation with Hafeez Contractor did not appear to be doing the trick.

Virtual reality?

To help the project get on track, the government of Andhra Pradesh has now brought in the biggest gun of them all, a man who built a capital city that puts in the shade all the work of Pritzker Prize winners like Maki and Foster. I speak, of course, of the incomparable SS Rajamouli, designer of Mahishmati, from where King Baahubali reigned.

All right, I exaggerated a bit. Mahishmati is a CGI fantasy and Rajamouli has never constructed anything in his life. But that does not mean he cannot give Foster and Partners tips on the Indian spirit, does it? I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that London meeting. I’d love to have seen the expressions on the faces of staff at Foster and Partners when they first viewed the virtual mishmash of Khajuraho, Fatehpur Sikri, Chichen Itza and St Peter’s Square that is Mahishmati.

The Amaravati website still shows Maki & Associates as the firm tasked with building the government complex. Not only has it been replaced, its replacement is looking shaky. I would not be surprised if all international input on Amaravati’s government complex is suspended and the entire thing handed over to Contractor and Rajamouli. A grand project that started on the firm ground of transparency, a commitment to instituting the best practices and seeking the best talent, has slid into a morass of superstition, bad taste, the favouring of special interests, and the employment of public funds to further all of these. No surprise, there, it’s all as Indian as paneer manchurian.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.