The paper explores the role of speculation and spectacle in the planning of a new capital city in southern India, ‘Amaravati’. With the loss of the state capital (Hyderabad) to Telangana following the bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh, the government of the residual state formulated an ambitious plan to construct a futuristic, well-planned ‘greenfield’ city on a large stretch of rural land. The modalities of planning, finance and development that have been deployed in this project reflect the transnational circulation of neoliberal urban policies that
have influenced the restructuring of cities across the global South. But the Amaravati plan has also been shaped by an older regional political economy that is dominated by vernacular finance capital and a political class entrenched in a specific class-caste social formation. The paper examines the creation of ‘consent’ for the new city (which will create extensive dislocation and dispossession) through the transformation of local farmers into speculative investors and ‘stakeholders’ in the project, a cultural politics of regional assertion, and the circulation of new social imaginaries that equate the building of Amaravati with the development of the state. Exploring the imagination of modernity that is embodied in the capital plan, it describes the efforts of political leaders to generate public enthusiasm and investor faith by mounting lavish public spectacles and saturating the public visual field and the media with representations of the anticipated future. This case illustrates the complex politics of development in urban mega-projects as they materialize on the ground, as well as the contradictory dynamics of recent changes in urban policies, in post-reform India.