Fighting Fire in Seemandhra

On the rampage Anti-Telangana activists vandalise Rajiv Gandhi’s statue in Kurnool
On the rampage: Anti-Telangana activists vandalise Rajiv Gandhi’s statue in Kurnool. Photo: AP

It was obvious to the Congress high command that granting statehood to Telangana was fraught with perils. As people vented their anger in Seemandhra (the residual part of Andhra Pradesh comprising coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) by calling for bandhs and torching statues of Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, nervous party leaders are hoping the frenzy will die down soon.

The Congress is more worried about holding on to its seven MPs from Seemandhra who are threatening to abandon the party before the Food Security Bill is tabled in Parliament.

Even as Congress MPs from Telangana were celebrating that the party leadership had acquiesced to their longstanding demand for a separate state, seven Lok Sabha MPs and one Rajya Sabha MP hailing from the Andhra region tendered their resignations. More than 25 MLAs also threatened to resign.

However, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy and Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Botsa Satyanarayana pacified the MLAs by presenting a resolution to party general secretary Digvijaya Singh on 5 August. “We have requested the party high command to maintain status quo and avoid bifurcation,” says Satyanarayana. “If Telangana is indeed inevitable, then we want Hyderabad to be a Union Territory or the shared capital.”

When the Congress Working Committee announced its decision on Telangana on 30 July, jittery Union ministers hailing from Seemandhra made a beeline to their constituencies to get a first-hand assessment of the ground situation. They included Union Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju, a four-time MP from Kakinada.

On 2 August, they regrouped in New Delhi and decided to convey the anti-Telangana mood prevalent in the region to the party high command. Despite burning the phone lines, all they could muster was an appointment with Digvijaya Singh.

Armed with their resignations, the delegation of ministers, which also included JD Seelam, D Purandeswari, J Surya Prakash Reddy and Kruparani Killi, met Singh. The meeting lasted for two hours, where they tried to impress upon Singh that they would be committing political suicide if they failed to send a strong signal that they were against the creation of Telangana. The ministers also conveyed that apart from their own future, the party’s fortunes were also at stake in Andhra.

Singh acknowledged that the party leadership was aware of their problems but was adamant that tendering resignations was no solution. Finally, it was decided that Singh will propose to party president Sonia Gandhi the setting up of a high-level committee to look into all the issues and remove imbalances.

This committee, headed by Defence Minister AK Antony, will interact with the leaders of Andhra and Rayalaseema before the new state of Telangana comes up. This move has pacified the ministers, at least for the time being.

The Congress is also planning to cool the simmering anger by announcing special packages, which will include many welfare schemes and a favourable water-sharing agreement.

Congress leaders believe that some resignations are inevitable. “While taking the Telangana decision, the party had taken into account the resignations that will pour in,” says a senior Congress leader, adding that the party leaders will have to work overtime to douse the fire in their constituencies. They believe that the anti- Telangana mood will subside with the passage of time.

Congress insiders claim that the trouble witnessed in the Seemandhra region were in areas that predominantly are strongholds of either the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu or Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. The Congress has little hold in these areas.

Dismissing rumours that some MLAs and MPs are planning to abandon ship and join Jagan’s party, a senior Congress leader from Andhra told Tehelka on the condition of anonymity that the deserters would not be more than three MLAs and two MPs, whereas leaders from other parties might join the Congress.

Five senior YSR Congress leaders from Telangana have already resigned. Konda Surekha, a leader from Warangal, her husband Konda Murali, Balakrishna Reddy, KK Mahendar Reddy, Raj Thakur and Puvvada Ajay Kumar tendered their resignation to party president Vijayamma on 31 July. Rumour has it that they will join either the Congress or the TDP.

“The bifurcation of the state will improve the Congress’ chances in Andhra and Rayalaseema regions,” says Congress MP Madhu Goud, who represents Nizamabad in Telangana. “Some of the MPs who are threatening to quit are the same ones who had earlier signed a letter backing Jagan Reddy as chief minister.”

But YSR Congress leaders beg to differ. “The Congress did not consult any of the parties before deciding to bifurcate the state. It’s only in Telangana that some of our MLA aspirants are leaving. In coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, members of both the TDP and Congress will be joining our party soon, as we have a better winnability factor,” says senior leader DA Somayajulu.

In 2009, despite being an incumbent party, the Congress won 156 of 294 Assembly seats and 29 out of 42 seats in the Lok Sabha. In Telangana, it won 12 seats, whereas the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) managed only one. Much of the Congress’ worries began after the then chief minister late YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s son Jagan started his own party and attracted renegades from the Congress and the TDP. In the subsequent bypolls, Jagan’s party won 17 Assembly seats.

The Congress received a confidence boost from the recent sarpanch elections. Much to the party’s surprise, it topped the tally with 4,342 posts, followed by the TDP (4,275), YSR Congress (2,739) and the TRS (1,117). YSR Congress’ performance was lacklustre in Seemandhra.

The prevalent thinking in the Congress is that the creation of Telangana will prove to be a calculated risk. The first target is to capture all 17 Lok Sabha seats in the new state, including Hyderabad, which is represented by Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.

Even though the TRS is yet to keep its promise of merging with the Congress, once Telangana becomes a reality, the signs remain positive. “We will cross the bridge when we come to it,” says Kavita Rao Kalvakuntla, the daughter of TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao. “Our terms are simple. We are willing to share Hyderabad as the capital for 10 years, not any longer. Hyderabad will be the 10th district of Telangana, and arrangements will be made for the Andhra administration to function from Hyderabad.”

Behind the theatrics, has the Congress actually managed to wriggle itself out of a mess? Whereas it is too premature to draw conclusions or map out the long-term political ramifications, the party does seem to be making all the right moves — pacifying wherever it’s necessary and readying to let go of bad apples.

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