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Chandrababu Naidu’s barrage of criticism amounts to doublespeak on Telangana

Dr Rama Melkote Former professor,OsmaniaUniversity

TELUGU DESAM Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest in Nanded district in Maharashtra on July 16 brings to the fore the theatrics common to parliamentary elections. Naidu and 74 of his partymen were arrested when they were on their way to inspect the Babhli barrage and 14 other controversial projects planned on the River Godavari in Maharashtra. Once the construction of the barrages is complete, Andhra Pradesh, located downstream, will be significantly affected.

The Godavari originates in the Western Ghats in Trimbak near Nashik in Maharashtra, entering Andhra Pradesh at Basar in Adilabad district and eventually flows downstream through the Nizamabad, Khammam, Warangal, East and West Godavari districts. Eighty percent of the catchment area and 70 percent of the cultivable land is in the Telangana region — the rest falls in the plateau region. At one point, the seasonal variation in flow of water in Godavari river used to be 1:12 — an unusually high ratio — and floods and droughts and the subsequent misery to people was common. Construction of canal systems in the delta area by Arthur Cotton, however, tamed the river and helped create immense wealth for Andhra’s farmers. If the Babhli barrage (and 14 other projects) planned on the Godavari river are completed, it will prevent the river water from flowing into Telangana. Andhra Pradesh has already raised the issue and the matter is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

Why then did Naidu choose to enter disputed terrain and “inspect” the Babhli barrage despite the Supreme Court’s direction that the parties concerned can negotiate the matter amongst themselves? Naidu also paid scant attention to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah’s announcement that he would lead an all-party delegation to New Delhi on 23 July to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The answer to that lies in political exigencies.

On 27 July, a dozen seats of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly will go to the polls. At the height of the recent upsurge in the Telangana statehood movement, when K Chandrasekhara Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) undertook a fast, 12 legislators resigned in protest against the Central Government’s delay in announcing the formation of Telangana state. In the run-up to the bye-elections necessitated by the resignations, Naidu, desperate to make an impact in the triangular contest between the TDP, the TRS and the Congress, chanced upon the Babhli barrage. This is his chance, as he sees it, to impress upon the people of Telangana his party’s support for their statehood demand. Both the Congress and the TDP hope to take credit for the formation of Telangana.

Except that even at this juncture, Naidu’s wiliness is clearly on display. There is no open declaration of support for Telangana — just clearly disguised electionspeak as he talks of the hardships they will face if Babhli barrage construction is completed. He is keeping his options open. In the days leading up to the formation of the Krishna Committee, despite immense pressure from his own partymen, Naidu chose to maintain a stoic silence. The TDP, like most political parties in Andhra Pradesh, is vertically divided into pro-Telangana and pro-United Andhra factions.

The TDP, like most parties in Andhra Pradesh, is vertically divided on the Telangana issue

Naidu’s arrest only led to an increase in regional tension. If the idea was to inspect the barrage, why didn’t Naidu accept the Maharashtra government’s offer to escort him and a handful of other TDP members to the spot? If the idea was to highlight the problems faced by people and to express sympathy with their cause, why didn’t Naidu raise the issue of Sompeta before the firing took place, claiming the lives of innocent people?

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