In a deft move, the Congress has declared that it is in favour of constituting a Telangana state. Apparently, the party expects to outmanoeuvre the TRS, BJP and other political formations and win a good number of seats from the region. Perhaps the Congress strategists have decided that this was the only way of arresting the steep decline the party is likely to suffer in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
The hype that was created around the decision-making process and the announcement were intended to generate as much political mileage as possible for the party. It is almost dressed as though a new state is born; that the Congress has ‘given’ a new state. But in fact, what happened was only a political party unable to make up its mind for years finally stating its position one way or the other on the issue. The only difference between the Congress and the other political parties is that the former is the leader of the ruling coalition. In fact, the 9 December 2009 statement by the then Union home minister, who claimed that he spoke “on behalf of the GoI”, is much more significant than what the CWC said on 30 July.
There has been a vigorous debate on the desirability or otherwise of dividing Andhra Pradesh. There is a body of argument that favours division, which puts forth economic, political, historical, linguistic and cultural reasons. And there is a robust rebuttal of the separatist arguments and claims by those who champion unity and oppose bifurcation. This debate threw up a range of issues. It interrogated the present model of governance; the model of development; the consequences of refusing to decentralise decision-making power; regional disparities that are real and imagined; jobless growth that some of the economic policies engendered; issues of land use; and not the least, the elites using raw emotions based on caste, sub-region and religion in their pursuit of political power and to buttress electoral chances.
However, the Congress (as well as other political formations) strangely refuses to engage in this discourse. Instead, it looked at the whole issue merely as an occasion for electoral betting: how many seats can be won if bifurcation is favoured and how many seats can be gained if bifurcation is rejected. But the party strategists may be in for an unpleasant surprise this time.
They perhaps calculated that they will be able to win a substantial number of seats from the region by announcing that their party is in favour of division. But the 17 seats are going to be a tough battleground with the TRS, BJP and the TDP trying to show themselves as equally committed to the cause. This leaves the Congress as only one among several claimants and may make the outcome uncertain and the gains small. But what the Congress strategists will have to contend with is a certain rout in the much bigger pie of 25 seats in the coastal and Rayalaseema regions. On balance, the party is probably unwittingly trading off an uncertain and small win for a certain and bigger loss. Its desperation to clutch at any straw to see it through the 2014 hustings might really boomerang on it.
There is also a larger question that the Congress has to answer for itself. The party, which played a major role in shaping India since the Republic’s infancy, will have to explain why it chose to depart from the linguistic state, which is the defining principle of the architecture of the country’s polity. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to S Radhakrishnan, endorsing the linguistic framework of reorganising Independent India. Jawaharlal Nehru presided over the redrawing of the country’s political map. Indira Gandhi refused to depart from the linguistic framework and rode the storms in 1969 and 1972 in Andhra Pradesh. As recently as 2011, the CWC ‘unanimously’ resolved to go for another States Reorganisation Commission to look into several demands for new states.
Has the Congress prepared itself consciously to depart from this position and jettison linguistic states? Is it prepared to deal with at least a score of other demands for carving out states? Is it ready to allow pervasive clamour from all over the country, which always may not be peaceful, to consume the country’s political energies for drawing and redrawing state boundaries?
Parakala Prabhakar is a political commentator and Managing Director of RightFOLIO, a Hyderabad based Market Research and Brand Consulting firm