T-day looms large

Pocket borough By announcing a new state, the Congress hopes to win at least 17 MPs in the 2014 polls. Photo: AFP

THE CONGRESS’ decision on Telangana is being awaited with bated breath not just in Andhra Pradesh but even in distant Darjeeling. Leaders in Gorkhaland say that if Telangana becomes a reality, the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state (which is now ruled by the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) will be revived. And taking a cue from Telangana and Gorkhaland, home ministry officials fear, could be movements for a separate Vidarbha and Bodoland.

That is the non-political and clinical assessment of the demand for a separate Telangana state in North Block. But even as the political establishment mulls the contents of the home ministry’s note with these observations, it realises that it cannot divorce itself from the political realities existing on the ground in Andhra Pradesh.

Not just is Telangana an emotional issue for many in the region, the state was also critical to the formation of the UPA in both 2004 and ’09, electing Congress MPs in batches of 29 and 33 respectively. For the past three years, however, the Congress has allowed the situation to get out of hand in the state. And now has come the time to bite the bullet on Telangana. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had set a deadline of 28 January to announce a decision.

Nine years of anti-incumbency, the Telangana imbroglio and the Jagan factor have reduced the Kiran Kumar Reddy government to a lame duck regime. Therefore, it is but natural that its decision on Telangana will be linked to efforts to salvage the situation for the Congress. Because if the party is reduced to single digit MPs in Andhra Pradesh, it will also mean its dreams of forming UPA-3 will go up in smoke.

Those pushing for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh are playing on this fear. Congress MP G Vivek (Pedapalli) argues that the party has a chance to come good in at least 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana by declaring it a separate state.

K Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which has spearheaded the separatist movement, has reportedly assured the Congress of a merger, leading to hopes that the Congress could then ride on the sentiment of a new state.

This argument derives strength from the fact that the Congress is in shambles in the other two regions — Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra ( jointly called Seemandhra). Private surveys have put Jagan’s YSR Congress as the winner in most constituencies in Seemandhra and the Congress as a no-hoper. With Jagan having declared that he will not support a BJP-led regime at the Centre, the UPA could hope to do business with him, if he wins a significant number of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the non-Telangana regions.

While the strategy looks good on paper, the Congress is facing tough opposition from Seemandhra leaders, including the CM. Delegations from the two regions, which met the leadership in New Delhi last week, embarrassed the party when they revealed that the Congress may give Telangana to gain political advantage in the region.

Seemandhra leaders fear water wars and losing their capital, Hyderabad. People from coastal Andhra have huge business interests in and around Hyderabad and say it is unfair that they may have to pack their bags to shift to a new capital.

Interestingly, the Congress is the only party that is vertically divided over the issue now. In December, the TDP gave a letter to Shinde stating it will abide by its position in 2008, when it said it is for a separate Telangana. Taking this stand has helped Chandrababu Naidu gain ground in Telangana and he has not faced much opposition from the common man in the other two regions. Proof that the aam aadmi is only interested in a resolution to the issue, one way or the other.

It isn’t that the Centre has foreclosed all its options. It is also mulling a Gorkhalandtype model to tide over the crisis for the moment. But the question is whether a regional development council and a hefty financial package with a promise to look at the statehood issue afresh post-2014, will keep the state quiet. With elections due next year, Andhra Pradesh looks set for turmoil and troubled times.

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