As KCR pursues a deal with the Congress, the Telangana Joint Action Committee is all set to reignite the statehood agitation with yet another million-man march, reports TS Sudhir
THE SAFETY pin clumsily tucked on Shekhar’s torn pant failed to do what it was meant to. The tear was too big. The 14-year-old spoke in a low monotone about the night last November when his father Bangaru Mallaiah, a farmer, hanged himself in the courtyard, his spirit broken by the burden of debt. Just that evening, humiliated by debtors, Mallaiah had gone to the local market in Mahbubnagar’s Bijenepally village, accompanied by his son, to sell one of the last assets owned by the family — the goats.
“Will you become a farmer to work on the two acres your father has left behind?” TEHELKA asked him. “No, I don’t want to. Even if I did, without water, my fate will become like my father,” he said in a resigned tone. “So, what will you do? Study and get a job?” TEHELKA persisted. “Even that can happen only after Telangana happens,” he said. Suddenly his tone was a little more resolute, as though a little fire of hope had ignited within this boy, no more a child and not yet a man.
“Telangana will mean jobs for people like me. Only when we are a separate state will employment opportunities be possible. And our farms will get water.” His voice had assumed a confidence, he was now looking at me in the eye, as he parroted the rhetoric about the advantages a Telangana state would bring, the kind one has heard so many times at political meetings.
The Telangana movement has hinged on the selling of this dream of hope and change. Political leaders and other votaries have worked systematically to build up a momentum in the belief that “We can, we will, we must.” That has had a trickle-down effect. And it is people like Shekhar that Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) Chairman M Kodandaram is banking on to give the agitation that much-needed lungpower and strength in numbers. The TJAC aims to rattle the governments in Hyderabad and New Delhi by getting Telanganites by the lakhs to troop into the state capital on 30 September as part of a Telangana march. Along with the students, the TJAC’s main core is the 4 lakh-strong members of 60 different employees organisations and cadres of the political parties.
TRS and BJP are part of the chorus who want to convert Hyderabad into a Tahrir Square on 30 September
“We feel the Hyderabad march will be an effective way to mount pressure to take a decision on Telangana. Everyone is expecting a positive statement from the Centre but I’m not so sure. Because nothing less than Telangana with Hyderabad as its capital would be positive for us,” says Kodandaram.
The state government looks at the march with apprehension. And understandably so. In 2011, a similar millionman march turned violent with activists vandalising statues of non-Telangana heroes erected on Tank Bund abutting the Hussainsagar lake in Hyderabad.
Pro-Telangana parties like the TRS and the BJP are already part of the chorus who want to convert Hyderabad into a Tahrir Square on 30 September. A sight that will embarrass the government as the prestigious biodiversity conference is slated to begin the next day, with over 8,000 delegates from 193 countries in attendance. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy’s plea to defer the march to after the 19-day conference has been rejected.
But if the TRS blows hot in Hyderabad, it is cold like the approaching Delhi winter in the national capital. For the past three weeks, K Chandrashekar Rao has been camping in Delhi, engaged in talks with Sonia Gandhi’s interlocutors, Vayalar Ravi and Ghulam Nabi Azad. TRS leaders explain only a political dialogue can achieve Telangana and therefore, while they will be in agitation mode on the ground, they will also engage in talks to convince the Congress leadership.
‘If the agitation fails, it may result in the movement slipping into violent hands,’ warns Kodandaram
LAST YEAR, when the Sakkala Janula Samme (non-cooperation movement, wherein government employees throughout the region struck work) had crippled the state for 42 days, a Telangana delegation led by Rao, which met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was told that a decision on such a contentious issue cannot be arrived at in a pressure-cooker atmosphere, holding out hope that if things cooled down, a positive outcome was possible.
Since then, the TRS has taken its foot off the accelerator and done pretty much nothing except announce dates by when Telangana state would be a reality. “When nothing happens on the date announced by Rao, he invites ridicule, but what he manages to do is to constantly raise hope among the people that Telangana could happen any moment. It is a clever political strategy because it will be easy for him to reignite passions whenever he wants to,” says Prof K Nageshwar, a political analyst.
This time in Delhi, Rao told the Congress leaders that a positive decision on Telangana would be politically beneficial to the Congress, given the precarious state it is in. In return, the TRS says it is “open to working with the Congress in whatever form”.
Senior TRS leaders, who are privy to the discussions but did not wish to be quoted, however cry shy the moment the word ‘merger’ is mentioned. “It is extremely far-fetched and hypothetical to talk of a merger now. But we are willing for any kind of association with the Congress if Telangana becomes a reality,” says a senior TRS leader.
The stumbling block apparently is the trust deficit between Rao and the Congress. A Congress MP from Telangana told TEHELKA that while Rao promises to merge with the Congress once Telangana becomes a reality, the Congress does not trust him to keep his word. Likewise, Rao does not trust the Congress to deliver Telangana once he merges his TRS with the party. In this pehle aap pehle aap scenario, Telangana remains on the backburner.
For the Congress, Andhra Pradesh, which returned 29 MPs in 2004 and 33 MPs five years later, is critical if UPA-3 is to take birth. Surveys have indicated that the Reddy- Muslim-Dalit vote, which has been the backbone of the Congress over several elections, is moving to Jaganmohan Reddy in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. It is the Congress desperation that Rao is banking on for Telangana to become a reality. Grant statehood and reap its electoral benefits in the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, is the dream Rao is selling the Congress. He has also conveyed that it could become a nightmare for the Congress if it does not play ball because then the TRS will benefit, milking the Telangana sentiment.
HOWEVER, NOT everyone agrees with Rao’s tall claims. Congress leaders say Rao’s position is weaker than what it was a year ago, which is why he is keen to seal a deal while he is still seen as a spokesman for the region. They point out that ever since the BJP promised Telangana within three months of coming to power, the talk in the urban pockets is veering towards strategically voting for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP has been on a high ever since it upset the TRS in an Assembly bypoll in March in Mahbubnagar, a Lok Sabha constituency represented by Rao.
Two, the TRS gains its strength mainly from the districts of Warangal, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad. Move towards Hyderabad and adjoining districts and the TRSwould be tested in at least half-a-dozen Lok Sabha seats.
Travel 160 km out of Hyderabad to Karimnagar, ground zero of the movement, and you can feel the restlessness creeping in among the people. Their immediate problem is the six hours of official power cut in Karimnagar town and 12 hours in the rural parts. “Yes, we want Telangana. But we also want a government that can give us adequate power. Perhaps someone like Chandrababu Naidu, who is a good administrator. But only if he says yes to Telangana,” says Ravindra Naik, a cloth merchant in Karimnagar.
Both the Congress and Naidu find themselves in the same boat, vis-a-vis Telangana. The inability to take a stand because the fear that they will lose out politically in the other regions is very real. Naidu’s TDP has not won a single bypoll since 2009 and with his back to the wall, he is seriously contemplating articulating that he is not opposed to Telangana, if he can contain the damage in Seemandhra.
In the past decade that Rao has been spearheading the movement, “Ek aur dhakka, Telangana pucca” (one more push and Telangana will be formed) has been one of his favourite slogans. But his spirited calls have only proved Isaac Newton’s third law of physics right. That for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. People from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions have opposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh tooth and nail.
TRS leaders claim that the Congress has, in principle, decided to make Telangana India’s newest state but is unsure how to contain the political fallout in the other two regions. The Congress would have to ensure its sitting MPs from coastal Andhra, most of who are moneybags, do not veer towards Jagan and reduce the party to a political zero in the rest of the state. Who gets Hyderabad and whether there will be fissures between people from different regions in the city is another delicate issue.
However, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi believes the real war will be over division of water given that both the major rivers, Krishna and Godavari, enter present-day Andhra Pradesh through Telangana. Owaisi also cautions the Congress about the danger of handing over Telangana on a platter.
“If Telangana is formed, the real beneficiary will be the BJP over a period of time and the possibility of the state being communally tense is very much there,” he says. This could be another factor that could weigh on the Congress mind before it takes this important decision.
WORRIED ABOUT Rao’s presence in New Delhi, the Seemandhra lobby is also mounting pressure on the Congress leadership not to change status quo. Vijayawada MP L Rajagopal, one of the most vocal votaries of united Andhra Pradesh, points out that if Telangana is made a state, it will be cited as a precedent in many other regions demanding statehood.
What raises the hackles of the Telangana leaders also is that while Rao has not been granted an audience by Sonia Gandhi, she met Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan. The former police officer is not seen as someone in favour of dividing the state and has often been accused by Telangana leaders, both Congress and non- Congress, of colouring his official reports with a personal bias.
Narasimhan’s inputs are seen as the reason why Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde publicly expressed fears that a Telangana state bordering Maoist-infested Chhattisgarh could offer the outlawed outfit a free run. Particularly since north Telangana was once a Maoist den and even today, the top leadership of the CPI(Maoist) is filled with men from Karimnagar. And the Maoists have also for long articulated in favour of Telangana.
Kodandaram says if the Telangana agitation — which has remained largely peaceful — does not succeed, it will raise a serious question mark over whether Gandhian methods work in the 21st century. “If it fails, it will be the failure of the political system. And it may also result in the movement slipping into violent hands,” he warns.
The Congress may convene an all-party meeting even as a Congress MP from Telangana, suspicious of Rao’s real intentions, says, “After September, his strategy will be to blame the Congress and strengthen himself in the bargain.”
In tennis parlance, at this stage of the match, it is neither love-all nor Advantage Telangana. And to say “Aal izz well” will not work for the Congress.