Why do you obstruct every process to move forward on Telangana?
We are not obstructing it. Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi has already said the meeting will go ahead. See, I’m the leader of a great emotional moment; I have to maintain the wavelength of the people; I have to keep pace; I cannot go against the wishes of the Telangana people.
Why have you refused to attend the meeting in Delhi on Telangana?
They are not going to reach any decision there. P Chidambaram had called a similar meeting last year in which he invited two representatives from each party. I had objected then itself that one party should send one representative and voice one opinion. He said there was no consensus and he was appointing the Srikrishna Committee as a resolution mechanism. We made submissions to the committee, which has now given its report to the Centre. Now it is up to the Centre to deliver on their promise. Instead, it has invited two representatives from each party, one each from Telangana and coastal Andhra. This shows they want to dodge the issue, confuse it. Again the same story will get repeated, again they will say we cannot arrive at a consensus. There is no point in attending that meeting.
Our experience with smaller states has been disastrous. What makes you think Telangana will be any different?
Who says the experience is disastrous? Compare the economies of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh with those of the states from which they split. Their growth rates are much higher. Chhattisgarh is growing faster than Madhya Pradesh. The experience is good, the people are happy. Telangana was an independent state from 1948 to 1956. I find it quite funny when people say it will be a small state. It will be bigger than 17 existing states of India. It is larger than West Bengal in land area. It has more MPs than Punjab or Haryana. And we argue that India should create at least a dozen smaller states.
Data suggests Telangana is better off on economic indicators than coastal Andhra. Why do you want to separate?
Let me tell you something surprising. It is not that Telangana is poor or backward. Look at the revenue of Andhra Pradesh. Commercial taxes collected in the state are to the tune of Rs 24,000 crore — from one single department. Out of this, Rs 16,000 crore comes from Telangana. When it was an state in itself, Telangana was a surplus state. And it will be a surplus state. Our complaint is that it is our money, but others are benefitting from it. We want self-respect and self-rule; nothing in the world can substitute self-respect and self-rule.
Does not the Telangana region have inequalities itself?
Nothing like that. Revenues collected from Telangana will be spent on all of Telangana.
Telangana has been a hotbed of the Maoist insurgency. You haven’t said anything about how you want to tackle it.
Says who? Telangana experienced Naxalism for three decades. But it is a forgotten story here. If at all there is Naxalism, it is along the Andhra-Odisha border. There is no more Naxalism in Telangana. There have been no Naxal incidents in the past five to six years. We will grab the Maoist agenda – their concern for the poor, for giving land to the poor – and implement it.
Are you doing all this to become the CM of the new state?
This is rubbish. I’ve said it not less than a thousand times that the first Telangana CM will be a Dalit. We have not zeroed in on a name right now, but there are so many leaders. When the occasion comes, we will evolve a consensus on a Dalit CM. The Telangana society is in such a mood that nobody can rule here unless they bring us statehood. It is ultimately a political decision. Let wisdom prevail on the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi that they deliver on the promise they made to the people of Telangana.
It is the Congress that stands between you and statehood. Yet you have offered to merge the TRS with the Congress. Why?
That was before the 2009 general elections. I have not offered to merge TRS with the Congress recently, and the stories in the media about my offer were distortions. I have denied these reports, but my denial was not carried prominently in the national media. But the local media reported it. It is only the confused mindset of the Congress leadership that prevents Telangana from getting statehood. One or two Congress MPs spoke publicly in Hyderabad, promising that if Telangana is delivered and a Bill to that effect is not introduced in the Budget session of Parliament, they will quit their posts and join our movement. That’s the mood of the elected representatives.
Will we see violent protests in the month ahead?
We have several organisations working for statehood. It is an emotional issue; there are a lot of young people associated with them. It is difficult to say what happens. Telangana’s people are not going to rest till we get what we demand.