T S Sudhir on why the Congress needs to make quick political moves on the Telangana chessboard
In September-October 2011, government employees in Telangana struck work for 42 days. It was an intense protest, which led to the stoppage of coal production affecting power supply in many other states, brought the administrative process to a grinding halt and even raised a stink in Hyderabad after municipal workers refused to clear garbage. More than 60 years after he passed away, the Mahatma’s time-tested Gandhian weapon of non-cooperation was still working well. But at the end of six weeks, the leaders of the movement squandered away the advantage by calling the strike off, without achieving anything in return.
A year later, they tried to make up for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by playing a T20-like protest march in Hyderabad on Sunday, 30 September. A show of strength it was—one that said the Telangana sentiment was alive and kicking. But if they expected the government to quake in its boots at the sight of 50,000 protestors (according to police estimates), they should know the shorter slam-bang version is never quite like the real thing.
But Sunday’s event held several pointers to the future of the movement. One was the presence of hardliners from the ultra left, lending a more shrill and aggressive tone to the discourse. The Hyderabad police chief confirmed that he had inputs that suggested a Maoist hand in the acts of violence that saw media vehicles being torched and restaurants and a railway station being vandalised. Intelligence sources said there was a definite plot to attack the Raj Bhavan, shopping malls and houses of coastal Andhra Congress leaders, which is why the police had to restrict the numbers trooping into Necklace Road.
What was also very evident was the distancing of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leadership from the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC). The TRS has been spearheading the movement for the last decade and made sure its cadre was present in large numbers on Necklace Road, but the pink party is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of others hijacking what it sees as its property.
“Yes, there was a communication gap, we weren’t informed of the decision to sit beyond the permitted time of 7 pm and we left the venue. Also we were uncomfortable with the violence that took place. And most importantly, we were certainly not happy with the manner in which KCR’s efforts in Delhi were sought to be undermined. Ultimately, the Bill on Telangana has to be passed in Parliament and therefore engaging with Delhi is equally important,” says K T Rama Rao, TRS MLA and KCR’s son.
The TRS insists it is very close to clinching the issue in Delhi. But there are many in the TJAC, which is the umbrella organisation of pro-Telangana political parties, and 60 employees’ organisations, who feel that unless there is pressure on the ground, Delhi will not care. In a sense, being seen as acting is also critical to the TJAC’s survival as it is by definition an `action’ committee. In contrast, the TRS has a long-term strategy of gaining strength and power, politically.
While neither the TRS nor the TJAC can survive without each other, KCR’s absence in Hyderabad on Sunday has only given credence to a whisper campaign against him—that he is trying to strike a deal with the Congress that would only benefit him. “KCR should have been more transparent. He should have participated in Sunday’s event as it would have enhanced his image. Leaders of the TJAC cannot emerge as alternate leaders of the movement because the committee is more of a facilitator,” says K Nageshwar, political analyst.
What Sunday’s march essentially established was that the Telangana sentiment cannot be ignored by the political class and that it could be harvested in the form of votes at election time, provided the leaders played their cards right. The worst affected would be the Congress whose procrastination on the issue will cost it very dear in the elections. Telangana leaders’ attempts to tell its high command that Congress ka haath needs to be with Telangana’s aam aadmi, have met with no success so far.