Tales of expediency

Print edition : January 01, 2010

M. Channa Reddy. He merged the Telangana Praja Samithi with the Congress after the TPS secured a handsome electoral victory in 1971.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

M. Channa Reddy.

THE demand for a separate Telangana state has always been an emotive issue and politicians have frequently used it to their advantage. The regions backwardness, unemployment and absence of development have repeatedly provided a rallying point for ambitious politicians.

The movement of 1969 petered out after Marri Channa Reddy merged the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS) with the Congress after the former won in the 1971 elections all the 16 Lok Sabha seats and the majority of the Assembly seats in the region. Pressure groups within the Congress have frequently used the issue as a springboard to get into the State Cabinet.

In the run-up to the elections in 2004, Congress president Sonia Gandhi wore the Telangana Rashtra Samithis (TRS) pink scarf, indicating a close electoral understanding between the two parties, and promised a separate state of Telangana if the Congress came to power. The seat-sharing between the two parties clearly worked, and the Congress returned to power in the State after over nine years.

The Congress returned to power at the Centre, too, but all that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government did on the Telangana issue was to constitute a subcommittee headed by Pranab Mukherjee. After five and a half years, Mukherjee is still trying to build political consensus on the issue.

Roles were reversed in the 2009 general elections. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which was formed on the plank of Telugu pride, forged an alliance with the TRS, just to get a few more seats. The arrangement did not click and the TRS found itself decimated. The Congress and the TDP must take much of the blame for finding themselves in a situation where they were forced to depend on the TRS to fight elections. If the governments run by these two parties had paid adequate attention to the regions development needs, there would have been no grounds for such strong subregional sentiments to arise.

The TRS, however, is no less opportunistic. Seven years after its formation, it is now debated whether K. Chandrasekhara Rao would have formed the party if he had not been denied a ministerial berth in N. Chandrababu Naidus TDP Cabinet in 2001.

Given this backdrop of opportunistic and competitive politics, Chandrasekhara Raos decision to go on a fast unto death on November 29 was received with scepticism. There were questions on whether he was doing it for the cause of Telangana or to regain lost ground in State politics. Such apprehensions seemed vindicated when he nearly gave up his fast within two days of commencing it, in Khammam sub-jail, before being forced by agitating students of Osmania and Kakatiya universities to continue. As the days passed, television images of a fasting, unshaven, weak but determined Chandrasekhara Rao lying in his hospital bed seemed to whip up enough separatist emotions not only among students but among other sections, though not to the extent witnessed in 1969. It also helped him to salvage some of the credibility he had lost.

But his peaceful deeksha (fasting) led to at least five persons committing suicide and many young students getting injured in police lathicharge in the violence that erupted across 10 districts of Telangana. Some government offices and vehicles, besides Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation buses, were torched.

Police reports suggest that the latest students agitation was being managed by Maoists, the CPI (ML) New Democracy and Janasakthi groups. It has come in handy for Chief Minister K. Rosaiahs detractors in the Congress. TRS leader Nayani Narasimha Reddy and MLA T. Harish Rao, who is a nephew of Chandresekhara Rao, accused former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddys son and Congress MP Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and close aide K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao of bringing men from Rayalaseema to create trouble.

As if confirming the TRS fears, Rosaiah said that the government was aware of antisocial elements taking the agitation into their hands and it was determined to weed them out. Whoever was behind the agitation that ran parallel to Chandrasekhara Raos fast, it clearly pushed the Congress on to the back foot.

It found itself politically isolated as other major Opposition parties the TDP, the TRS, the Praja Rajyam, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) favoured a resolution on Telangana in the Assembly.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), stuck to its stand in favour of an integrated State, while the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen sought time to reveal its position. The Chief Minister rejected the proposal to introduce a resolution, saying it would serve no purpose. With the TRS pressing its demand for a resolution, no business could be transacted in the first three days of the winter session of the Assembly.

The turmoil over the issue brought to the fore the sharp divisions within the Congress. A former Minister, R. Damodar Reddy, who was running a signature campaign seeking a separate Telangana state immediately, almost had an altercation with the partys Chief Whip, M. Bhatti Vikramarka, in the Assembly lobby. Damodar Reddy accused the latter of encouraging Telangana MLAs to shout against Opposition legislators. Of the 52 Congress MLAs from the region, Damodar Reddy could get the signatures of 29 while 11 preferred the group led by another Minister, D. Nagender, who demands a state or Union Territory status for Greater Hyderabad.

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