‘People in Seemandhra feel they have been cheated’

Print edition : August 23, 2013

Botcha Satyanarayana. Photo: K. RAMESH BABU

Interview with Botcha Satyanarayana, APCC president.

Botcha Satyanarayana, Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president and Minister for Transport, had to walk the tightrope trying to assuage the feelings of all regions when a decision on Telangana became inevitable. He hails from the backward Vizianagaram district and favoured a united Andhra Pradesh but maintained that he would abide by the decision of the Congress high command. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

After the decision on a separate Telangana State, it appears that AICC president Sonia Gandhi is in favour of smaller States.

The Congress party’s decision in favour of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to create Telangana with 10 districts cannot be linked to other demands. It is a demand pending for the last five decades.

When a separate Andhra State was carved out of Madras Presidency in 1953 on a linguistic basis, there was a demand for a separate Telangana State comprising the Telugu-speaking areas of Hyderabad State.

The Congress wanted to settle the statehood issue once and for all. Ms. [Sonia] Gandhi is not for smaller States and Telangana was an exception. For the last 10 years, the Telangana demand stalled the economic growth of Andhra Pradesh.

There seems to be some inconsistency in your stand on Telangana.

There is no inconsistency in my stand. First, I said there was nothing wrong in having two Telugu-speaking States. As the head of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, when the aspiration of the people of the region was brought to my notice, I responded as the head of a family. When a decision on bifurcation is taken, there will be heartburning. As the party president, I apprised the high command of the concerns of the two sides and it took a decision.

There is a perception that the Congress decided in favour of Telangana for reasons of political expediency.

It is wrong to say that the decision was taken with an eye on political benefit. We may win five or six seats by taking this decision, but it should be noted that the Telangana demand is five decades old. In 1998, a Telangana Regional Congress Coordination Committee was constituted and 40 MLAs petitioned the high command demanding Telangana.

It was included in the 2004 election manifesto and the then Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, made a statement in the Assembly in February 2009 that the Congress was not against the formation of a separate Telangana State but wanted the concerns of all stakeholders to be addressed. During the election campaign in Andhra Pradesh, Ms. Sonia Gandhi said her party was not against the creation of Telangana.

It is a painful decision, which is not to the liking of the Seemandhra people. Now that the Congress has come forward to create Telangana, we have to think how to proceed further.

What should be done to reassure the people of Seemandhra, particularly those settled in Hyderabad, once a separate Telangana becomes a reality?

The main focus now has to be the safety and security of the people of Seemandhra who have made Hyderabad their home. The Union government has to address the three major issues—water-sharing, revenue-sharing and Hyderabad city—once the process of division begins.

Lakhs of people got jobs and made Hyderabad their home in the last 56 years and successive governments have developed the Twin Cities as a super economic power hub. Hyderabad has 70 per cent of the State’s manufacturing sector and 95 per cent of its software business. Even the Central government selected Hyderabad and its surrounding areas for establishing public sector undertakings [PSUs]. In other States, PSUs were established in backward areas. For example, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited set up its unit in Hyderabad, while the Odisha government preferred to have it in the tribal area of Koraput. Similarly, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited’s plant came up on the outskirts of Hyderabad, but its other units came up in Haridwar [Uttarakhand] and Tiruchi [Tamil Nadu] [which are smaller towns].

There are serious apprehensions about the lower riparian State facing problems in sharing water from the Godavari and the Krishna.

It is a genuine concern as upper riparian States refuse to release the allocated water to the tail-end States. The concerns can be addressed by following the formula enunciated by the Bachawat Committee. Seemandhra has to be assured of the same quantum of water even after bifurcation. It is important to constitute an inter-State judicial body headed by a High Court judge to oversee the release of water in the proportion allocated from each project.

How will a national project status to Polavaram help Andhra Pradesh?

It will benefit Andhra Pradesh in many ways as it gets complete Central funding, and the inter-State disputes will be tackled by the Central government.

What about the new capital for Andhra Pradesh once the 10-year period of Hyderabad being the joint capital ends?

The question of where the new capital will come up is not necessary at this juncture. Consequent to division, the Centre should allocate special funds to develop the new capital. The Centre has to ensure that the necessary infrastructure, like a new international airport, software parks and industrial townships and Navaratna units, comes up in Andhra Pradesh and in the vicinity of the new capital. It is the duty of the Central government to establish premier educational institutions like IITs, IIMs, a National School of Law, a Central university and other institutions of higher learning in the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.

What are the Congress’ prospects in Seemandhra after the bifurcation?

Everyone in Seemandhra is unhappy and feel they have been cheated. The decision will benefit one region but will become counter-productive in the other. It may help the Congress to win 15 or 16 seats in Telangana, but we have to see what happens in the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.