THE United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre finally devised a means, democratic consultations, to pull Andhra Pradesh out of the political, economic and administrative morass it fell into following the hasty announcement of statehood for the Telangana region on December 9.
On January 5, it convened a meeting of the leaders of eight recognised political parties from the State with Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram to deliberate on the mechanism to devise a road map for the long-overdue consultations. Although the State will remain on ventilator until the air on Telangana is cleared, the Centres prescription has helped ease the month-long tensions caused by bandhs, agitations and acts of violence.
The two most important political players, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), both deeply divided along regional lines, have agreed to hold further political consultations to try and resolve the contentious issue within a reasonable time frame.
We are trying to help the political parties of Andhra Pradesh to find the answer to the issues of the State. We are here to help, Chidambaram declared, rather condescendingly, at the conclusion of his discussions with the representatives.
The political parties faulted the Home Minister on two counts: It was the Centre that committed a blunder by announcing, without holding any consultations, that it was initiating the process of forming a new State. Having created the problem, it now wanted the parties in Andhra Pradesh to resolve it by talking among themselves. This is a tall order given the maximalist position every single party has taken. Both the Congress and the TDP are racked by internal contradictions that triggered en masse resignations of Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly from both Telangana and Andhra regions.
They maintained this position at the January 5 meeting. The Congress and TDP leaders from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema remained united in their stand against the bifurcation of the State while those from Telangana insisted on a separate State. Understandably, these leaders can alter their positions only at considerable risk to their political careers.
Incendiary speeches by Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K. Chandrasekhara Rao has provoked people, particularly students, in his region, while Robin Hood-style capers by Lagadapati Rajagopal, the Congress Member of Parliament from Vijayawada, in pulling the wool over the eyes of the police and escaping from their custody have contributed to vitiating the atmosphere in the coastal Andhra region.
Animosities ran so high in the State that P. Ravi, a member of the Joint Action Committee of Telangana Students, stated: Nearly 30 lakh people from Rayalaseema and Andhra will leave Hyderabad for Sankranthi [festival]. But those who obstruct the Telangana agitation will not be allowed to come [back]. In other places walls were built across roads and rail tracks, reminiscent of the Berlin Wall mindset.
For one month, the State resounded with agitations and counter-agitations. If activists in Telangana burnt buses, those in Andhra and Rayalaseema retorted with similar acts of violence. If trains were obstructed, shops forced to shut down or stoned and unwilling businessman browbeaten into submission in one region, people in the other regions enacted the same methods of agitation. The State-owned A.P. State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) suffered huge operational losses and its buses extensive damage. The net result of this wanton destruction was a steep hike in bus fares. This is only the first in a series of back-breaking taxes and tariffs that the people will have to bear for the month-long indulgences of the political parties and their supporters.
N. Chandrababu Naidu, TDP president, views the entire political drama as an example of cutting ones nose to spite the face. The script, he told Frontline, was written by the Congress to prevent him from filling the political vacuum caused by the death of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy on September 2, 2009.
Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, Rajasekhara Reddys son and Congress MP, shares a similar perception. His supporters view the December 9 announcement as part of a game plan of the Congress leadership to render him politically irrelevant by striking a deal with Chandrasekhara Rao.
During the agitation, Chandrababu Naidu maintained a strategic silence for nearly one month even though 92 MLAs belonging to the TDP staged hunger strikes and public demonstrations either in favour of or against a separate Telangana. When the Congress party at the Centre does not state its position and Sonia Gandhi refuses to say a word, why should I jeopardise my partys future by supporting either Telangana or a united Andhra Pradesh? he says.
Chidambaram is not flapped by this argument. At the all-party meeting in New Delhi, he reminded the TDP representative from the Andhra region, Y. Ramakrishnudu, that his party had on December 7 forcefully expressed itself in favour of introducing a resolution on Telangana in the Assembly.
In a statement on December 23, made expressly to cool the embers of the agitation, Chidambaram had said that it was the altered situation caused by the volte-face by political parties such as the Congress, the TDP and actor Chiranjeevis Praja Rajyam that the Centre wanted to hold wide-ranging consultations.
However sound technically Chidambaram appeared and whatever documents he produced in support of his argument, he betrayed the truth that the Centre had no knowledge of the ground realities. Chief Minister K. Rosaiah understands these realities very well. But the Congress leadership in New Delhi gave an impression that his views mattered little.
Reality number one is that like the Congress Chief Ministers, Chandrababu Naidu also did not want a partitioning of the State. The modus operandi of the political bigwigs has been similar: speak in favour of Telangana so long as it fetches votes and dither when it comes to the crunch. At least two Congress Chief Ministers, M. Channa Reddy and Rajasekhara Reddy, pursued this policy with a great degree of success. Reality number two is that Chiranjeevi won 16 out of his partys 18 Assembly seats from the Andhra region and could never support a separate Telangana State, and so his change of stance was as much on the cards as Chandrababu Naidus.
As Home Minister, Chidambaram understandably factors the Maoist influence into his decision-making on Telangana. He openly stated at the January 5 meeting that forces that ridiculed the parliamentary form of democracy were waiting on the wings and they would be happy if we collectively fail to find answers to issues that concern us.
Maoists were already interfering in the matter. A stern statement asking the Congress and TDP leaders to join the Joint Action Committee on Telangana had an instant effect. Telangana leaders from both parties fell in line. The prolonged political unrest and workers militancy in the mines of Singareni Collieries that are spread across four Telangana districts are viewed as providing an ideal platform for the naxalites to operate.
This formulation was reportedly explained by the new Governor, E.S.L. Naraismhan, when leaders of various political parties called on him. As a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau and as the Governor also of Chhattisgarh, a State where police and paramilitary forces are conducting a sustained campaign to flush out extremists, he should know. His appointment itself was denounced by the Maoists.
At the centre of the issue of bifurcation is the tussle over Hyderabad, though sharing of the waters of the Krishna and the Godavari and the division of other resources are no less significant. It is inconceivable that Telanganas leaders or people will agree to part with Hyderabad. It is also quite impractical to have Hyderabad as a common capital like Chandigarh since the nearest Andhra border from the city is at least 150 km away. There are no easy answers to these questions.
Therefore, the Centre must not try to find soft or instant solutions and risk the economic progress of a State. Three years ago, Andhra Pradesh registered an economic growth rate of above 11 per cent. The State needs all the resources it can mobilise to complete the 74 irrigation projects that Rajasekhara Reddy started under the Jalayagnam programme. Chidambaram must get his act right this time and respect the views of the stakeholders, the people of Andhra Pradesh.
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