State of acrimony

Published : Feb 29, 2008 00:00 IST

With the 2009 Assembly elections in view, the demand for a separate Telangana State once again gains strength.

in HyderabadTRS president K. Chandrasekhar

ANDHRA PRADESH, the State with the fifth largest area as well as population in the country, is once again going through a highly divisive debate on whether it should break into two or remain one.

The demand for a separate Telangana State, which began in the early 1950s, has created a fresh fissure not only in the States polity but within its political parties. There are differences of opinion in the ruling Congress in particular; some of its leaders feel that the partys prospects in the 2009 Assembly elections will be bleak if it does not concede Telangana.

Apart from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), whose single-point agenda is separate statehood for the Telangana region, the Communist Party of India (CPI), a party that had zealously championed the cause of Visalandhra, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are now pitching for the division of Andhra Pradesh. The TRS has announced that its four Members of Parliament and 16 Members of the Legislative Assembly will resign on March 6 if the Congress does not declare a timetable for the separation of Telangana.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has unequivocally opposed the division while the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has not shifted, at least publicly, from the position taken by its founder-leader, the late N.T. Rama Rao, that Telugus should remain united. However, TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu is handling with dexterity the stand of senior leaders such as T. Devender Goud, who wants a separate Telangana.

The Congress stand is dichotomous, as it has always been, over Telangana. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury aptly described it when he said the Congress was reluctant to reveal its hand since it was caught in internal politics. The CPI(M), he said, had held the view, ever since the late 1960s, that the development of backward regions was the only answer to such problems.

No leader in the saddle wants his empire to be divided and it would be unrealistic to expect the politically savvy Chief Minister, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, to be different. Moreover, he is acutely aware that political pressure from the TRS or from within the Congress cannot dramatically alter political equations at the Centre to facilitate the adoption of a Bill for the creation of Telangana.

His view is hotly disputed by a ginger group of Congressmen from Telangana led by Congress Working Committee (CWC) member G. Venkataswamy. They see Rajasekhara Reddy as the main obstacle in the path for the creation of Telangana. They believe that a nod from him will convince the All India Congress Committee (AICC) to introduce a Bill on the issue in Parliament, which can have an easy passage since the BJP, the CPI and the TRS have declared their support for it in advance. Otherwise, they warn, the Telangana sentiment will spell the ruling partys doom in next years Assembly elections.

What triggered this fresh round of acrimony was the strong indication given by M. Veerappa Moily, the AICC general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, that the Centre was favourably inclined to the constitution of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to consider the demand for a separate Telangana and Vidarbha (in Maharashtra). The TRS quickly announced a plan of agitation while some senior Congress leaders made veiled threats of resigning from their posts. Moily hastily changed his statement and said that the formation of a separate Telangana was not linked to a second SRC since it was mentioned in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP).

But a sub-committee of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) constituted to go into the Telangana issue, headed by senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, could not fulfil the promise in the NCMP of arriving at a consensus through consultations.

Clearly, the Telangana issue, which has been lingering ever since Andhra Pradesh came into being in 1956, is caught in a political deadlock. Its protagonists want an outright commitment from the Congress for the creation of a separate State, disregarding the compulsions of coalition politics. Rajasekhara Reddy dismisses this since there are equally justifiable demands for the creation of a separate Rayalaseema, Harita Pradesh and Bundelkhand.

These demands, some in conflict with the others, have to be arbitrated by a neutral body like the SRC. More importantly, a rational and logical basis to justify the creation of smaller States has to be evolved. At the ground level, the Chief Minister realises that the Telangana sentiment, a euphemism for vote swing towards the TRS, will be detrimental to the Congress. But the competition between the TRS and Congress leaders to be seen as the real champions of Telangana has meant that there is no forward movement on Telangana.

Chief Minister Y.S.

The core committee of the Congress, at a meeting in New Delhi on February 5, resolved to continue discussions on the issue. The Central leadership also backed Rajasekhara Reddys plan of postponing a decision on Telangana until after the 2009 elections. Realising that Telangana or no Telangana the TRS will up the ante in order to grab the maximum number of seats, the Chief Minister is determined to catch the bull by its horns.

The TRS, he feels, cannot make a clean sweep of all the Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in Telangana. He is confident of recouping losses in this region by winning a lions share of the seats in the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.

The Telangana issue poses a challenge to the leadership in New Delhi. Smaller States may be attractive for showing faster economic growth but they have their problems too. Chhattisgarh, for instance, has become a hotbed of naxalite activity and reports of the Intelligence Bureau to the Centre seem to suggest that a similar situation is inevitable in Telangana.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the face of violent agitations in the late 1960s and early 1970s, first for a separate Telangana and later for a separate Andhra, had forged a compromise in the form of a six-point formula. Statesmanship and courage of the highest order are once again required to find the right balance between political demands that have the peoples backing and that aim at the larger good of the people.

At the core of the dispute is the perceived injustice meted out to the backward Telangana region in terms of its share of river waters, irrigation projects and budgetary resources. TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao says the regions resources were diverted and misused by leaders from Andhra.

Chandrasekhar Rao argues that the demand for a separate Telangana cannot be viewed from the perspective of smaller States. He says 16 of the existing States are smaller than Telangana in size. Even West Bengal, he claims, is smaller than Telangana area-wise though it has a larger population.

The TRS president is of the view that States should be created for administrative convenience. This was the principle on which new States were created post-SRC, he pointed out. Only 14 States were formed by the SRC on the basis of language but their number had more than doubled now, he said. Even if the issue of separation is linked to the size of the prospective States, Uttarakhand and Haryana have shown that size does not matter, according to Chandrasekhar Rao.

The movement for a separate Telangana, according to him, is not aimed at demanding a new State. His party is only seeking the revival of a State that existed from 1948 to 1956 the princely State of Hyderabad that was freed from the Nizams rule in 1948 and remained so as an independent State until 1956 minus parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra which were merged with those States.

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