Separatist strains

Print edition : October 08, 2004

The political row over TRS leader Chandrasekar Rao's outburst against Congress president Sonia Gandhi blows over but the issue of statehood for Telangana will prove to be a constant source of strain in the relations between the two parties.

in Hyderabad

Union Minister and TRS president K. Chandrashekar Rao (third from right) with party colleagues at the public meeting on September 10 in Hyderabad, where he made the controversial remarks about Congress leaders.-K.RAMESH BABU

THE demand for a separate Telangana State has remained a divisive issue in Andhra Pradesh politics for over five decades. Lives have been lost and political careers made and ruined, even as the debate on the advisability of breaking up a State formed on linguistic basis continues.

It was not surprising, therefore, when Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhar Rao stirred a hornet's nest by threatening to "drag even [Congress president] Sonia Gandhi and [Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister] Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy to the bazaar" if the Congress reneged on its promise of a separate Telangana.

Incensed Congressmen took to the streets, burnt the effigies of Chandrasekhar Rao and destroyed the TRS office in Karimnagar. At one point, the tenuous political ties between the Congress and the TRS appeared to be on the verge of snapping.

The TRS chief's remarks at a general body meeting of the party in Hyderabad were quite characteristic of his `blow-hot-blow-cold' attitudes towards his ally, the Congress. Just a few days earlier, Chandrasekhar Rao had embarrassed his partymen by describing Sonia Gandhi as `a goddess' whom the Telangana people would worship. Such lavish praise was apparently an expression of gratitude for the positive observations on Telangana made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his September 4 press conference in New Delhi. "The common minimum programme (CMP) has clearly spelt out what we need to do in this regard. We need to consult all concerned. Proper consultations have to be carried out, I think, if we are committed to the establishment of separate State of Telangana," the Prime Minister had said.

The TRS chief construed this statement to mean that the Union Cabinet would approve the formation of Telangana, most likely in December.His expectations run counter to the political realities in New Delhi and Hyderabad. Admittedly, the CMP of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has promised to look into the demand for statehood for the Telangana region at "an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus". But Chandrasekhar Rao claims that Sonia Gandhi had instructed senior Congress leaders to work out a timeframe to resolve the issue.

But, the Left parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (Marxist), are not in favour of separation. They have always sworn by the concept of `Vishalaandra', or integrated Andhra Pradesh, comprising the coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema regions. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) too has consistently opposed the division of the State.

Congress activists at a protest rally in Hyderabad on September 15 against TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao's remarks.-

The State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a proponent of smaller States, had passed a resolution favouring the separation of Telangana. It even solicited public support in the 1999 general elections on the rather specious slogan of "one vote, two States". But upon assuming power at the Centre, it abandoned the campaign under pressure from its ally, the TDP.

The Congress's stand on Telangana has always been ambivalent - favouring separation when out of power and pushing the issue under the carpet when in power. In fact, the latest demand for separation came from the Telangana Congress Legislators Forum, a ginger group in the Congress in the last Assembly. This demand was sparked off in no small measure by the Centre's decision to create the States of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal.

However, Chandrasekhar Rao wrested the issue from the Congress legislators and converted it into the TRS' election plank. He won five Lok Sabha and 26 Assembly seats in the recent elections. Emboldened by the public response to the Telangana issue, Chandrasekhar Rao went to the extent of claiming that he need not deal with State Congress leaders in view of his equation with the Congress high command. His stock had risen after he renounced the Shipping portfolio to accommodate the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's demands immediately after the Cabinet formation at the Centre in May.

Notwithstanding the mention of Telangana in the CMP, the Congress favours the constitution of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to look into the larger issue of creating smaller States. Chandrasekhar Rao is opposed to this idea and wants the ruling coalition at the Centre to abide by the recommendations made by the Fazal Ali Commission in 1954.

The first SRC had recommended statehood for Telangana on the grounds that in a united State there was the possibility of the Andhra majority cornering the benefits. To prevent such an eventuality, the Jawaharlal Nehru government gave several assurances to Telangana on sharing resources - water as well as revenue - and a quota in education and employment.

There is a strong feeling in Telangana that history had always given a raw deal to the region. The feudal system led to the exploitation of agricultural labourers. In the post-Independence period too, the grievance was that the region did not receive the same attention as coastal Andhra in terms of education, irrigation, employment and rural development.

As it did not take long for the dilution of the guarantees given by Nehru, a violent agitation for a separate Telangana erupted in 1969-70 when more than 370 persons, mostly youth, were killed. Riding high on these sentiments, the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS) led by the firebrand separatist leader, Marri Channa Reddy, swept the 1971 Lok Sabha elections winning 10 seats in the region. But, the separatist cause received a body blow when the TPS merged with the Congress. Six years later, Channa Reddy became the Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh and took on board all the stalwarts of the Telangana movement.

Chandrasekhar Rao is no different from Channa Reddy when it comes to demagogy. He defended his remarks against Sonia Gandhi saying that `dragging to the streets', in native Telangana idiom, only meant agitating on an issue forcefully. But, as his remarks drew widespread condemnation, Chandrasekhar Rao reportedly expressed regrets to the Congress high command. The Congress also took up a damage-control exercise. AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh exhorted partymen to stop their war of words. Making an appearance at the residence of Chandrasekhar Rao in New Delhi, he said the Congress would abide by the decision of Sonia Gandhi on Telangana.

The process of consultation on Telangana is expected to begin after the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, where the issue of a separate Vidarbha State has been raised by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Having buried the hatchet, the TRS chief made a smart political move by announcing that he will campaign for the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra.

However, the last word on the strained relations between the Congress and TRS has not yet been said. Rajasekhara Reddy, who has not taken kindly to the TRS chief's remarks against him and Sonia Gandhi, said rather ominously that the controversy was not a closed chapter.

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