FEBRUARY 20, 2014, will remain a red-letter day in the history of Telangana. The passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2014, by Parliament has brought to an end a saga of struggle for a separate State spanning five decades. The passage of the Bill for the creation of the 29th State in the country saw some acrimonious scenes in the two Houses of Parliament, including the infamous use of pepper spray in the Lok Sabha by the member from Vijayawada, Lagadapati Rajagopal, and the expulsion of six Congress MPs from Seemandhra.
The statehood issue was put on the back burner in the aftermath of the announcement on December 9, 2009, regarding the creation of Telangana by the then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. The announcement came in the wake of a “fast unto death” launched by Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhar Rao and after students’ organisations, government employees’ unions and other sections of society joined the Telangana movement.
With Telangana heading for a shutdown on December 6 and 7, the State government headed by Chief Minister K. Rosaiah called an all-party meeting in which all the major parties extended their support to the creation of Telangana. The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) and the Congress left the decision to the Congress high command. The minutes of the meeting were sent to the Congress leadership, and the announcement that the process for the creation of Telangana would be initiated followed.
The spate of resignations by Ministers and legislators from Seemandhra that followed the announcement forced the Central government to rethink the decision. Subsequently, it constituted a high-power committee headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna for consultations. The panel conducted an elaborate exercise, holding discussions with a cross section of the stakeholders for over a year, before submitting the report to the Union Home Ministry on December 28, 2010. It suggested six options; keeping the State united was its preferred option.
It opined that the Telangana State was economically viable but preferred maintaining the status quo keeping in view the larger scheme of things. However, a controversy erupted over the committee submitting a supplementary note in a sealed cover reportedly detailing the law and order implications, including the possible escalation of extremism. Challenging the report in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, pro-Telangana petitioners demanded that the contents of the sealed note be made public. The court upheld the contention on the grounds that “the committee travelled beyond the terms of reference in its endeavour to persuade the Union of India not to accede to the demand for Telangana”. The judgment quoted the report’s eighth chapter and said that “the manoeuvre suggested by the committee in its secret supplementary note poses an open challenge, if not threat, to the very system of democracy”.
Protests across the Telangana region against the report reached a crescendo with the “Million March” on March 10, 2011. It saw protesters vandalising the statues of eminent Telugu personalities erected as a mark of pride in the Telugu lineage. The march was followed by Sakala Janula Samme (a general strike involving all sections of society) on September 13. Employees, teachers, students, traders and others took part in the 42-day strike, which paralysed the administrative machinery across the districts. Lakhs of people attended a public meeting organised by the TRS in Karimnagar ahead of the strike.
Following frequent agitations that had the potential to disrupt normal life, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde organised an all-party meeting on December 28, 2012, to discuss the Telangana issue. Eight major political parties having their presence in the State Legislature attended it. Shinde, after eliciting the views of all the parties, announced that the meeting would be the last one and that the Centre would come up with a decision within 30 days.
It was here that the parties made their stand clear. The MIM and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) strongly opposed the move to bifurcate the State, while the YSR Congress remained neutral, claiming that it was not in a position to create a separate State or stall it. Representatives of the Congress gave conflicting views—representatives from Telangana supporting the division and those from Seemandhra opposing it—while the Telugu Desam Party maintained that it had not withdrawn the letter of support it gave to the Pranab Mukherjee Committee in 2008.
The Centre now sought more time to take a decision on the sensitive topic, but the Congress high command took everyone by surprise when it brought the issue to the limelight in the second half of last year. Senior Congress leaders initiated consultations with Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy (who has resigned since the passage of the Bill), State Congress Committee president Botcha Satyanarayana and other party leaders, including Union Ministers from both sides of the divide.
The Chief Minister was reportedly asked to prepare a road map to be adopted for the process, but he refused. After initial deliberations, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) took stock of the situation and, on July 30, 2013, gave its green signal for the formation of Telangana State, giving rise to widespread agitations across the 13 districts of the Seemandhra region for over two months.
Group of Ministers
The decision of the CWC was followed by the constitution of a Group of Ministers headed by Shinde to hold consultations with the stakeholders in the two regions. The GoM, accordingly, went about its exercise by calling political parties individually to elicit their views on the issue. This was followed by the clearance accorded by the Union Cabinet to the formation of a separate Telangana State on October 3, but with tags attached to it.
The constitution of the GoM resulted in severe criticism. The Cabinet note had said it would consist of Ministers of Home, Finance, Law, Human Resource Development, Water Resources, Urban Development, Roads, Transport & Highways, Power, and Personnel, in addition to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission as its members. But the final panel was without representation from key Ministries such as Water Resources, Power and HRD, three major areas of concern, which put the State in agitation mode.
Moreover, the GoM did not consist of a single Minister from the State. This raised questions about the efficacy of the panel’s functioning. The 60-odd days of bandh in Seemandhra crippled normal life, with all sections of society joining the stir and keeping the police on tenterhooks. The agitation, which started a couple of days after the CWC announcement, peaked in the subsequent two months.
The Cabinet, no doubt, took into consideration issues that needed to be looked into, including the contentious ones like river-water sharing, power, assets and liabilities and, most important, the status of Hyderabad. It came up with recommendations such as making Hyderabad the common capital of the two States, Telangana and residuary Andhra Pradesh, for a period of 10 years.
The GoM also worked on determining the boundaries of the two States with reference to electoral constituencies, judicial and statutory bodies and other administrative units. It was also to look into issues of law and order, safety and security of all residents as well the long-term internal security implications arising out of the creation of two States and make suitable recommendations. It has been incorporated in the Bill that Telangana State will have 17 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats and 119 of the 294 Assembly constituencies until the next delimitation takes place.
The Bill makes it clear that the apportionment of the assets and liabilities will be subject to financial adjustment that will ensure just, reasonable and equitable distribution among the successor States and any dispute regarding the amount of assets and liabilities should be settled through mutual agreement between the two areas, failing which the Centre would intervene with necessary orders on the advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Even as the stage was being set for referring the Bill to the Assembly, employees, particularly those of power utilities, threatened to shut down power supply in Seemandhra that could eventually result in the collapse of the southern grid. N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who was at the helm of the affairs, managed to convince the employees to call off the strike, assuring them that he would not allow the division at any cost.
The draft of the legislation was referred to the State legislature on December 12, a day ahead of the commencement of the winter session, with President Pranab Mukherjee setting a 42-day deadline to debate the Bill and return it to the Centre. The Assembly, however, did not take up the issue as anticipated, and the President granted a week’s time more in line with a request made by the government to allow a detailed debate on the bifurcation issue.
The Assembly saw some of the most acrimonious moments since its inception during the debate that finally culminated in the rejection of the Bill by the State legislature by a voice vote, in the absence of the members from Telangana. The rejection of the Bill was followed by the Chief Minister’ claim that he would quit his post if the Bill was introduced in Parliament in the form in which it was sent to the State.
Kiran Kumar Reddy continued his defiance of the party high command by staging a dharna in New Delhi against the Centre’s “unilateral decision” to bifurcate the State, but his repeated requests to the party leadership against dividing the State went unheeded. The Chief Minister kept his nerve and waited for some developments following the vociferous opposition by Seemandhra MPs to the introduction of the Bill in Parliament. But he called it quits on February 19 after the Bill was passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha amid the din created by the members. The next day saw the Bill cross the Rajya Sabha, too. The saving grace was that there was a debate in the Upper House on the pros and cons of bifurcation.
All eyes are now on the President, who should give his assent to the Bill, even as uncertainty on whether the new State will become a reality before the general elections continues.