Andhra Pradesh

Bitter divide

Print edition : January 10, 2014

Journalists and legislators, divided over the Telangana issue, in Hyderabad on December 16, when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was tabled in the Assembly. Photo: Mohammed_Yousuf

It is no secret that the Congress is dividing Andhra Pradesh out of sheer political expediency, driven by the motive of attracting votes in Telangana through quick-fix alliances for the Lok Sabha elections.

The process bears the Congress party’s stamp of pre-election manoeuvres as its leaders are too obsessed with the threats posed by the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to show concern for issues plaguing south India’s largest State.

The decision has been per se welcomed by the people of Telangana, but the hasty implementation has raised the question whether the new State will come into being before the elections. On the other side of the Congress-triggered divide, there is despondency at the party’s betrayal of a State that elected 33 Congress MPs. The anti-Sonia Gandhi wave in Seemandhra (Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra) cannot be missed, especially in view of the number of statues of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi that have been desecrated during the agitations since July 30, 2013, when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) pulled Telangana out of cold storage and fast-tracked the bifurcation process.

The government’s stand continued to be full of contradictions. One moment, in the face of dissension by the likes of Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, the CWC’s resolution was treated as sacrosanct and inviolable. At other times, it was flexible. The Group of Ministers headed by Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, for instance, would say one thing and the All India Congress Committee’s (AICC) pointsman for Andhra Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, something else, and disown it later.

Someone had the bright idea that the hegemony of the YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy in Rayalaseema could be broken by dividing the powerful Reddy community. For this, Kurnool and Anantapur districts had to be hived off and merged with Telangana (10 districts). The backlash among political parties, particularly the Congress’ potential ally, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), was so severe that the party distanced itself from the proposal.

When the Union Cabinet finally gave its approval on December 5 to the Bill on Telangana, thankfully minus the two Rayalaseema districts, the die was cast. The Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2013, drafted in record time by hundreds of bureaucrats burning the midnight oil was ready for despatch to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had short-circuited procedures followed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime when it created Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand in 2000. The Assemblies of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh had passed resolutions recommending the creation of these States, paving the way for the smooth passage of the Bills. The UPA government, in its unseemly hurry, avoided this route on the plea that it was not mandatory under the Constitution.

Article 3 of the Constitution relating to the Reorganisation of States, Congress leaders argue, gives the Centre unfettered power to create new States and change the boundaries of existing ones. Conventions cannot become law, they contend. On the other hand, a jurist says, “The Constitution is not a static document. It evolves with changing circumstances. Till 1983, the Government was only required to consult the judiciary for appointment of judges. Now, it has to seek concurrence although there is no amendment to the Constitution. Conventions and precedents are important.”

The Constitution was amended in the aftermath of violent agitations in Telangana (1969) and Andhra (1972) to include Article 371 (D) to safeguard the interests of people in the fields of education and employment. The latest Bill proposes to continue Article 371 (D) by making it applicable to both successor States. Also, Article 371 (H), a provision vesting special powers on the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, will be made applicable to the Andhra Pradesh Governor. Hyderabad will remain the common capital for 10 years, a period in which the Governor will have control over law and order and revenue.

At the crux of the dispute is whether these constitutional amendments can be ushered in through a simple or an absolute majority in Parliament. The Congress contends that these are only simple amendments which do not require a two-thirds majority and need the concurrence of half the State Assemblies (14). The converse argument is that the Constitution cannot have provisions with no applicability and must be amended with an absolute majority. This is still a grey area, at least until the Supreme Court delivers its verdict on a bunch of petitions filed by the integrationists. If a two-thirds majority is needed in Parliament, the Congress has to have the BJP on board.

The BJP, a party ideologically wedded to the concept of smaller States, thus senses an opportunity for itself. It has demanded that the Centre address the concerns of this region before passing the Telangana Bill. In this it has found an ally in the Telugu Desam. A pre-election alliance could benefit the BJP in Seemandhra and help it take on the TRS in its stronghold, Telangana. Given the political conundrum and the glaring infirmities in the Bill, it is unlikely that the BJP will oblige the Congress by voting in its favour in Parliament.

President Pranab Mukherjee has referred the 65-page Bill to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly with the caveat that it return it to the Centre by January 23. Even before the Bill could be discussed, legislators from Seemandhra and Telangana exchanged blows under the full glare of television cameras.

Is all this discord a portent for the future? Surely, the Congress must have thought out the answers before embarking upon its poorly timed and hasty decision. Going by its clumsy handling of a vital national issue, the Congress has jeopardised its prospects of a good electoral showing even in Telangana.

S. Nagesh Kumar