Tuesday, December 15, 2009

[ZESTCaste] Telangana botched up (Neerja Chowdhury)


By Neerja Chowdhury
15 Dec 2009 12:29:00 AM IST

Telangana botched up

The genesis of the T-trouble that has suddenly erupted in the face of
the Congress lies in the vacuum left by the death of Y S Rajasekhara
Reddy, and the intense power struggle that has ensued in the Congress.
The struggle for a separate state of Telangana is not a recent
phenomenon. It first surfaced as a peasants movement against landlords
in the late Forties and early Fifties. Later it acquired the shape of
a demand for a separate state and got new impetus only in the last 10
During this period the Congress graduated from a position of proposing
a Second States Reorganisation Commission which the Pranab Mukherjee
Committee had made to L K Advani — and which was turned down by the
then Union home minister — to a commitment to create a separate state
of Telangana.
These promises were contained in the Common Minimum Programme in 2004,
in the Congress manifesto and election campaign in 2009. Sonia
Gandhi's words in Secunderabad are cited repeatedly, accepting 'in
principle' the idea of a separate Telangana. However, YSR, who had
resisted a separate state assured the party high command that he would
manage the situation at his end. YSR managed to keep Telangana from
boiling over through a policy of carrot and stick. He set up a
committee on the Telangana issue that was headed by K Rosaiah. He also
deliberately picked up ministers from the Telangana region who he felt
would be pliant.
As luck would have it — or he managed it — the Telangana Rashtra
Samithi did poorly in election after election which pushed the issue
off the radar. Frustrated with the non-action by the Congress, with
which it had forged an alliance in 2004, the TRS parted ways in 2006
but fared poorly in the bypolls which followed the resignation of his
MPs and MLAs two years later.
The TRS came a cropper again in the 2009 general elections winning
only two out of the 17 Lok Sabha seats and 10 out of the 119 Assembly
seats in the Telangana region. This is not to say that there has not
been an under-the-surface feeling in favour of a separate Telangana,
given its continuing backwardness compared to coastal Andhra, and the
domination of the Reddys and Kammas in the state's politics since its
formation which the OBC leaders chafe against — the Telangana region
comprises 60 per cent OBCs. The point is that the 'T' sentiment was
not dominant enough to become an election issue influencing their
outcome in successive polls. Till KCR decided to go on a fast. After
his 2009 poll debacle, he had reportedly quipped to friends whether he
should shut shop. He had not even mustered up courage to contest the
elections last month for the municipal council of Greater Hyderabad.
The timing of the fast was curious and coincided with two other
events, though ostensibly unconnected. One was the confirmation of
Rosaiah as a full-fledged CM. The second was a CBI enquiry initiated
by the Centre against the Reddy brothers for illegal mining
operations. The Bellary brothers were closely associated with YSR and
with Jagan Mohan Reddy, and it is possible that Jagan began to feel
the heat.
Whether it was Jagan's supporters who stoked the fires both of the
Telanganites and later of the Andhraites, so as to embarrass Rosaiah
and bring down his government is a matter of conjecture. But Congress
leaders are openly making these allegations. They point out that those
who had led the signature campaign to make Jagan CM were also the ones
who had tendered their resignations. And it was the Congress MLAs from
coastal Andhra and Rayalseema who took the lead in resigning,
compelling legislators from other parties to follow suit. The draft of
the resignation was also the same.
The Congress has been inept in its handling of the situation and
failed to anticipate the problems the midnight announcement could
throw up. The bandh call by students the next day had pressed panic
buttons in Delhi and it was felt that an immediate announcement could
take the sting out of an escalating situation which threatened to spin
out of control. The deteriorating health of KCR is also cited as a
reason but it could not have been a major consideration for he could
have been force-fed.
The Congress leadership had made some ground preparations once KCR's
fast was underway — like getting the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet and the
Congress Legislature Party to authorise the party high command to take
a decision on Telangana, and instructing the CM to hold an all-party
meet. All parties, except the CPI(M) and MIM, had promised their
support for Telangana and wanted the Congress to bring such a
resolution in the state assembly (but took a U turn two days later).
Congress leaders were in touch with KCR, eliciting a promise that he
would break his fast the moment they made the announcement — which is
what he did. He is also believed to have assured them that if
Telangana was formed, TRS would merge with the Congress.
Where the Congress failed was to anticipate that the (former) empire
of YSR would strike back. That while Jagan may have overtly accepted
the high command's decision to install Rosaiah as CM, neither he nor
his mentor K V P Ramachandra Rao were reconciled to it. They had the
backing of the economically and politically powerful in the state. YSR
had been given a free hand in the selection of tickets in the 2009 Lok
Sabha and Assembly elections, and the MLAs continue to be loyal to his
The high command also failed to anticipate the rash of demands the
grant of Telangana would unleash in the rest of the country, suddenly
making the creation of small states an all-India issue. The Gorkha
Janmukti Morcha got into the act within hours. So did Mayawati who is
making a case for the division of UP into three units.
It is all very well for Pranab Mukherjee to say that Telangana does
not mean that other regions are about to get statehood. But the manner
in which the announcement was made, under obvious pressure, has sent a
message that the government will relent only under pressure. This may
spawn a new kind of street politics in the weeks to come.
The Congress bosses calculated that they would sweep in Telangana and
keep power in the remaining parts of Andhra, given the reality of the
Reddy versus Kamma line-up and Kamma versus Kapu fight. Now the party
finds it can neither backtrack on its promise of Telangana and at
stake here is the very authority of the government of India, nor can
it go ahead with it, given the violence and threatened resignations of
20 ministers.
Postponing the decision could lead to loss of support in both regions.
The Congress has really shot itself in the foot in a state which
brought it to power at the Centre in 2004 and helped to retain it in


About the author:

Neerja Chowdhury is political editor, The New Indian Express


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