Congress bowls a Telangana googly

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Telangana… not an open and shut
Telangana… not an open and shut case.

Including Rayalaseema in Telangana is meant to keep TRS and YSR Congress in check.

The history of Telangana is replete with struggles. Initially, it was against the Nizam's rule. Then the oppression of the zamindars. Post the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, there have been agitations and people’s movements in the region for a separate identity and State.

In a way, the July 30 decision of the Congress Working Committee and subsequent endorsement by the Cabinet to carve out a separate state of Telangana with 10 districts and Hyderabad as the joint capital for 10 years, is a step towards fulfilling the long-held aspirations.

However, the latest proposal doing the rounds — to add two districts of Kurnool and Anantapur from Rayalaseema and create what is being christened as Rayala Telangana or just Telangana — reeks of political opportunism. Coming virtually at the ‘end stage’ after many twists and turns in the creation of Telangana, what will the Congress gain from this? In the near-term political sweepstakes, the Congress’ manipulations are aimed at silencing many factors. On the one hand, it wants to cut to size the clout of the Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) in an expanded Telangana State. At present, the party is strong in Karimnagar, Mahboognagar, Warangal and Medak. On the other hand, it wants to reduce the influence of Rayalaseema leaders such as Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy, N. Chandrababu Naidu and Kiran Kumar Reddy.

Political ploy

On the immediate positive fallout, the Congress hopes to win back the support of the MIM, which is a strong votary of Rayala Telangana, as pockets of its Muslim voter presence is significant in both these districts. In addition, it will quell chances of the rise of the BJP in the Telangana State.

Within its crumbling home in the State, the Congress sees a definite hope to retain its own leaders like Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy (Union MoS for Railways), T. G. Venkatesh, J. C. Diwakar Reddy, as well as many who have been strident votaries for a united Andhra Pradesh, while silently espousing a Rayala Telangana, for their own political future. It is pertinent to note that the people’s movement for a united Andhra found maximum traction in Rayalaseema, especially Anantapur.

What has pushed the Congress to resort to this last-ditch, alternative strategy? The initial logic of a political win-win situation in both Telangana and Seemandhra no longer looks fully real. Further, the very issue of getting a majority of Party legislators and MPs to support the Bill is clearly unlikely. Rayala Telangana will have 12 districts and the number of MPs and MLAs will be exactly half of all of Andhra Pradesh — 21 LS seats (total 42 in Andhra Pradesh) and 147 Assembly (House is 294 strong). When the Telangana creation Bill comes to the Assembly in December, it could find favour with a larger number of legislators.

It could also nip in the bud any future demand for a separate Rayalaseema State, from the residuary Andhra Pradesh State. Two other ticklish issues that the bifurcation is confronted with can be addressed as well with this modified proposal: river water sharing and power (Srisailam hydel power in Kurnool); as well as restoring some balance in political power that the dominant castes are perceived to lose in the Telangana State. In the last decade, there is a clear emergence and assertion from the backward classes, tribals and scheduled castes and religious minorities, predominantly in the Telangana region and gradually in Seemandhra. It is likely that in the Telangana State with 10 districts, the influence of these groups will be pronounced, a scenario that the politically dominant castes are opposing, within the Congress. This finds echoes in the Rayala Telangana proposal.

The strength for this proposal, which has been latent for over a year, comes from the realisation by the Congress that it was not in a position to extract the most from the CWC decision. At that juncture, it was assumed that in Telangana, it would get the Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) to merge and sweep the polls in the new State consisting of 17 LS seats and 119 Assembly seats.

In the residuary State of Andhra Pradesh, Congress would depend on the YSR Congress led by Jaganmohan Reddy by getting a post poll alliance. Thus, it would somehow manage to get the bulk of the 42 LS seats from the two States. This would be critical to tilt the scales in the event of a hung Parliament. However, TRS and YSR Congress started playing hard to get. Besides, Rayalseema was resenting the arrangement.

Dilemma for Rayalaseema

Historically, Rayalaseema also has its own unique identity and culture. The division with two districts each going to Telangana and Seemandhra, might not augur well for it. In the last 50 years, the region has got the worst deal. First, it lost the capital, Kurnool, to Hyderabad. Thereafter, despite having strong leaders, who became chief ministers such as Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy (also President of India), Kotla Vijaybhaskara Reddy, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy and, now, Kiran Kumar Reddy, the region remains largely neglected.

The Sri City SEZ, which is attracting large number of multinational manufacturing units; the expanding Amara Raja Group; the slow progressing BHEL-NTPC power equipment manufacturing unit; and a sprinkling of industries apart, Anantapur is fast turning into a desert region, and there is a large migration of youth for studies and employment and flow of capital into real estate, film and trading into Hyderabad.

While Rayala Telangana might appeal to Congress High command and sections of leaders within the party in the State, it has already been condemned by the TRS, YSR Congress, TDP, BJP and others.

It is perhaps not in the interests of the State, which is undergoing a bifurcation surgery, with the doctor seemingly in a hurry, while the patient is not fully convinced.

If it is a political ploy to bring around the TRS and YSR Congress — let all the critics have their say, and finally get over the crucial democratic process in Parliament with the original CWC resolution in tact — then it will be victory for the ‘wily and tested’ Congress Party. We will know the outcome soon.

(This article was published on December 3, 2013)
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