Telangana could make or mar Congress’ electoral fortunes in 2014.
About 57 years ago, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was instrumental in the formation of the State. Fifteen years later, his daughter, refused to submit to agitations to split it. Now, the daughter-in-law is on the verge of favouring a bifurcation. This, in short, is the history of Andhra Pradesh.
Nehru played a key role in the birth of AP, integrating the erstwhile Hyderabad, Telangana region (from the Nizam’s State) and the coastal Andhra and Rayalseema (from Madras Presidency) in 1956. Indira Gandhi refused to give in to demands of a separate Telangana in 1969-70.
Now, four decades later, the time has arrived, according to sections in the Congress, for Sonia Gandhi to take a decision. Will she dare to take a view contrary to her mother-in-law’s ? The decision will depend on three factors. First, the fortunes of Congress in the 2014 general election depend significantly on the results in Andhra Pradesh. Second, the party and Sonia herself had made a promise to the people of Telangana; and last but not the least, the ascendancy of Rahul Gandhi to Prime Ministership will depend on the number of MPs it can gain from AP.
Will the new State be a pure Telangana State with 10 districts? Will Kurnool and Anantapur districts from Rayalseema be added? What will happen to Hyderabad, the 400 year old city, and one of the fastest growing in the country? Will it be a common capital for the bifurcated state?
These questions, simmering for the last four years, will have to be answered by the Congress in the coming weeks.
Ever since the statement of the then Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, that the process of forming a Telangana State will begin, the State has been periodically plunged into agitations and counter-agitations by both pro-Telangana and pro-United Andhra groups.
The Telangana issue was a crucial factor in the State elections of 2004 and 2009. The strong leadership and popular support enjoyed by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ensured that it was controlled and the Congress, managed big numbers, especially to Parliament, and enough to run the State.
However, the untimely death of YSR in 2009, the resurgence of the movement led by the TRS, and revolt of Jaganmohan Reddy to form YSR Congress, led to a weakening of Congress' popularity in the State. The timely support of megastar, K. Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam saved the Government.
Andhra Pradesh accounts for 42 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats. In 2009, the Congress got 33 and in 2004 it bagged 29. With a hung Lok Sabha predicted, it is easy to gauge the importance of each MP from the State.
In Telangana, there are 17 seats. The Congress has tacitly come to an understanding with the TRS and hopes to sweep.
Similarly, the YSR Congress has hinted at a post-poll alliance, as it is against the BJP. There are 25 seats in the coastal and Rayalseema regions.
Although AP has been showing a healthy, close-to-double-digit GSDP growth in the past decade as well as good progress earlier, it is haunted by regional disparities. Several districts of Telangana, Rayalseema and north coastal Andhra continue to be backward.
The Telangana region, with its 10 districts and nearly 50 per cent of the State’s 8 crore population, claims to have suffered both economic and political neglect (only three CMs so far). It has drought prone-Mahboobnagar as the most backward, without many industries. Agriculture is also tough, because of semi-arid and dryland conditions.
However, Hyderabad, the capital, has grown phenomenally. In fact, Greater Hyderabad that is taking shape, accounts for half the revenues generated by the entire State.
According to official figures for fiscal 2012-13, revenues across departments showed that it earned approximately Rs 36,000 crore of the Rs 70,000 crore.
Hyderabad has become key to the bifurcation issue. Will it be a joint capital for 10 years, or a Union Territory? Creating a new capital anywhere close to `brand Hyderabad’, will take decades and huge investments, say united Andhra votaries. A Telangana State without Hyderabad does not make much sense, argue the protagonists.
Having been under the Nizam’s rule, education and development was also concentrated in and around Hyderabad State.
On the irrigation front, since most rivers—Krishna, Godavari, Tungabhadra -- flow through the coastal and Rayalseema regions, sharing of waters will be a critical issue for future economic growth of the region.
Districts like Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Nalgonda and Khammam, have gained through access to assured irrigation. Except for Srikakulam and Vizianagaram (north coastal) districts, coastal AP with its 9 districts, is agriculture-rich. The Krishna and two Godavari districts are the rice-bowl of the State.
With abundant irrigation facilities and river water, extensive agriculture has provided handsome returns to farmers and people. Enterprising people used the money and entrepreneurship to head initially to Chennai, and in the past 5 decades to Hyderabad to invest in industries.
A majority of the pharma, realty, cement, education, hospitality, and medical sectors in and around Hyderabad are owned by entrepreneurs from the region --- starting from Dr Reddy’s to GVK, GMR or IVRCL to Apollo hospitals to name a few.
Similarly, most of the flourishing Telugu film industry is controlled by coastal Andhraites.
Except for the IT industry, which is dominated by multinationals, NRIs and outside companies, every sector has a major coastal Andhra presence.
Rayalaseema losing out
Perhaps, the biggest loser is the four districts comprising this region. Kurnool was the capital of the State initially. Anantapur is a very dry district and closer to Bangalore, while Kadapa and Chittoor are closer to Chennai.
Though the region provided powerful Chief Ministers like Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, N. Chandrababu Naidu and Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy to the present Kiran Kumar Reddy, it has not grown either industrially or in infrastructure terms.