Union Textiles Minister K S Rao was always opposed to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. He protested against the move in the Cabinet and in Parliament, much to the embarrassment of the United Progressive Alliance government.
Rao eventually decided to part ways with the Congress earlier this week. He told the prime minister in his resignation letter that he could not continue to be a member of the council of ministers knowing that the government had caused irreparable damage to Andhra Pradesh.
Rao, 63, who represents the Eluru constituency of Andhra Pradesh in the Lok Sabha is a five-time member of Parliament, having been first elected in 1984. Rao’s resignation comes at a time when the Congress is facing total decimation in the Seemandhra region.
Realising that there was no possibility of being re-elected on a Congress ticket, Rao has now decided to hitch his wagon to the Bhartiya Janata Party. In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com’s Anita Katyal Rao explains the reason for leaving the Congress, his assessment of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership and his future plans.
You have been unhappy over the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh but why did you decide to resign now. How do you explain the timing of your decision?
I resigned because of the way the UPA government bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. A flourishing state like AP should not have been divided without a proper and detailed discussion both in the Cabinet and Parliament. But here it was brought as a table item in the Cabinet, giving no time to the ministers to read or discuss it…. everybody merely gave their consent.
It was criminal and undemocratic. The fact of the bifurcation was wrong and even if it was to be undertaken, based on the argument of carving out smaller states, it should be done throughout the country… not in a selective manner.
Again, it was tabled in Parliament in a surreptitious manner, without circulating copies to members. The government was even ready to pass the Bill in a din.
That still does not explain the timing of your decision.
It is not correct to say that I did not raise this issue before. I protested against the decision in the Cabinet -- I walked out of the meeting -- and again in Parliament. I waited for some time as I wanted the Centre to compensate Seemandhra for its loss by giving it special status, incentives for industries and immediate allocation of funds for building a capital.
I wanted all this to be announced through an ordinance. The Cabinet agreed to this but the ordinance could not be promulgated because of the announcement of the Lok Sabha polls. So, the damage was already done -- there was nothing for the development of Seemandhra. I thought then there was no use continuing in the Congress. So I resigned.
Did you meet Congress present Sonia Gandhi before you gave your resignation to the Prime Minister earlier this week? And has any senior party leader got in touch with you since you decided to leave?
I tried to contact the Congress president. I did want to meet her before I handed over my resignation but she was busy with the election campaign. I had met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi last month and he agreed that injustice had been done to me.
He also told me that I should not leave the party. I told him I would think it over.
How do you assess Rahul’s management of party affairs?
I believe he is a fair man, shy, inexperienced. So far, he has not impressed me. He has not shown results. Sonia was doing fine till 2009 but not after that.
You see, people are voting in these elections on the basis of the failure of the ruling party. They are voting for another party with reluctance, people do not believe that only one leader has got all the qualities to deliver better governance.
There are reports that both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Telugu Desam Party have been in touch with you. What is your choice?
It is true that both the BJP and the TDP are interested in having me in their parties. The present situation is forcing me to accept one of the offers -- it is most likely to be the BJP.
Do you agree with the BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi as a strong, decisive leader who will provide better governance?
I have seen and interacted with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi so I can give my assessment about them. I have not met or interacted with Modi, so I will not be able to comment about his capabilities. I do not want to criticise or praise anybody for no reason. You can ask me about Modi after I join the BJP and have spent some months in the party.
Some people would say that you are deserting a sinking ship. You are leaving the party when it is down and out…
I entered into a sinking ship. I joined the Congress in 1984 when NTR was at his peak and nobody wanted to contest on a Congress ticket. I was one of the two MPs who won from the 13 districts of Seemandhra. I am feeling bad at leaving the Congress but I had no option.
You left the Congress because you were opposed to the division of Andhra Pradesh . You are now joining the BJP which supported the formation of Telangana; the Bill would not been passed in Parliament without its support.
The BJP has always been in favour of small states but the Congress has never said so. Why did the party choose Andhra Pradesh? Because the Congress thought it would get some seats in Telangana. So it decided to sacrifice the whole of Andhra Pradesh. It is only because of Congress that the state has been divided.
I agree that the BJP supported the statehood Bill in Parliament but it was the Congress which initiated it.
Coming back to the division of the state, is it not a fact that the people of Seemandhra are reconciled to the division of the state?
Let me explain. Over the past so many years, all the growth has been in and around Hyderabad… research organisations, educational institutes, industries have been located in this region. Coastal Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, remained an agrarian region with no proper infrastructure or industries. It took 50 years for Hyderabad to develop into an international-class city. It will take as many years for the Seemandhra region to develop.
People of Seemandhra would have accepted the division of Andhra if Hyderabad had been declared a UnionTerritory for 10 years and sufficient funds provided for the development of infrastructure
But Hyderabad will be a joint capital for 10 years -- what is the objection to that?
As a joint capital, people from the Seemandhra region would have to travel all the way to Hyderabad just to avail the administrative and secretariat’s services. But if Hyderabad was a UnionTerritory, people from all regions would continue to get benefits like seats in educational institutions and placement in industries.
Now there is a fear that people of Seemandhra employed in Telangana will be asked to leave as industries will be forced to employ only local people. Telangana Rashtriya Samiti chief KCR has already started insisting that jobs be given only to local people. As a joint capital, Hyderabad remains under the administrative control of the Telangana state.
It has also been argued that the demand for Telangana has been pending for decades and there has been a strong sentiment in favour of a separate state.
History will show you that the demand for Telangana always emanated from disgruntled leaders. Chenna Reddy raised the demand when he was not given a position but once he was accommodated, he dropped the demand. Similarly, Chandrashekhar Rao began a movement for Telangana when he did not get a berth in the Telugu Desam Party government.