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'Modi's attractiveness to the middle-class is overestimated'

August 16, 2013 18:23 IST

Jaipal ReddyAlthough Union Science and Technology Minister S Jaipal Reddy’s Chevella Lok Sabha constituency is located in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, he has kept a low-profile throughout movement for separate statehood.

Reddy was not in favour of a separate state initially but was converted to the cause in the face of the strong public sentiment for Telangana. In over four decades that he has spent in electoral politics, Reddy has held several key ministerial positions and also distinguished himself as a powerful parliamentarian and an effective spokesperson of the Janata Dal and later the Congress.

In his first interview after the announcement on Telangana, Reddy spoke to rediff.com’s Anita Katyal about the historical background of the movement and other issues.

After dithering on the matter for over two years, the Congress finally decided in favour of Telangana on July 30. Was it not a surprising decision as it was generally felt that the party was conducting innumerable meetings with all stakeholders in the hope the statehood issue will eventually peter out.

Let me give a brief historical background on the demand for Telangana.

In 1953 when the Andhra state was carved out the old Madras state, people in Telangana suspected that it would be merged with Andhra state and they have, therefore, been opposed to this since then.

The report of the first State Reorganisation Commission had favoured a separate Telangana. There have been serious misgivings among the people of Telangana being swamped by the more advanced people of Andhra state. The merger which took place in the fifties was not voluntary and the people of Telangana were not reconciled to it from the beginning.

However, Jawaharlal Nehru then used his persuasive charms to get them to merge. But the merger was done on the basis of a gentleman’s agreement and a statutory Telangana committee was set up and a constitutional amendment bill passed in 1957 to ensure that the people of Telangana would not lose their jobs and to guard against non-diversion of the region’s funds. In spite of this there was a massive agitation for a separate state in the sixties.

In 1971 when Indira Gandhi rode to victory power all over the country with her ‘garibi hatao’ slogan, the Congress lost in the Telangana region. This was the strength of the movement. Subsequently, there was a strong movement in other regions for a separate Andhra state. In terms of intensity, the movement for a separate Andhra was as strong as the movement for Telangana. This happened partially because Hyderabad had not become a pivot and was not such a big draw for the people of Andhra.

There has, however, been no let up in the demand for a separate Telangana over all these years. When the Congress first announced the formation of Telangana in December 2009, it was not a bolt from the blue and people took it seriously. The Congress was then blamed for taking a late decision, not accused of taking a hasty decision.

The 2009 decision was a final one. There was no going back on it. It was only held in abeyance because of the protests from the people of Rayalseema and the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh. Unlike the previous times when people from Andhra wanted a separate state, today they are agitating against the bifurcation.

Would it be correct to say that the campaign for a united Andhra Pradesh is primarily because of the status of Hyderabad?

Right. Today, it is not Telangana but Hyderabad which has become a bone of contention. The city has become a proxy for employment and business opportunities. A considerable population from Andhra is settled in Hyderabad as it is identified as a source of jobs etc.

It is precisely for this reasons that the decision taken by the Congress on July 30 said Hyderabad would be a common capital for ten years.

Hyderabad cannot be compared to Chandigarh which was a new city built after careful selection of the site. Hyderabad, on the other hand, is in the heart of Telangana. Moreover, it is a 400-year-old city. People of Andhra now maintain that 10 years is not enough to build a new capital. They are not reconciled to parting with Hyderabad. Emotional issues are emotional issues... they believe they have made substantial contribution to the development of Hyderabad. The people of Telangana region believe their jobs and land has been taken away from them. As you can see, there is a huge clash in perception at the mass level.

It’s a real issue and it cannot be wished away. I am not surprised at their reaction from the Rayalseema and coastal regions. But this was a decision which had to be taken... it has been taken. I would say, the decision on Telangana is the hardest political decision taken by the Congress in the last nine years.

It is being said the Congress eventually decided in favour of Telangana for political reasons... with an eye on the next year’s Lok Sabha elections as it feared that if it did not do so, it would be routed in the state. Today, it hopes to it can improve its electoral prospects in Telangana as it is fast losing ground to the YSR Congress in
the other regions of the state.

This charge is ridiculous. When the Congress was not taking a decision, everybody said it is dragging its feet over the matter. Now that it has decided in favour of Telangana, objections are being raised about the timing.

The same accusation would have been made if it had not take a decision... it would been said that the Congress did not want to lose out in other regions. In fact, the Congress has sacrificed its electoral interests to be compromised in other regions by taking a view in favour of Telangana.

Look at the other political parties. The Telugu Desam Party supported Telangana but it is now backtracking on it. It wants to put the Congress in the dock by taking contradictory positions.

Similarly, the Bharatiya Janata Party took a position in favour of Telangana but now that it has happened, it is uncomfortable with it. They have lost the vote in Telangana and are not there in the other regions. In fact, the BJP and the TDP were sure that the Congress would not agree to a separate Telangana. But the Congress could not go to the polls without taking a decision on Telangana.

The decision on Telangana has created a lot uncertainty for the people from outside the region who are living and working in Hyderabad.

The fears of the people of Seema-Andhra that their properties will not be safe in Telangana are utterly unfounded. Who’s preventing anybody from going anywhere to work or purchase property. We are a free country with one citizenship. In fact, today, we find a lot of non-Telugu communities have migrated to Hyderabad.

Do you think the Congress has the political will to push through the formation of Telangana. It appears that it is dragging its feet on the issue after making the announcement on July 30.

The Congress will go the whole hog... it has the political will to implement its decision. But first the statehood bill has to be passed for the formation of Telangana. Time is the real challenge as the winter session is the only window available for the passage of this
legislation. I think it will happen before the next Lok Sabha polls.

As for the party’s electoral prospects in the state, it will play out well for the Congress in the Telangana region but it will be affected in the other regions. But every party has to take the rough with the smooth.

At the moment, the Congress is under a cloud outside Telangana. But these are emotional issues and they often do not last long. They will have to reconcile to the reality of Telangana. The irreversibility of the Congress decision will lead to a reduction in the strength of the reaction.

However, the BJP and the TDP will try to exploit the discontent in Seema-Andhra. It is difficult to say how it will play out.

You are being seen as a prospective chief minister of Telangana. Do you agree with this perception?

It is too early to talk about this... it is for the party high command to take these decisions. But at this stage of my career, I don’t have much enthusiasm for the job. I am not a run-of-the-mill politician. I have spent 22 years in the the Janata tradition. If I was after jobs, I would not have been in a party with no presence in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP’s campaign chief and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi recently held a huge rally in Hyderabad. Do you thing Modi’s appeal with the middle-classes and youth can help improve the BJP’s presence in Andhra Pradesh?

Modi’s rally was a flash in the pan. The BJP has some presence in Hyderabad, not in Telangana, leave alone the rest of Andhra Pradesh.

Therefore, Modi appealed to TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu to join hands with the BJP. Unless some party like the TDP responds to Modi’s appeal, the BJP will not have a base either in Telangana or the other regions of the state. Naidu cannot be trusted on this, he has, after, been in the National Democratic Alliance earlier. But his studied silence to Modi’s public call for friendship is getting increasingly suspicious.

If Naidu does take the bait offered by Modi, he will expose himself as he had walked out of the NDA because of the 2002 Gujarat riots But he will pay the price for it as he will fall foul of not just the Muslims but the substantial Dalit Christian population, the Left parties and the progressive elements will all be ranged against him.

Modi has been in electoral politics for only 12 years. He is not known for his knowledge of social issues. Apart from his communal appeal, he is relying on cheap slogans instead of solid policy positions to reach out to the people. Sometimes simple slogans attract certain sections but the strength of those sections should not be overestimated.

While Modi’s “attractiveness” among the middle-classes is being overestimated, the depth of his “attractiveness” is being over-played. Modi, in my view, is a media bubble.

As a student of political science, how do you assess the big political picture in the country today.

We will continue to remain in the phase of coalition politics and here, the Congress will always have more acceptability than any other party. I don’t agree that the Congress will have to sit in the opposition because of the weakness of the BJP. But the Congress does need to improve upon itself. However, it has nothing to worry from Modi.

In fact, the attractiveness of Congress has become sharper with Modi being projected by the BJP. For the country, there is no option other than the UPA because the option offered by the BJP is no option. The BJP’s political attractiveness is itself weak and Modi’s even weaker.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi