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AP's share in Team Manmohan: Biggest, yet too late

October 28, 2012 15:54 IST

It has taken three-and-a-half years for the Congress leadership and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to realise that without Andhra Pradesh they would not be in power at the Centre, and will not be able to do the same in 2014 without this southern citadel standing by them.

The induction of five new faces from Andhra Pradesh in the Cabinet, taking the total representation of the state to a record ten, is a belated realisation that the state had given an unprecedented 33 seats in Lok Sabha facilitating UPA's return to power for the second consecutive term in 2009.

Inexplicably state's representation was brought down from 7 in UPA-I Cabinet to initially four in the UPA-II team. It was later increased to five.

Despite generosity of the AP electorate in supporting Congress, the reason behind the state getting a cold shoulder not only in terms of Cabinet berths but also new projects and funds, remain one of those puzzles which can be resolved only by those who were responsible for it.

ButĀ this neglect of the state has seen Congress' fortunes dwindling to dangerous low. All these years the representation of the state in the Cabinet has constantly been around five with the veteran S Jaipal Reddy a permanent fixture.

Senior tribal leader V Kishore Chandra Deo was the other Cabinet minister from the state while D Purandareswari, daughter of Telugu Desam Party founder N T Rama Rama, Pallam Raju and Panabak Lakshmi were the three ministers of state, all from Andhra region.

The choice of the five new faces seems to be aimed at bringing a much-needed regional and caste balance to gear up for the 2014 battle.

Of the five, two -- Balram Nayak and Sarve Satyanarayana -- are from Telangana and belong to the tribal and Dalit communities.

The induction of Chiranjeevi, film-star-turned-politician, who belongs to powerful Kapu community, was expected ever since he merged his fledgling Praja Rajyam Party with Congress. He along with Killi Kruparani are from Andhra region while Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy, son of former Chief Minister Kotla Vijaybhaskar Reddy, is from the Rayalseema region.

However, closer scrutiny reveals that the representation remains skewed at the sub-regional level. For example in north coastal Andhra, Congress has only four MPs, three of them ministers. It has generated a lot of heart burn and heat among the party leaders from other parts of Andhra and at least one of them -- Kavuri Sambsiva Rao from Godavari belt -- has sent in his resignation and another was contemplating it.

Leaving aside the individual merits of these choices, the biggest message to the AP electorates from prime minister is: if you gave the biggest chunk of Parliamentary seats, we have given you the largest ever number of places in the Cabinet

Even during the tenure of PV Narasimha Rao as prime minister, the state's representation did not cross 8.

Out of the 10 Andhrites in Manmohan Singh Cabinet, three -- Jaipal Reddy, Kishore Chandra Devo and Pallam Raju -- will have Cabinet status, Chiranjeevi will be a minster with independent charge and others will be ministers of state.

On the caste representation, the upper castes have got fourĀ  -- two are Reddys, one Kamma and one Kshtriya. While Kapus and backward classes have got one berth each, two are tribal and two from scheduled castes. Minorities remain unrepresented from the state.

Questions were already being asked whether the move to give a fair representation to the state in the Union Cabinet has not come a bit too late in the day as the state for all practical purpose seems to have slipped out of the sweaty grip of the party.

Second question was will the induction of some new faces and elevation of couple of others will change the ground realities, including the demand for carving out Telangana state?

The Congress leadership seems to be more optimistic that the belated gamble will pay off in the next elections when ever they take place. But it hinges on many factors, ability of the ministers to deliver being on the top. The performance of the ministers from the state has left much to be desired.

For instance despite being petroleum minister Jaipal Reddy has not been able to ensure the supply of allocated natural gas to the state leading to a massive power crisis.

If induction of two more faces from Telangana -- Sarve Satyanarayana and Balram Nayak -- was aimed at reigning in the pro-Telangana sentiments, it was unlikely to have a desired result.

Even the Congress MPs admit that the struggle for Telangana state has reached a stage where a mere cosmetic gesture like Cabinet representation was unlikely to change the mood of the people or their voting pattern in the next election.

On the contrary the new ministers will be under pressure to raise their voices in support of separate state. The party leadership on the other hand will be expecting them to bring back the alienated masses.

Congress was also facing a tough challenge in Andhra and Rayalseema regions especially from the aggressive YSR Congress party of YSR family. The new party has already weaned away a big chunk of Reddy votes from the Congress, as was indicated by thumping victory of Rajmohan Reddy in Nellore Lok Sabha by elections. To expect a political lightweight like Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy to counter this threat will be a bit too much.

The reshuffle in the Union Cabinet is also being seen in Andhra Pradesh as a mere first step in the direction of putting new life in Congress government and the party. A reshuffle in the state cabinet and the party, with possible change in the leadership will be the next logical step.

Ever since the death of YS Rajasekhar Reddy in September 2009, the Congress government and the party have been hurtling from one crisis to another and the period has been marked by the political uncertainty and lack of governance. N Kiran Kumar Reddy has failed in checking the desertion of Reddys from Congress to Jagan camp.

It remains to be seen whether Congress chief Sonia Gandhi will continue to rely on him or there will be a change of guard in the last ditch attempt to win back what seems to be a lost cause.

Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad