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Congress may not make substantial gains in Telangana

February 17, 2014 20:59 IST

While the United Progressive Alliance government is preparing to ignore the protests from anti-Telangana members of Parliament and push through the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, the Congress’ grim internal assessment is that the move may not pay the requisite electoral dividends which it had originally hoped for, says Anita Katyal

UPA sources told that the ruling alliance will pass the Bill in the din through a voice vote if the conditions are not conducive for a discussion. However, this will depend on whether the presiding officers of the two Houses agree to do so. The Congress has asked all its members to be present in Parliament over the next four days and a three-line whip issued to them.

Directed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the party had gone ahead with the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh as it hoped to make political gains in the Telangana region which has 17 Lok Sabha seats. The party is focused on Telangana since it has been virtually wiped out in the Seema-Andhra region where it has ceded ground to the Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam Party.

Having taken such a major decision in the face of stiff opposition from its own ranks, Congress strategists are wondering if this gamble will pay off in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

According to a senior Congress leader, involved with the party’s strategy on Telangana, the grand old party may not win a substantial number of seats in the proposed new state.

The Telangana Rashtriya Samithi will predictably be the main beneficiary in Telangana both in the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls which are to be held simultaneously this April.

But contrary to the Congress’ initial assessment, the TDP will not be wiped out in Telangana  as it is well placed in at least seven Lok Sabha constituencies around Hyderabad because these areas have a  substantial population hailing from  the Seema-Andhra region where it has a strong presence.

“The Congress will be wiped out in Andhra Pradesh if the state is not divided but the party will make only minimal gains if the formation of Telangana goes through,” a senior Congress leader told, adding that it could, at best, hope to win five to six seats in the new state.

UPA leaders also admitted that the TDP, which is all set to seal an electoral pact with the Bharatiya Janata Party, could do extremely well if Andhra Pradesh remains united.

However, it will suffer only minor losses if Telangana is formed. TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu’s party has cadres on the ground in the Telangana region and has positioned himself as an able administrator.

The TDP chief has, therefore, held a series of meetings with the BJP top leaders, including its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, asking them not to support the Telangana Bill. Naidu even travelled to Chandigarh over the weekend to plead his case with Modi.

Since the BJP has a longstanding commitment to the formation of Telangana, it cannot openly oppose the statehood Bill but it has placed several pre-conditions for its passage which could effectively stall the legislation.

It has persistently maintained that the Bill should not be passed without a debate and that the ruling alliance must ensure “justice” for the people of Seema-Andhra region which is opposed to the bifurcation.

Realising that their pleas for a united Andhra Pradesh are going unheeded in the Congress, five Union ministers from Seema-Andhra, including Chiranjeevi, Pallam Raju and Purandeswari, called on  senior BJP leader LK Advani and asked him not to support the Bill.

YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy, who is jostling for political space with the TDP in the Seema-Andhra region, intensified his protests against the division of Andhra Pradesh by courting arrest in the capital after sitting on a day-long dharna at Jantar Mantar.

At the same time, eight trainloads of people from the Seema-Andhra region, including government employees, have reached Delhi to oppose the formation of Telangana.

Although Jagan was initially expected to make huge gains in Telangana, he is now trailing behind the TDP which has succeeded in convincing the electorate that the YSR chief was released on bail soon after the Congress decided on Telangana as he had entered into a secret pact with the grand old party.

Jagan, the TDP declared, would eventually team up with the Congress after the elections. This was substantiated when he constantly targetted the TDP for the Telangana mess but refrained from criticising Sonia Gandhi in his speeches.

Reddy’s desperation was evident on Monday when he hit out at the Congress president on Monday, raising the issue of her foreign origin and charged her with dividing the state for political gain.

Dubbing the Congress as the "Italian National Congress", the YSR chief said, "Even Britishers did not do what she did to my state of Andhra Pradesh".

Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who has opposed the formation of Telangana in defiance of the Congress leadership, is expected to put in his papers once the statehood bill is passed and form his own party. He will then become another political player in the Seema-Andhra region.

Image: Police try to detain pro-Telangana supporter near a burning effigy depicting Lagadapati Rajagopal, a legislator from Andhra Pradesh, during a protest in Hyderabad. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

Anita Katyal in New Delhi