'The only political beneficiary of Telangana will be BJP'
Asaduddin Owaisi, the member of Parliament from Hyderabad, talks to Sheela Bhatt about his worries over the way Telangana is being created.
Asaduddin Owaisi represents Hyderabad City in the Lok Sabha, over which the entire Telangana issue, since 2009, has been in a state of boil. He represents the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the powerful party over which his family has tight control. On February 18, when the Lok Sabha passed the historic bill to divide Andhra Pradesh, Owaisi spoke vociferously over the main anomalies, defects and serious lapses in the Andhra Pradesh Re-organisation Bill, 2014.
In an exclusive interview to Rediff.com’s Sheela Bhatt, the controversial young politician who usually voices “Muslim issues” on TV debates, spoke eloquently of his beloved city and the future of Telangana.
Owaisi, who was against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, gives his take on the game played by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party over the issue, and says it is better that one now accepts Telangana and works towards the best for both sides.
Owaisi also raises serious questions over the BJP not standing up in the Lok Sabha to point out valid and sensible issues that he was raising amidst the chaos when the bill was passed by the lower house on Tuesday.
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Image: MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi
'What really worries me is this whole concept of joint capital'
First, can you tell us five or six major issues which you raised in the Lok Sabha for which you moved relevant amendments before the bill was passed? Can you highlight the worries about the bill passed by the Lok Sabha?
What really worries me is this whole concept of joint capital. Number one, nowhere in the world can one give an example of one country having its capital in another country. Chandigarh is a Union territory, not part of either Punjab or Haryana. Hyderabad is part of Telangana, only under the new law, which is a right decision but to say that it will also be the joint capital of Andhra for 10 years is strange.
One must understand that there’s a geographical contiguity of Chandigarh in Punjab and Haryana. But from Hyderabad the nearest Andhra (the divided part known as Seema-Andhra) border is 180 km, and for Rayalaseema region will be at 170 km.
The third problem is the bill says greater Hyderabad would be a joint capital -- that comprises nearly 24 assembly segments and more than three Parliament constituencies. Can you imagine what will happen to brand Hyderabad? Who will invest in Hyderabad whose fate is not known after 10 years? Tell me, whose baby is Hyderabad? Whether the Telangana government will invest or not invest is not known because, you know, for 10 years it’s a joint capital where Andhra people would still dominate. Why would Andhra invest in Hyderabad, because they’d have to invest in their own new capital? This whole concept of joint or common capital is wrong.
Secondly, not creating a separate high court for Telangana is absurd. Just saying that, “no, we’ve asked the chief justice to create a Telangana high court” is unacceptable because it is the job of the executive to create the high court and giving judges and chief justice the job of creating the judiciary, and secondly there is a huge division over the issue within the bar and the bench, within the high court.
The third main issue is giving “law and order” of the greater Hyderabad municipal corporation which comprises 628 sq km, to the governor of Andhra Pradesh. Now, I don’t know what kind of respect the new Telangana chief minister will have among the Telangana masses if he’s responsible only for 8.5 districts. Around 1.5 districts of Telangana comprise Hyderabad over which he won’t have any control. The police commissioner of Hyderabad would be the super CM.
We must understand that law and order is a state subject. Article 246, Schedule 7 (of the Constitution) is very clear, that law and Order is a state subject and cannot be given to the governor. The Supreme Court has given various judgments where it has laid down that law and order is a state subject and the governor has no role whatsoever. And who is the governor, after all? Of course he will be the figurehead and he will be a glorified member of the ruling party. So I don’t understand why the Telangana leaders are keeping quiet when more than 650 students have committed suicide over Hyderabad kind of issue? I mean, the whole struggle for Telangana was for Hyderabad, was for better employment opportunities.
When you come to employment, the bill says till the Telangana Public Service Commission is created, the Union PSC would take care of Telangana. Why? You’re creating an Andhra Public Service Commission, why don’t you create a Telangana Public Service Commission too?
Another point is, the division of debts, assets and liabilities. Absurd things are happening here. It is being done on the proportion of the population! It is completely arbitrary!
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Image: A performer blows fire from his mouth during Bonalu celebrations in Hyderabad
'The BJP did not propose a single amendment in Lok Sabha'
Why do you say that?
Because you’ve taken World bank loan for X area project, you’ve taken loan for a financial institution loan for Y area. Now, the distribution of liability of debts should be on the basis of how much the project has worked for X and how much work has been done in the area, how much money was spent. On the basis of that you divide the assets, liability and debt. But that is not being done.
And then take the classic example of Hyderabad House in New Delhi. It was the Nizam’s property. After Hyderabad became part of Indian Union the Government of India took over Hyderabad House. Now the bill says, ‘No, this will go to AP state’. Before AP was created, this was part of Hyderabad so Hyderabad House has to be given to Telangana.
See, the main point is not giving a national project status to the Pranahita Chevella lift irrigation scheme. This is a huge project which is important for Telangana’s future. The Congress is giving a national status to the Polavaram project. If you don’t give national status to Paranhita project then the drinking water requirement for Hyderabad will suffer, we have insufficient water supply currently. Where will this water come from?
And to implement Pranahita Chevella project on the Godavari, an investment of nearly Rs 20,000 crores is needed. Where will this money come from? Why don’t you give it a national status so that the Government of India can also finance it, whereas Polavaram has been given special treatment?
This bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha with all these anomalies. I had proposed nearly 25 amendments based on these worries of mine. But none was accepted by the UPA government.
And, how many amendments did the BJP propose and how many got rejected?
The BJP did not propose a single amendment in the Lok Sabha. It was only me and Mr. Saugata Roy on behalf of the Trinamool Congress who moved amendments.
How do you look at the politics played by the BJP and Congress over the Telangana bill?
You know what happened. One must understand, and both Congress and BJP should understand, that this House belongs to each and every member of the august House. Unfortunately the Lok Sabha has been turned in to a house of the Congress and BJP only. This is very unfortunate and is not good for parliamentary democracy.
These two parties cannot decide the fate of other political parties because we are elected members. We are not from their parties. Fine, because people have elected us on our merit. We also have a viewpoint. You cannot have a situation where both the parties sit across and decide a crucial matter of national importance. The BJP says, ‘We will not allow this bill to be passed till it is debated properly.’ But the BJP went back on its words. Why?
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Image: Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj
'Ten years is a dangerous number in Indian politics'
What’s your take on Telangana?
See, the creation of Telangana is a fait accompli for our party. We were against the bifurcation of the great state of Andhra Pradesh. We were against it till the day the Union cabinet decided in favour of it. Before the Srikrishna committee and before the Pranab Mukherjee group of ministers on Telangana we had clearly stated that we will not compromise on Hyderabad. Hyderabad should not be made a Union territory and the law and issue should not be with the governor who is a nominee of the Centre. I’ve been saying these three things consistently. Now this is a fait accompli for us, but at least do it properly!
You see, the whole problem of the Congress party was about the coming election and the election thereafter. The Congress is taking a hit in the coastal regions now, you will be taking a hit again because the Telugu Desam Party and Jagan Reddy will say, “No, we will not leave Hyderabad!”. And after 10 years who knows what will happen? Ten years is a dangerous number in Indian politics.
It can go on forever… In India anything starts with 10 years and continues in perpetuity.
If you look at Tuesday’s events from neutral ground, what will be your response?
There is a lot of fear and apprehension among both sides, which is natural. But it will be the duty and responsibility of the Telangana government to ensure that this fear, even if it is unfounded, these apprehensions are there, they should be removed, because Hyderabad belongs to everyone and Seemandhra people are part and parcel of Hyderabad society and we’ve already said that our party will stand with them and any government will be successful if they ensure these people live in Hyderabad unhurt and in peace and contribute to the development of Hyderabad.
At least, now we’ve clarity.
In the last few years investments in Hyderabad have dwindled. Many companies did not want to expand their operations because of the uncertainty over Telangana. Whether I like it or not, you know, at least there’s certainty, a clarity now. We have to ensure that an environment of investment is created and that can be done only if the law and order is kept with the political executive of Telangana -- so if any apprehensions are there, you know through political pressure and through public pressure we can control the governor as well.
There is one interesting thing about you. Your party which has the major support of Muslim voters is not ready for Telangana. Why? Won’t Telangana have much more percentage of Muslims than Andhra Pradesh?
It’s a very valid question. But our (anti-bifurcation) policy was not based on good electoral prospects which we have in Telangana. No, seriously, because one has to understand that there are Muslims in Ananthpur and Kurnool. They are one of the more backward regions. Now, Ananthpur will be the biggest sufferer, it has gone to Seema-Andhra. Ananthpur receives the lowest rainfall in India, lower than Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, and the Muslims of that area are very backward.
Secondly, the most important point in our party’s opinion which one can disagree with, in a separate Telangana definitely the BJP will grow. It is the only political beneficiary of the creation of Telangana.
Because of history and because of the Congress and Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Actually, the TRS will not be relevant any more. Now it is a huge challenge for the TRS and because of that they are talking of merger with the Congress. I don’t know what will happen, but the TRS is a one-issue party. They wanted Telangana, they got Telangana. Unlike the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which has their support base among tribals, here it is a one-agenda party of Telangana, will they be relevant? So, a political vacuum will be created.
Also, the TDP is branded in Telangana as an Andhra party, as an NTR party. So this vacuum of the TRS and TDP will be filled by the BJP in future. I hope I am wrong.
Who will fill this vacuum? I cannot fill that vacuum, the Left parties cannot fill that vacuum, and the Congress as a party can absorb leaders of the TDP and TRS, but what about that space? So, Telangana is a fertile ground for the BJP, if not today then tomorrow!
Why did the Congress go for the kill?
They had made a promise, many students had committed suicide, so they have basically “bitten the bullet”. In Seema-Andhra they will not win a single seat because of Jagan Reddy and TDP, and also due to the Centre’s anti-incumbency. The Congress has placed all its eggs in the Telangana basket.
But the Congress’s fortunes are unclear. Because, unless and until the secular forces come together, I don’t think the Congress can really gain ground in Telangana.
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Image: State government employees belonging to the Seemandhra region protest in Hyderabad
'In the creation of Telangana I definitely foresee the rise of Hindutva forces'
How do you look at Seemandhra’s politics vis a vis Telengana now? Will there be enmity? Blood wars?
It will be huge legal wars. There will be huge difficulties over distribution of water, and you cannot stop that. I shudder to think what will be the consequences when river water distribution comes up. It is not an easy thing. Already as a state Andhra Pradesh was having difficulties with Orissa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, and now with Telangana and Andhra coming into existence in such a confused way.
Why did the Congress party go for 10 states instead of 12 for Telangana?
It is very unfortunate that their own leaders went to 1400 gram panchayats and got a resolution passed over the districts of Ananthpur and Kurnool. But later they dropped the idea. I don’t know why they missed this opportunity because if they had added Kurnool-Ananthpur, the biggest problem of Telangana-Hyderabad would have been solved, ie, water. Now, there’ll be huge friction on Kurnool and Mehbubnagar. Our water flows from Karnataka. The stream enters the Mehbubnagar area, and it will be a huge problem because the Tungabhadra scheme is there and so many other projects are here. Also, the issue of Hyderabad would be solved.
What will happen now -- the Rayalaseema people will say “you locate your new capital of Andhra in Rayalaseema” So coastal and Rayalaseema people have a fight. Because earlier, before AP came into existence, the capital was in Kurnool. Now they’ll say, “No, you create a capital in Rayalaseema only, not in coastal Andhra.”
These three issues could have been easily solved. I did not go to the BJP to talk about it. I asked the committee of Pranab Mukherjee. I had given in writing to Srikrishna Committee that you add these two districts and the water issue would be solved. The Congress party did not agree to it
There is talk about the real estate mafia of Hyderabad having an interest in keeping all this confusion alive. Tell me, what is this story about?
Yes, the land mafia is there. In Hyderabad many land plots belonging to the waqf board have been encroached upon. In Hyderabad many MNCs have built their offices over there. Take the classic example of Wipro. It is on waqf land, take the Indian School of Business, it is on waqf land, take Mr L Rajagopal’s Lanco Hills, again it is on waqf land. These are all mistakes done in the allotment of land during Chandrababu Naidu’s time and Rajasekhara Reddy’s rule. These two governments are responsible.
Of course, the land sharks were against Telangana. They wanted Hyderabad as a Union territory, which we strongly opposed.
Do you expect violence in the coming days?
I hope not, I hope not, people are sensible enough to understand this. But, yes, we will have to be alert. I don’t foresee any violence happening against Seemandhra people, and my party is ensuring that within Hyderabad such incidents don’t take place and hope that all political parties will cooperate and coordinate.
What do you want to say about the BJP’s stand?
The BJP has been maintaining a very ambiguous stand. The BJP once said they are for Telangana, then said ‘No no, justice should be done to Rayalaseema’, then they said that discussion should take place, so because of this ambiguity the BJP has lost face in Telangana.
Okay, how do you see the short term and long term future of Jagan Reddy?
I don’t know, it is, you know, a very subjective question, which I hope Jagan can answer. But it is a huge challenge for him to now concentrate in Seemandhra. Election nowadays, one cannot really put a finger on it. Even for my election I have to work hard. I cannot say I will win. It is going to be a huge task for any political party.
How will history judge the Congress party’s role in creating Telangana?
We will have to wait for history to write. I don’t know, because I can only say, in the creation of Telangana I definitely foresee the rise of Hindutva forces. In Telangana and also in Rayalaseema regions. I also foresee, in the coming years, the only political beneficiary of today’s happenings will be the BJP, not the Congress party.
Image: BJP leaders participate in a pro-Telangana protest outside the AP assembly