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The Congress' big Telangana dilemma

Last updated on: July 9, 2013 08:54 IST

The Congress' big Telangana dilemma

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Anita Katyal

Anita Katyal explains why the Congress party is virtually in a Catch-22 situation in politically significant Andhra Pradesh over the sensitive Telangana issue.

With less than a year to go for the next Lok Sabha elections, the Congress leadership is once again focussing its attention on the long-pending demand for a separate state of Telangana, which is easily the biggest political challenge it faces today.

The recent flurry of activity in the Congress on this front suggests that the party's core committee, headed by Sonia Gandhi, is likely to take a call on this issue at its next meeting. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is learnt to be pushing the party into taking a quick decision.

The Congress is also mindful of Gujarat chief minister and BJP's campaign committee chief Narendra Modi's decision to hold a public rally in Hyderabad on July 28. Although the saffron party has little presence in Andhra Pradesh, it is hoping that Modi's appeal and its pro-Telangana stand will help the party enlarge its support base not just in Andhra Pradesh but in the other Southern states as well.

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Image: A Telangana supporter shouts slogans during a demonstration in Hyderabad
Photographs: Krishnendu Halder/Reuters

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'A decision will be taken soon'

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All India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who was given the charge of Andhra Pradesh affairs in the recent party reshuffle, held exhaustive consultations with party leaders on his recent visit to the state. He has since submitted his report to Sonia Gandhi.

Striking a positive note, Singh on Monday said that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, Deputy Chief Minister Damodar Raja Narasimha and state Congress president Botsa Satyanarayana, will present their case before the core committee decision after which a view would be taken. Refusing to give any time frame, Digvijaya Singh only said that a "decision would be taken soon."

The pro-Telangana activists were encouraged when he assured a delegation of Osmania University Joint Action Committee on Monday that they would hear some "sweet news" on this issue. He also served them sweets when they called on him today to warn of renewed protests if their demand was not met soon.

Having lingered over this matter for nearly two years, sceptics in the Congress are convinced that the leadership is still not ready to take such a major step. According to one view, party leaders were making placatory noises with an eye on the ongoing gram panchayat elections.

A decision to grant a separate Telangana state will open a Pandora's box, resulting in renewed demands for a separate Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh and Vidarbha in Maharashtra, to name a few. The Congress can ill-afford such repercussions in an election year.

On the other hand, the Congress cannot afford to delay a decision on this sensitive and emotive issue as it faces the prospect of being wiped out in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh which has 18 Lok Sabha seats. In fact, the Congress faces a proverbial catch-22 situation in the state which contributed 33 Lok Sabha MPs to its kitty in the 2009 elections.

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Image: AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh has submitted his Telangana report to Sonia Gandhi after holding exhaustive consultations with party leaders in Andhra Pradesh


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Increasing unease between TRS and Congress

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If it does decide in favour of Telangana, it could face a virtual revolt in the Rayalseema and coastal regions which do not want Andhra Pradesh to be divided. The Congress is already losing ground in these regions to Jaganmohan Reddy's YSR Congress whose popularity ratings are soaring even though he has been in jail for over a year now.

The Congress is essentially looking at two options: It hopes that its decision in favour of Telangana will help sew up an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which has been spearheading the movement for a separate state. This could assure them a substantial chunk of the 18 Lok Sabha seats of this region.

Although TRS had been keen on such a merger, the delay on the Congress' part has queered the pitch as the pro-Telangana outfit is not pursuing its initial offer as vigorously as it had done some months ago.

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Image: TRS president K Chandrashekar Rao addressing a rally in Hyderabad
Photographs: SnapsIndia

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The Jagan factor

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Alternatively, the Congress can enter into a partnership with Jaganmohan Reddy in the hope that this will stop its further erosion in the Rayalseema and coastal regions.

Digvijaya Singh, who is learnt to enjoy a good rapport with Jaganmohan Reddy, is learnt to be in touch with him.

Much in demand, Jagan is also being wooed by other parties. Trinamool Congress president and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called on his mother last week to enlist the YSR Congress for the formation of an anti-Congress, anti-BJP federal front.

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Image: YSR Congress president Jaganmohan Reddy steps out of jail to appear in a CBI court amid tight security in Hyderabad
Photographs: SnapsIndia

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'Modi's presence will alienate minorities in Telangana'

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Congress leaders, however, dismissed suggestions that Modi's forthcoming public rally and impending tour of the Telangana region was pushing the party into taking a quick view on this issue.

They pointed out that Modi could actually end up spoiling the BJP's chances as his divisive persona will alienate the minorities in this region.

The demand for Telangana has found resonance across communities and castes but Modi's arrival will create divisions in the ranks of these supporters, it was pointed out.


Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will address a rally in Hyderabad on July 28
Photographs: Reuters

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