Why Srikrishna report is of no use to the Congress
Whether the Congress takes a decision for or against a Telangana state, its strongest bastion Andhra Pradesh weakens. Sheela Bhatt looks at the tough choices before the party.
The Srikrishna committee report's biggest failure, from the Congress's point of view, is that it has not been able to take the steam out of Union Minister P Chidambaram's political blunder of December 9, 2009.
The committee was appointed for political reasons -- to give space and time to the Congress party, which was badly bruised due to mishandling of the crisis in Andhra Pradesh.
The political blunder that Chidambaram committed through his announcement on Sonia Gandhi's birthday two years ago seems to be irreversible.
Then, the Union home minister in consultation with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had drafted the press release to defuse the crisis created by a fast-unto-death of K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, the regional party fighting for a news state of Telangana.
The government committed that the 'process of forming Telangana state will be initiated.'
The two words 'Telangana state' travelled from New Delhi to Hyderabad changing the Congress's fortunes forever.
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Image: Justice Srikrishna submits the Telangana report to Home Minister P Chidambaram
Photographs: Snaps India
Congress did not anticipate the reaction to a division
Congress leaders sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of New Delhi's South and Borth Blocks had no idea how those few words would percolate down to the state and crate havoc. The next morning headlines were: Andhra Divided or Centre promises Telangana
By midnight that day, pro-Telangana people were celebrating but there was an equally strong reaction from the non-Telangana people and even the Congress leaders. The strongest bastion of the Congress had been badly dented and it would be hard to repair. The day after Congress President Sonia Gandhi was furious at the reaction to the government's announcement.
It is believed that intelligence inputs from Hyderabad of possible breakdown of the law-and-order situation was inaccurate and that misled the home ministry and the Prime Minister's Office and eventually Sonia to agree to issue the press release.
The Congress top leadership had not taken a holistic approach before the announcement so it needed time to take stock of the damage. The Srikrishna committee report was part of that move. But it's clear that the committee's report's political utility is zilch, now.
The Congress is back to square one. So once again it is trying to buy time. They want the issue to be be stretched till 2014 (when state assembly elections are due). Only on eve of that eleciton they would like to take a final call for or against Telangana.
Accordingly, since the report had been released Congress leaders are giving the signal that, 'Nothing will be done in hurry. A state in India can't be created in jiffy. It has to be a well-thought out process.'
Image: Telangana supporters celebrate after the Centre conceded to the demand of carving out a separate state from Andhra Pradesh in December 2009
Cong MPs from Telangana are upset
The Srikrishna report is predictable and for political animals in the state a waste of time. It made only one mysterious suggestion amongst six options. It suggested 'bifurcation of the state into Rayala-Telangana and coastal Andhra regions, with Hyderabad being an integral part of Rayala-Telangana.'
This unexpected option was rejected by the committee itself by saying it's 'not practicable'. The report is a rewriting of known information. It reads like a consulting firm's boring presentation unhelpful to the Congress.
K R G Reddy, the Congress Member of Parliament from Bhongir, is quite upset to see his party's fortunes sinking in his constituency in the Telangana region.
In excited tones he makes serious but unsubstantiated allegations to rediff.com, "The Srikrishna report is totally managed by Home Minister P Chidambaram. It's waste of time. He has to stand by his 2009 statement."
He was speaking on phone from Hyderabad while attending the huge meeting called by 11 Congress MPs and more than 100 Congress MLAs, councillors and district leaders from Telangana. The meeting was conveyed to condemn the report, reject it and plan the next move.
The Congress has 12 Lok Sabha MPs and four Rajya Sabha MPs from the Telangana region. Except for Union minister Jaipal Reddy, all other MPs are vocal in their support for Telanagana. Their only problem is that the TRS and the Bharatiya Janata Party should not capture the ground by the time their party decides. The Congress MPs have been requested by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmed Patel, Sonia's political secretary, not to resign till they meet again next month.
Before the Budget session of Parliament, party leaders have promised them some action on Telangana which is unlikely.
Reddy says he and other Congress MPs are unable to move freely in Telangana. They are finding it difficult to control public emotions in their constituencies.
One senior Congress leader and former minister told rediff.com that the Telangana people are so excited about the possibility of the new state that in some villages they have started marking homes which belong to people from the Rayalseema and Andhra regions. They think these families will be migrating leaving behind their property once the state of Telangana is formed!
What is irritating for those Andhra Congress leaders who are against the division of the state is that even when the Srikrishna committee gave a breather to the party it didn't utilise that time deftly. Rather, the party allowed both sides of the divide to raise their pitch and go to the media to air their grievances. As a result, the demand for Telangana has been consolidated.
Image: Police lathi-charge Telangana supporters
What are the options before the Congress?
What exactly is the Congress mulling over? What are its options?
Mukherjee, who takes all the major political decisions in the current setup, is considered to be against the idea of a division of Andhra Pradesh. He entered politics in the early 1970s, so his political training is such that he would not readily agree for a division.
As the Srikrishna report extensively proves that economic reasons are not really compelling for Telangana to demand a separate state. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would like to depend on statistics or as he has done on many other issues his approach is likely to be flexible. Sonia has so far not revealed her mind but she or her party cannot escape the conceived promise to the people of Andhra Pradesh that the 'process to create Telangana would be initiated'.
So, in a given complex situation what is most important are three figures -- 42, 17 and 25.
Andhra Pradesh has been the biggest contributor to the Congress kitty in the Lok Sabha since the last two elections thanks to late chief minister Y S R Reddy and his pro-farmer policies.
Out of 42 Lok Sabha seats, 17 fall in Telangana. If the Congress doesn't take any decision on Telangana and delays it, for even justifiable reasons from the national point of view, it's in danger of losing substantial ground in Telangana where the TRS and the BJP could gain heavily. In Andhra, the BJP only has a presence in Telangana and like the TRS it has been supporting the demand for a Telangana state. It's the prime mover behind many TRS's political moves also.
Understandably, the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party and Jagan Reddy, the new emerging force, have not made their stands clear so far.
Image: Pranab Mukherjee, Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi at the recent Congress plenary
Why Jagan is a thorn in the Congress side
Traditionally in Andhra Pradesh, more or less, the TDP has one-third of the votes, one-third are retained by the Congress and the remaining are floating votes. The TDP and Congress have much to lose if they don't calibrate their stand for or against Telangana.
If and when a Telangana state is formed, both parties want to ensure that in Andhra and Rayalseema they should not be blamed for division while in Telangana, the Congress wants to take credit for it. If the demand for Telangana is rejected or not responded to then, the Congress would like to consolidate its position in Andhra and control the damage in Telangana but Jagan Reddy is the main challenge in that aim.
Right now, if the Congress shows any sign of tilting towards giving a new state then 25 seats of the non-Telangana region known as Andhra and Rayalseema would see heavy division of Congress votes and a large chunk may go to Jagan Reddy's new party.
Meaning whether the Congress takes a decision for or against Telangana, its strongest bastion Andhra Pradesh weakens. It is the simple arithmetic that scares its current lot of MPs.
In the last election of 2008, the Congress won 33 seats but if it's loses ground in Telangana and is considerably weakened in Andhra region then it will feel the pressure to regain the lost seats from other states. After losing Bihar so badly that seems a difficult task.
Also the second generation of the Congress leadership in AP have been wooed by Jagan Reddy for quite sometime now. These young lads have money and muscle power. They are not enamoured by New Delhi or by the power that Congress's central leadership wields.
In 1969, 300 students had died but still Indira Gandhi remained unmoved and stood by her ideological belief of not dividing Andhra. Now neither Sonia or Dr Singh are strong enough to take on upfront the serious policy issue of governing the states of India.
The Congress has another point to ponder over. Should they allow a new state where the communal divide will be little more pronounced?
Image: Thousands gather at Jagan Mohan Reddy's rally
Telangana is not the real issue, Hyderabad is
As everybody knows that Telangana is not the real issue. Hyderabad is the bone of contention between the two warring sides. Behind them is the real estate mafia, which doesn't want real eatates to fall under any new arrangement.
However, the issue of demography is also lurking here. One less debated point is that currently Muslim population of Telangana is 4.5 percent but, if Hyderabad goes with Telangana, then the total Muslim population of the new state would touch 12.5 percent. That makes a Hyderabad-based party like the All India Majlis-e-Ittihad al-Muslimin quite relevant.
A new state of Telangana with Hyderabad will have better presence of Muslims in the new state assembly, corporations and even in the Lok Sabha. The BJP and TRS will have to take co-operation of 12.5 percent Muslim voters to run the state.
It is now accepted that without Hyderabad going to Telangana the idea of a new state is not viable. Hyderabad's around Rs 70,000 crore's contribution to exchequer is only guarantee of faster amendments in the intra-regional imbalance.
Seen from any angle, the Congress has a historic challenge before it. The Srikrishna committee has also accepted that there is strong sentiment in favour of Telangana but one also knows that its two biggest supporters TRS and BJP have respectively 11 and 2 seats in the Andhra assembly of 294.
Andhra Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy is struggling to give confidence to his party's cadre that he can handle law and order situation and get much-needed-time.
The TRS has lost it edge in the agitation
Also, TRS leader K Chandreshekhar Rao has made some irresponsible statements like he recently, said, "Give me Telangana and take away my party." He has also spoken in favour of the Maoist agenda.
The Congress has very few options to save its party's position in a united or divided state.Right now, its only option is to divide and rule the forces in favour of Telangana and those opposing. The final line of the Srikrishna report might have been written for benefit of Congress's leadership.
That report quotes the first home minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: "It will be a folly to ignore realities; facts take their revenge if they are not faced squarely and well."
Image: Policemen stand guard as violence erupts in Hyderabad over the Telangana issue
Photographs: Sanps India