Why the formation of Telangana is Congress's 'great gamble'
The Congress knew that Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra Pradesh are lost for a long time as Y S Jaganmohan Reddy’s leadership is taking deep roots. It also knew that if the next government is formed by the NDA then Telangana will definitely be created depriving them any credit. This pushed the Congress to finally endorse the new state. But the huge risk behind the decision and the uncertainties that go with it are making Congress nervous, says Sheela Bhatt.
‘Political compulsions’ forced Congress president Sonia Gandhi to agree, reluctantly, to endorse the demand for a separate Telangana state.
She was, throughout the negotiations, ‘equally sensitive’ to Andhra Pradesh’s sentiments too, says a reliable source in the Congress. But the Congress understood that the state would be surely created by the National Democratic Allianceif it came to power, so it was better to take credit.
In the long-term, history will note who gave the final push in creating a new state and in the short-term the Congress will try to win those Lok Sabha seats which have slipped out of its hands. It was one of the toughest decisions that party had to take in recent times because it will still be blamed for the division of Andhra Pradesh.
But, as Digvijaya Singh, the party in-charge of Andhra Pradesh, says, “either way the decision had to be taken” which was pushed to its final stage by Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Initially, senior leaders got the nod from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but when leader after leader went to see Dr Singh, there was a bit of panic in the Prime Minister’s Office.
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Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi
New Telangana state will not be a reality before March 2014
The possibility of a complete washout for the party in the 42 seats from Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana) in the next election seemed very real to the Congress. Right now it has 12 Lok Sabha members out of 17 seats from Telangana.
Without the historic decision to form a new state, party leaders believed that the Congress leaders would have no hope of even campaigning in the Telangana region in the coming election.
At same time, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy is growing and consolidating his YSR Congress party in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. The Congress has dim hopes of winning seats there since the Telugu Desam Party is also a factor making the fight triangular. The fear of drubbing in electoral politics has resulted in endorsement of Telangana by India’s biggest political party.
It was noteworthy that when Dr Singh reached 10, Janpath, Sonia Gandhi didn’t come out, as she usually does, to receive him at the doorstep and provide a photo opportunity. She didn’t smile when scores of television cameras were shooting visuals of the Congress Working Committee. She looked concerned and serious.
However, even if the commitment of the United Progressive Alliance and the Congress remains as steadfast as it was ‘seen’ on Wednesday, a new Telangana state will not be a reality before March 2014.
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Two districts of Rayalaseema vital to Cong's Telangana plan
The creation of the 29th state of India will face many political landmines. The making of Telangana has just begun and what will be the final shape is anybody’s guess.
Like a Congress leader explained, “If the Andhra Pradesh assembly is dissolved for some reason (a high possibility) then only the new assembly, after a fresh state election, can endorse the creation of Telangana.”
In the last few weeks, at every step, the Congress leaders were not only divided on the issue but very concerned of the risk they were taking.
A senior Congress leader accepts that, “It goes without saying that the risk is huge.”
If violence takes place as Congress and UPA moves further to meet the legal and constitutional requirements in creating the new state then the Congress will get a thrashing at the elections in the region.
“The possibility of violence is very real and that’s why the Congress party has requested the government to keep only ten districts in Telangana for now,” said a senior leader of the Congress party.
Another Congress leader, said in substantive but off the record conversation, that, “The various kinds of pressure from the Telangana region compelled the party to endorse the demand for a new state. One such pressure was to include Rayalaseema’s two districts.”
It is believed that at a later stage, the two districts of Kurnool and Anantapur “will have to be included” in Telangana but only after the surcharged atmosphere calms down.
Without these districts, the Congress’s position in Telangana will remain weak and its strong rival Jagan Reddy’s position will remain stronger because he belongs to the Rayalaseema region. Kurnool has a 16.21 percent Muslim population while Anantpur has around 11 percent.
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Photographs: KBK Infographics
Congress leaders accept Maoist presence will increase in the new state
If at all the Telangana Rashtra Samithi merges with the Congress as discussions are on then the Bharatiya Janata Party will occupy the entire space of the opposition, eventually, in Telangana. Hence, the new proposed state will see two mainstream parties pitted against each other in the coming decade.
Congress expects that the BJP will polarise the new state on communal lines. The two districts of Rayalaseema are vital to its Telangana plan to garner maximum advantage of the entire scheme.
Also, Congress leaders, by and large, accept that the Maoist presence will increase in the new state.
When asked, “Who is the winner?” the Congress leaders were reluctant to respond but accepted that if Congress is able to send the message down that Sonia Gandhi has respected the people’s demand for Telangana, it will stand a good chance to win 12 to 14 Lok Sabha seats in the region. It’s a tall order but Congress has shown the gambler’s instinct in backing Telangana and displeasing Seema-Andhra.
Congress leaders accept that their action has passed the advantage to the YSR Congress in the rest of Andhra Pradesh, but the expected new political trend in Telangana should favour the Congress. The BJP will gain too but only marginally, they claim.
As the TRS is essentially a family party and prone to temptation, the Congress thinks Tuesday’s decision can become a game-changer if the message percolates down well. The silence of the TDP and the YSR Congress over Telangana will be exploited well once the TRS is dealt with and Congress occupies the stage where it had lost all hope of performing.
The CWC action will have an impact on the fortunes of the Majlis-e-Itehadul Muslimeen lead by Asaduddin Owaisi too. In the current situation, their position will remain more or less the same but if two other districts of Rayalaseema are added to the new state then they will be able to expand their area of influence.
But it is clear that the Telangana decision reflects the Congress’s tremendous insecurities over the coming Lok Sabha elections.