On the basis of many conversations with stakeholders on the Telangana issue, Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt presents an FAQ to help understand the politics of posturing and realpolitik on the ground to win seats. The questions are many and the answers are not straight.
When a crime occurs, the first question police asks is, who benefits from the crime?
Whatever happened in the Lok Sabha on Thursday was a criminal offence.
Who benefited from the violence that was unleashed as per everybody’s expectation, including Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar who had asked a day earlier, in a lighter vein at a dinner event, “Who will be crucified tomorrow?”
Going by the reaction of Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath moments after the violence in the Lok Sabha, it’s clear that ruling party is unfazed. Friday’s morning papers also give the assessment that the Congress is ‘satisfied’ by the net result. Congress managers in the Lok Sabha were looking smug while claiming that the Andhra reorganisation bill has been tabled in the house.
Who says it was tabled in the house? Only the Congress party!
On Thursday, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s L K Advani and Sushma Swaraj, All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M Thambi Durai, Samajwadi Party’s Shailendra Kumar and Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mehtab met Meira Kumar to protest the Congress’s claim that the bill had been tabled in the house.
On what basis does the Congress claim that the bill was tabled?
The quick response is, “The Speaker has the power to bypass the rules.”
But why would the Speaker bypass the rules? All the MPs know the answer. Any defence won’t wash the allegation that Meira Kumar should also share some blame for Thursday’s events in the house.
Congress ministers spread unsubstantiated charges against unruly Telugu Desam Party Member of Parliament Venugopal Reddy moments after the violence. Congress leaders told the media that Reddy brandished a knife in the well of the house. Reddy furiously and convincingly denied the charge. He said, “There were 10 cameras inside the house. Why don’t you check it out?”
Orissa MP Mehtab fears that in similar fashion, the Congress can as well pass the bill in the Lok Sabha.
But then it leads to the questions:
- Does the Congress really want Telangana?
- Does it want to split Andhra Pradesh before the 2014 election?
- Does the BJP really want Telangana?
On the basis of many conversations with stakeholders on the issue Rediff.com presents an FAQ to help readers understand the politics of posturing and realpolitik on the ground to win seats. The questions are many and the answers are not straight.
Is the Congress fully committed to creating a Telangana state before the 2014 elections?
The Congress’s strategy is to have it cake and eat it too. In the process they are making a mess of all the political processes and etiquettes of statecraft. The Congress definitely wants to save its seats wherever and whichever way it can in the Seema-Andhra and Telangana regions.
With the party facing tremendous anti-incumbency and fearing its worst-ever defeat, obviously every single seat counts. As of today no Indian political leader is able to look beyond winning seats in the coming election, including Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. Andhra Pradesh has 42 seats. If it is divided then Telangana will have 17 Lok Sabha seats and the Seema-Andhra region will have 25 seats.
On December 9, 2009, the Congress promised the people of India that it will take steps to create a separate state of Telangana when P Chidambaram, the then home minister, gave a statement to the media drafted by him and approved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Since then the Congress has been in a soup because as is to be expected, the people’s aspirations have been aroused in Telangana but more than that the vocal opposition to Telangana has begun and consolidated too.
Between 2009 and 2014, there has been a huge change in the ground reality. The Congress, particularly Chidambaram and those who inked that December 2009 statement, did not foresee the end game or the net consequences of their half-baked political action for the Congress party.
Andhra Pradesh’s strongman chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy died in an air crash in September 2009. His death made the Congress's ship rudderless in the state. The absence of YSR and his political deftness and the vertical divide within the Congress high command in New Delhi forced the party to adopt delaying tactics for all these five years.
In fact, within the all-powerful Congress core group that took all political decisions there was never unanimity in creating Telangana. The core group took decisions on Telangana in bits and pieces and was sailing along with the political wind. Their thinking was that the end is not near since most Telugu parties were confused and giving out mixed signals.
But the rules of the game are different for the ruling party. It got caught in the very web that it was weaving around the issue to get maximum benefit. The sudden rise of Jagan Reddy made their calculations go awry and the entry of Narendra Modi on the national scene complicated it further.
Senior Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh, A K Antony and Pranab Mukherjee were always against Chidambaram’s decision. The Congress has tried hard to force stakeholders like the BJP and the TDP to give their unambiguous opinion on Telangana, so that anti-Congress forces can be pinned down in Seema-Andhra. But the rise of Jagan Reddy took Andhra politics in a different direction.
Those who want to know why the Congress is in a T-mess should pay attention to Chidambaram's statement (Watch Video) of December 23, 2009, when the Congress party at the highest level developed cold feet because its most powerful decision-making body known as the core group was divided on the profit and loss accruing from creating Telangana.
Now, drifting on the issue is proving costly for the Congress. The current political wind is such that if you create Telangana, the party will be dumped for the foreseeable future in the 25 seats in Seema-Andhra, and if the Congress fails to create Telangana before the elections then it will be damned by the combined efforts of the Telangana Rashtriya Congress, YSR Congress, TDP and BJP who will all blame the Congress for the fiasco.
So what do you do?
The party turns to the Kamal Nath brand of politics that unfolded on Thursday in Parliament. Send out a strong signal on Telangana on the eve of elections, ‘see how against all odds we tried hard to get statehood but the BJP and TDP's Seema-Andhra leaders stalled us.’
On the opposite side of the fence (in Seema-Andhra) the Congress would help its super rich and bullish political leaders fight their opponents in the field using their personal clout. With their money and muscle power they will tell their voters in the election campaign that “we fought tooth and nail (even with pepper spray!) for our motherland and Telugu pride in the Lok Sabha. We have bought crucial time. Give us votes so that we can continue our fight for a united Andhra.”
So do you want to say the Congress doesn’t actually want Telangana?
The Congress wants confusion. That would keep them remain floating among Andhra’s voters. The Congress’s stand in public has remained in favour of Telangana since 2009 but its internal assessment keeps changing because the ground realities are changing. Right now, it is clear that if Telangana is created then in Seema-Andhra, in the short term and long term, the Congress will lose its hold because Jagan Reddy and the TDP will ensure that they are decimated for dividing the state.
If the Congress manages to pass the bill, then in the new state of Telangana, the Congress might get six to eight seats maximum. But even that assumption is dicey. The TRS which stood for Telangana and fought a long battle will get a large chunk of the credit. The TRS may or may not merge with the Congress as promised. TRS chief K C Rao is not at all dependable. The BJP is already in touch with them.
In Telangana, without the TRS, Congressmen will find triangular contests at all places. Also, whatever they win in Telangana will be at a huge and actually unaffordable cost of what united Andhra gave them in the past and can give them in the future. So from an electoral standpoint, the Congress stands to lose in a big way in the long term if the Telangana bill is passed. And in the short term, wining in six-eight seats is fraught with many ifs and buts.
So after the ruckus in Parliament are you accusing the Congress of playing games? That it really doesn’t want to pass the T-bill?
If they are going to get the blame for not passing the bill, the Congress thinks it is better show resolve to pass the bill. If they are not blamed for failing to pass the bill then they are ready to eye the political benefit of wooing supporters of a ‘united Andhra’. The Congress wants to go on with their posturing of “we will pass the bill. We are not backing out. We want to honour promise given by P Chidambaram.”
The Congress’s best hope is that the media exposes the BJP’s doublespeak. That is not exactly happening because the Congress's credibility is too low on the issue. Also, there are serious allegations of real estate and business interests of the Congress leaders being behind the party’s delaying tactics.
Everyone can also see how the Congress is giving time and space to their dissenting leaders in Andhra Pradesh to carry on with their vitriolic agitation against Telangana which is largely responsible for democracy being shamed on Thursday. The Congress has allowed its Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, a faceless politician, to gain some weight in the process. Reddy strongly blames the Congress everyday to remain floating and he has succeeded.
The fact that the party has not taken action against Reddy has given rise to murmurs that his protests have the tacit backing of the party high command.
If the Congress can blame the BJP for not helping it win the vote on Telangana, they will be able to sell the line in Telangana that they at least tried their best. In the rest of Andhra Pradesh their MPs can claim that how bravely they fought to buy time by stalling the bill.
Kamal Nath has been repeatedly saying that the BJP is deceptive on the issue. The violence that happened in the Lok Sabha has its roots in the complex ground situation where people’s emotions are making politicians of united Andhra and those craving for Telangana very insecure. The time factor is also playing a big role as elections are round the corner.
Does the BJP want Telangana?
Like the Congress, the BJP's strategy too is to have the cake and eat it as well. See the reaction of a BJP Telangana leader in an interview with Rediff.com. The assessment of many analysts is that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has changed many things within the BJP. It is confident and it’s getting aggressive on issues of national interest. It is thinking big on many national issues.
As said earlier, in the long term the Congress surely loses out in electoral politics if Telangana is created. In the short term, the BJP will lose more if Telangana is created. Modi, so precariously poised, where alliances can make or break his dreams and where his stakes are the highest, is going to count each and every seat. So any scope of profit to the Congress in 2014 is loss to Modi and the BJP.
Why help the Congress get credit for creating Telangana just three months before the election and award Sonia Gandhi a deity-like status in an emotional land? On the regional Telugu turf, the TDP wants a united Andhra because it is pitted against Jagan Reddy’s powerful YSR Congress.
TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu are pleading with Narendra Modi not to allow Telangana now. Naidu is promising more than 20 seats out of 42 for the BJP-TDP alliance if Telangana is not created. The BJP is in full swing to debunk the Congress's charges. It is equipped with its spin to ensure that the blame for not passing the Telangana bill goes to the Congress and Congress only. Just read Arun Jaitley blog on Friday to find out how alert and aggressive they are.