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The Congress has messed up the Telangana issue

By Kalyani Shankar
December 11, 2009 17:02 IST
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Kalyani Shankar, the well-known political commentator, looks at the mess the Congress party finds itself over the Telangana issue.

Will a separate Telangana state become a reality? The Centre led by the Congress has opened a Pandora's box by initiating the process for a separate Telangana after dithering for many years.

Was it part of a well thought out strategy or a knee-jerk reaction to meet the alarming situation? The larger question is on what basis can the Centre now deny similar demand pending from 10 other states?

On the face of it, the Congress party, which took the decision without even consulting its allies, does not have a road map. That is why it is unable to deal with the present explosive situation.

Two basic problems arise from this move. The first is the opportunism of the politicians from the other two regions -- Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Already most MPs and 100 MLAs of these two regions have revolted. Undesirable elements will jump in to create more trouble. The Congress high command has to be wary of its own local leaders who could create mischief if it suits their interests.

Above all, K Rosaiah seems to be a weak chief minister looking to the high command for every single move and also passing the buck to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Secondly, there is bound to be a domino effect in other states. The demand for Vidarbha (Maharashtra), Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh), Harit Pradesh (UP), Saurashtra (Gujarat) and Gorkhaland (West Bengal) are already pending. People in these states may become emboldened if they think that the Centre would cave in if someone went on a fast or indulged in violence.

Within hours of the midnight decision, the reaction to the Telangana move is not only violent but also serious in Andhra Pradesh as well as elsewhere. Did not the Congress anticipate that if the people of Telangana got a separate state what stopped the other two regions in Andhra Pradesh -- Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema -- to seek separate states?

After all the three regions have different cuisines, different ways of speaking the language and also regional rivalry.

A separate Telangana has been a long standing demand as it crops up now and then when unscrupulous politicians make use of this emotional issue for their own opportunistic politics. It has happened before and it is happening now. The state witnessed a violent 'separate Telangana' agitation in 1969 and a 'separate Andhra' agitation in 1972.

The Telangana Praja Samiti founded by Maari Chenna Reddy was disbanded in 1971. When Reddy became chief minister twice later he never allowed the separatist movement raise its head.

The people of Telangana feel that the rulers of Andhra Pradesh have neglected the region. They feel that they have no educational opportunities or jobs. Even in irrigation facilities, the region is left behind while Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra are far ahead.

Since its inception in 2001, the Telangana Rasthtra Samithi has been championing the cause for a separate Telangana, which accounts for 119 of the state's 294 assembly seats and 17 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. The Rayalaseema region consists of four districts while Coastal Andhra has nine districts. The worry now should be that the move for a separate Telangana should not result in reviving old and ugly memories of the early seventies.

TRS chief K Chandrasekhara Rao has become irrelevant after the 2009 polls when the TRS came a cropper. The TRS feels the struggle for their cause has now reached a decisive stage with the fast unto death launched by Rao 11 days ago. The rumour in the power corridors is that the Congress caved in after it was assured that the TRS would merge with the Congress later.

The Congress is keen to ensure that its main rival, the Telugu Desam, is wiped out from Telangana and confined to the other two regions. The Congress is also worried about the Naxalite influence in the region. Parties that officially support the separate Telangana include the Congress, Telugu Desam, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India and the Praja Rajyam while they are also divided. The CPI-M and Samajwadi Party oppose the idea.

What does it mean for the other two regions? There is now a demand for a separate Andhra and even a separate north Coastal Andhra. There is a demand for greater Rayalaseema. There is also a demand for making Hyderabad a Union Territory. On each one of these issues there could be agitations.

The other dispute will be who gets the capital, Hyderabad? Being part of the princely state of Hyderabad, Telangana has already claimed it. The immediate consequence would be an agitation, as the other two regions will dispute it. Being a cosmopolitan city and home for people of all the three regions, Hyderabad is a prize that all the three regions will insist.

Interestingly, the demand for a separate Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra are only to dilute the Teleagana demand. The UT status for Hyderabad is also a similar ploy.

The Congress has messed up the Telangana issue. Such a delicate and emotional subject could have been handled more sensitively.

One option could have been setting up a second State Reorganisation Commission. This could have pacified the other states also. The Congress managers should have learnt a lesson from Indira Gandhi who faced several such agitations in her regime. She was able to put a stop to the movement in the seventies.

Even now there is many a slip between the cup and the lip as the process of a separate statehood takes long. The government has not faced any such agitations so far. Governance during peace time is different from war time. Former British prime minister Winston Churchill got to know that war time tactics do not succeed in peace time and vice versa.

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Kalyani Shankar