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Sonia drags feet on Telengana issue

By Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
September 24, 2004 13:45 IST
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Congress president Sonia Gandhi seems to have devised a novel strategy to distract attention from her party's commitment to carve out a Telengana state from Andhra Pradesh.

She has constituted a panel of experts to look into the nearly four-decade-old demand emanating from naxalite activity in various parts of the country, according to party general secretary Janardhan Dwiwedi.

Gandhi is finalising who would be in the panel, Dwiwedi said.

The legislator from the Sanathnagar assembly constituency in Andhra Pradesh, Marri Shashidhar Reddy, will head the panel, sources told rediff.com

Panel members include former Delhi police commissioner and Congress Lok Sabha member from the Aurangabad (Bihar) constituency, Nikhil Kumar, the sources said.

Asked why Gandhi took the trouble to create a separate panel for fighting the naxalites when the Ministry of Home Affairs was looking after the issue, party secretary Tom Vadakkan had an interesting observation: "The panel is meant to be complementary to the existing (MHA) set-up. I feel that any new input in a problematic issue is always welcome."

Asked whether the Congress chief chose Reddy because she wanted to send a political message to the people of Andhra, Vadakkan answered in the affirmative. "There may be an element of truth in this. I don't rule out the possibility that there may have been a kind of message."

He, however, stressed that the naxalite problem is not simply confined to Andhra.

The sources indicated that Gandhi basically wants to wean away those who want a Telengana state. This is why Reddy has been chosen.

He defeated S Rajeswar Rao of the Telegu Desam Party in the May 2004 assembly election by a margin of approximately 9,000 votes.

Earlier, K Chandrashekhar Rao, now a minister without portfolio in the central government, quit as deputy speaker of the assembly and floated the Telengana Rashtra Samithi in 2001, thus providing impetus to the demand for a separate state.

His grouse is that the people of Telengana are being treated as second-class citizens.

As a former state minister, Reddy repeatedly complained that everything about Telengana smacked of inequality, an observation that apparently was not lost on the Congress leadership.

In a clever move, Gandhi's advisors zeroed in on Reddy.

The Congress leadership hopes that his involvement in the panel will relegate the demand for a separate Telengana state into the backburner.

The party is conscious of its commitment to the TRS and KCR that the government will ensure the creation of a Telengana state.

However, much of the party's ardour appears to have cooled off, which is why Gandhi hit upon the idea to float the anti-naxal panel, the sources added.

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Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
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