Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Will 'Telangana' Gamble Pay Off For The Congress Party?

By Likha Veer | INNLIVE

SPECIAL REPORT The Congress finally manages to ram the Telangana Bill through. But will the gamble pay off. For all those who fought for Telangana, a 45-year-old struggle has finally borne fruit. More than 900 families had lost a loved one to self-immolation in the name of the cause and each one of them know that the new state could have been formed under better circumstances. 

Everyone wishes that their demand for a separate state had been addressed on its own merit as opposed to what the Congress has pulled off — a cynical move with an eye on elections, delivered with an utter lack of grace.
On 18 February, the Lok Sabha looked more like a war zone than a hallowed House of Parliament as the MPs passed the Telangana Bill through a voice vote. Before the Bill was tabled, the Lok Sabha was adjourned twice. When the proceedings resumed at 3 pm, the marshals did not allow the suspended MPs from Seemandhra to enter the Lok Sabha. Live proceedings of the session were stopped, though Speaker Meira Kumar blamed it on a “technical glitch”. CPM MPs came to the well of the House demanding that the Bill should not be tabled.

On the other side, Congress members from Telangana and TRS MPs also rushed to the well. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi stopped the members. When Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde got up, Congress MPs formed a security blanket so that he was not attacked. Minister of State, Home, RPN Singh also joined them. After much drama, the House took to voting clause by clause via a voice vote and finally the Bill was passed.

In return, the Congress has lost Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy (who resigned on 19 February in protest against the tabling of the Telangana Bill). Seven Congress MPs resigned last August, whereas six MPs had to be expelled before the Bill was tabled after Congress MP Lagadapati Rajagopal used pepper spray inside the Lok Sabha to disrupt the proceedings.

As if the loss was not enough, the Congress also stands to lose a key ally, Chiranjeevi, who merged his Praja Rajyam Party, which has 17 MLAs in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, with the Congress in 2011. Rumour has it that he will also resign in protest.

“As of now, we are trying to urge the government to give more incentives to Seemandhra. We will need a major boost in the manufacturing sector and areas such as resource management,” says PCC president Botsa Satyanarayana, who despite his personal aversion to the formation of Telangana, has stuck with the party’s stand. “We will try and coax all MLAs and MPs to come back to the Congress fold. They would soon become aware of just how ineffective the other parties in Seemandhra are.”

Whereas the Congress is banking on winning all the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana after a merger with the TRS, the party is staring at absolute decimation in Seemandhra, with its MLAs and MPs planning to join other parties such as the YSR Congress and the TDP.

However, despite several assurances in the past, TRS leaders continue to be ambiguous about their intent on merging their party with the Congress. “The Congress does not have a known face in Telangana who can tell the people that Sonia madam gave us Telangana. For that, they will need us. We will think about the merger taking into consideration the benefits to both parties,” says a TRS leader on the condition of anonymity.

By and large, the Telangana Bill has stuck to the outline that was drawn last August on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. For the first time since Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972 — wherein Assam had to give up Shillong as its capital — a state is left looking for a new capital. With Hyderabad as the joint capital for 10 years, the clauses on sharing resources (especially water) that are aimed to give nominal benefits to Seemandhra are said to remain the same. If Seemandhra will have to strive to look for a new capital, Telangana will have its own logistical and bureaucratic problems to tackle.

Unlike the creation of Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh, in many aspects, the bifurcation in Andhra Pradesh will result in the creation of two new states unto themselves.

Even Telangana proponents who are set to join the Congress are critical about the way the party has gone about the formalities. “It was wrong to stop the Lok Sabha TV telecast. What was more problematic was the opaque way in which the Bill was designed,” says Krishank Manne, a student leader from Osmania University Joint Action Committee. “We don’t have any idea on the nitty-gritty of water sharing. We don’t know if the Seemandhra side will have stakes in our coal. We don’t know if we are allowed to have a domicile policy that will set right the deprivation through affirmative action.”

One of the enduring features of the Telangana movement has been the involvement of youth from Hyderabad as well as other districts in the north. Whereas most student leaders have joined the TRS, Manne is all set to join the Congress and is said to be a top contender for the Hyderabad Cantonment Assembly seat. Along with Manne, another popular student leader, P Ravi, is also planning to join the Congress. Many student leaders will be fielded in the next Assembly election from Telangana.

“As we can see today, there are no jobs. This generation will suffer a lot. We were always on the streets braving lathicharges, urging students not to commit suicide, shouting for Telangana. It is definitely our responsibility to take our street rhetoric to the Assembly,” says Manne in a tone that is quite different from his speeches during the dharna days.

The decision has also brought down the demagoguery of Telangana politicians, who have been notorious for threatening people from Seemandhra living in Hyderabad. Unsurprisingly, TRS leader K Chandrashekar Rao led by example when he declared, in an unguarded moment, that Seemandhra people will need to watch out once Telangana is formed. In an interview to INNLIVE last year, his daughter Kalvakuntla Kavitha had rubbished the Seemandhra agitation, calling the protesters “people who have taken up jobs that actually belonged to the Telangana people”.

Talking to INNLIVE right after the Lok Sabha vote, Kavitha spoke of building bridges with the people of Seemandhra.

At the time of going to press, there were wild celebrations in Hyderabad, the residual Andhra Pradesh was observing a bandh in protest, and Congress leaders have been left wondering if burning that many bridges for what was essentially a gamble before the General Election, would prove to be worth the pain.

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