Desperate party legislators shifting protest to Delhi

For the Congress, now caught up in the 2G imbroglio, a southern crisis is set to shift headquarters to the national capital: as the agitation in Telangana escalated with the entire region coming to a standstill on Saturday, the party's MPs and MLAs decided to move their protest to Delhi to increase the pressure on their national leadership.

All its legislators from the embattled region will be here by September 26, party sources said, adding State Ministers will follow them by September 28. By then, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, two key members of the Congress Core Group, will be back from the U.S. And on Sunday night, Union Health Minister and party general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had promised to present a formula on the Telangana issue by month-end, will also be back from a foreign trip.

The Congress legislators from Telangana are desperate: in Delhi, the fact that all of them, barring Petroleum Minister S. Jaipal Reddy, have resigned has marked them out as “rebels, violating party discipline,” they say; back home in their constituencies, they are seen as not having done enough to persuade the national leadership — the fact that their resignations have not been accepted by the Congress leadership makes them suspect in the eyes of the locals, and they are not being allowed to participate in the ongoing protests. Adding to the woes of the legislators is the fact that one of the party's new national spokespersons, Renuka Chowdhury, who in the past represented the Khammam Lok Sabha constituency in the region, at a press conference in Hyderabad earlier this week, pooh-poohed the agitation, saying Andhra Pradesh should not be divided. That created a stir in the State, as it was widely reported, embarrassing the Congress legislators from the region.

Over the last few days, Telangana's Congress representatives have been trying to get in touch with the national leaders: MP Madhu Goud Yaski met Congress general secretary and chairperson of the media department Janardan Dwivedi on Thursday to complain about Ms. Chowdhury, and to request him to ensure that she does not speak on such a sensitive issue at such a critical moment. Mr. Yaski and Gaddam Vivekanand have also been in touch with Defence Minister A.K. Antony, a member of the Congress Core Group.

The Congress central leadership had embarked on a “dialogue” with representatives of the three embattled regions of Andhra Pradesh in July and said that by end-September the salient points that emerged from these negotiations would be given to the Union Home Ministry for action. The Telangana legislators are hoping that that time has now come. The key questions around which the dialogue had centred related to the status of Hyderabad and sharing of river waters.

The only positive action the Congress leadership has taken thus far was in early August, when the Union government took the first step towards assuaging the feelings of the residents of Telangana: it decided to recommend to President Pratibha Patil the repeal of Clause 14 (f) in a 1975 Presidential Order. This is to ensure that Telangana residents get preference in government jobs in Hyderabad and neighbouring areas. But this has clearly not been enough or even been seen as a good beginning — it is a full-blown political crisis now.

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