Merger of PRP and the Congress on the anvil
Armed with the mandate for a merger from his party's rank and file, Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) president K. Chiranjeevi left for New Delhi on Saturday to meet All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Sonia Gandhi at her residence at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Mr. Chiranjeevi's slated meeting was described by the party as “a mission to strike the best possible deal with the ruling Congress” in return for the PRP's merger with the latter. The PRP has not formally announced that it will merge with the Congress — a decision would be taken after Mr. Chiranjeevi returned to Hyderabad and held another round of consultations with senior leaders and MLAs here.
Speaking to journalists before leaving for New Delhi, Mr. Chiranjeevi stated: “I am going to Delhi to meet Ms. Gandhi on an invitation extended by her [through Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who air-dashed to Hyderabad recently]. I will hold talks with her about the Congress' offer and [the] assurances the PRP is likely to get.” He said the objective of his visit was to “strengthen both the parties.”
The likely merger is being viewed as a breather for the Congress in the backdrop of the crisis caused by the former MP, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy's weaning away of over two dozen Congress MLAs. Since the ruling party had only a wafer-thin majority in the Assembly (155 out of 294), the breakaway Jagan group has become a threat to its existence.
The merger would not only add numbers — 16 in the event of a trust vote — but also serve as a deterrent against further desertions from the Congress. For totally different reasons, the Telugu Desam Party is also feeling relieved by the developments as the winding up of the PRP would prevent a division of the non-Congress vote.
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress was stated to be planning to seal the deal as quickly as possible to utilise the actor's crowd-pulling capacity for its benefit in the coming Kadapa Parliament and Pulivendula Assembly by-elections.
Smita Gupta from New Delhi reports:
With Mr. Chiranjeevi scheduled to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi here on Sunday morning, all eyes are focused on whether the discussions between the two would result in a merger of their parties.
However, Congress sources told The Hindu that while there was still no certainty regarding the merger, they expected that the meeting would cement an understanding between the two parties. Setting the tone for Sunday's meeting — and a possible change in the political alignments in Andhra Pradesh — was the nearly two-hour-long interaction between Mr. Antony and Mr. Chiranjeevi on January 31 at the latter's Jubilee Hills residence in Hyderabad.
PRP sources said the party had promised to back the State government, if the need arose, but that there had been no discussion on whether the party would join the ministry. However, there is speculation that a few ministerial berths could be offered to the PRP in the Kiran Kumar Reddy government, as well as a Rajya Sabha berth for Mr. Chiranjeevi.