Keshava Rao and two MPs left the party for personal gain, says Azad

Far from softening its stance, the Congress national leadership went on the offensive after three senior party leaders from Telangana formally joined the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) on Sunday.

The former PCC president, K. Keshava Rao; and Lok Sabha members G. Vivekanand and M. Jagannathan were described as defectors, who had left the party not for the cause of Telangana but for personal gain, and to ensure nomination for their relatives in the next year’s elections.

Indeed, the message that the Congress brass wanted to send out on Sunday to both parts of the troubled State of Andhra Pradesh, a day after its Core Group met to discuss the issue, was that it would not tolerate dissent.

If the party struck out at the three Telangana leaders on Saturday night, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who returned to Hyderabad after confabulations in Delhi, dismissed Health Minister D.L. Ravindra Reddy for criticising government programmes. Mr. Ravindra Reddy, a bitter critic of the Chief Minister, is the second minister to be dropped from the Cabinet, and party sources say, one or two more may follow suit.

“They’ve struck deals”

“Unfortunately, the people who are joining today … [have made politics] a business, trade,” party general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had attended the Core Group meeting, told journalists. “They have struck business [deals] with the TRS leadership,” he continued. “Those who are resigning, whether they are ex-MPs or MPs, will get MP tickets, their children will get MLA tickets.”

The Assembly elections will be held along with the general election next year.

Mr. Azad also accused them of resigning not for Telangana, but for their own benefit. “I do not think they deserve to be politicians … So it is good riddance.” The Congress wanted only those who believed in its policies, “who have some conviction or are devoted to the people.”

At the same time, Mr. Azad expressed the hope that the other Congress MPs from Telangana would be patient until after the leadership took a final view on the issue. Indeed, he said, “a few more meetings” would be required “in the near future” and “maybe, they would be held in June itself.”

But if the Congress leadership is urging its Telangana MPs to demonstrate fortitude, the mood among them is mixed. Ponnam Prabhakara Rao, from Telangana, told The Hindu that while it would have been better had his three colleagues not left the party, he could still empathise with them. From the beginning of this year, he pointed out, the party’s central leaders had been sending out confusing signals: last December, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde promised a decision within a month, and laughed it off when the deadline passed. More recently, party spokesperson P.C. Chacko said Telangana was not on the UPA’s agenda. He also added that he did not think that those who had left the party were doing so for opportunistic reasons.

Meanwhile, until a decision on Telangana — and on possible allies — is taken, the party’s focus, sources say, will be on the long overdue panchayat and corporation elections, to be held next month. The party feels that this will be a way of testing the waters and will give it an opportunity to reach out to the people — before it decides on its strategy for the general election.