Cavalier attitude to Shinde’s commitment has angered both groups

The Centre reneging on Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s promise to take a decision by January 28 whether it will carve out a new State of Telangana or continue with the united Andhra Pradesh — as indicated by Congress in charge of the State, Ghulam Nabi Azad — has not just activated a wave of protests across the State, for and against division: the continuing uncertainty it has fuelled affects the lives of ordinary people, with the forced closure of universities in the Telangana region.

Congressmen on both sides of the divide told The Hindu that time was running out for its central leadership to take a view, with elections both to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha due in 16 months. Any poll strategy, both groups pointed out, will depend entirely on what decision the Centre takes.

Over the last two days, members of the central group (which includes Mr. Shinde, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister Vayalar Ravi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel and general secretary Digvijay Singh), tasked with recommending a way out of the imbroglio, held discussions with Ms. Gandhi, but failed to come to a conclusion.

If the long-term concerns are the impact any pronouncement might have on the electoral prospects of the party in the State, and on other groups in the country demanding smaller States, the immediate fear is that either decision — creation of Telangana or continuation of unified Andhra Pradesh — could trigger resignations from Congress MLAs/MPs adversely affected by it.

It could even make the passage of the Andhra Pradesh budget difficult and worse, lead to the fall of the Kirankumar Reddy government.

Indeed, on Friday, MPs from Telangana, amid speculation that many of them might join the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), dropped hints in Hyderabad that they would quit the Congress if it did not honour its word on granting statehood for the region. On record, they said they would wait for the Centre’s decision till January 28 even as they criticised Mr. Azad’s statement that a decision would not be taken in haste. “Azad’s comments amount to betraying the people of Telangana once again. We can convince people once or twice [on the delay in coming out with a decision],” MP Manda Jagannatham told journalists, stressing, “The Congress’ prestige will only diminish further if the Centre drags its feet.”

The cavalier attitude to a commitment made by a Central Minister has predictably angered members of both groups who were camping here till Thursday. Most of them have now departed for Andhra Pradesh to hold consultations and public meetings. Before setting a deadline for the government, Mr. Shinde should have reflected on the negative impact of the promise that Mr. Chidambaram – as Home Minister – made in end 2009 to create Telangana.

Meanwhile, a Telangana MP told The Hindu that if the government kept its promise to carve out a new State, the TRS would merge with the Congress, and this strengthened combine would be able to win most of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in this part of the State. As for the rest of the State, whatever the decision, Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress will sweep the 25 seats in the Andhra-Rayalaseema region. A division of the State, he stressed, would help the Congress win around 20 of the State’s 42 seats – in 2009, the party won 33. Given the current heightened passions in Telangana, he added, a united Andhra Pradesh was not an option as that would ensure that the Congress was not just wiped out, it could also lead to “Tamilnaduisation” of the State, with regional parties holding sway.

Predictably, a senior Congress MP, close to the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, said there was need to take a long-term view: “We can’t divide the State without understanding its other implications just to win elections.” According to him, “in the natural course of events,” since the party had won two consecutive elections in the State, a third victory in 2014 would be “surprise and a bonus” while losing the election would be “neither a surprise nor disaster.” While he concurred with the pro-Telangana MPs’ assessment that creating a new State would help the party electorally in that area, he stressed that wasn’t enough — the party needed to think beyond 2014, and of “strengthening the party organisation.”

So as the Congress’ central leadership mulls over the pros and cons of the Telangana imbroglio, time is running out for a decision — even if the government does not make an announcement by January 28, it cannot afford to postpone a choice for much longer.