Now that monsoon session is over, UPA government will have to act swiftly

The UPA government will turn its attention to expediting the division of Andhra Pradesh — the status of Hyderabad being the controversial centrepiece of the final formula — now that the monsoon session of Parliament that was interrupted repeatedly by anti-Telangana MPs has ended.

If Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said on September 2 that the Cabinet note on the subject would be ready within 20 days, there is an increasing appreciation within the Congress leadership that unless the Telangana Bill is passed in the winter session of Parliament, the party will stand to lose not just in the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, but also in Telangana.

When the Congress Working Committee (CWC) approved the creation of the new State on July 30, it was presumed that party had finally decided to put the process in fast forward mode. But clearly the party had not bargained for the explosion of anger on the streets of Andhra Pradesh, something that forced it to set up a party committee headed by Defence Minister A.K. Antony to first address the demands of the people of Andhra and Rayalaseema.

Party sources now say that a compromise suggested by leaders from Andhra and Rayalaseema to the Antony committee is to make Hyderabad joint capital not just for 10 years — but forever.

Initially, Mr. Shinde had given the Home Ministry officials four months — instead of six months they had proposed — to complete the formalities. Within the first week, the Home Ministry was to move the Union Cabinet to constitute a Group of Ministers to split the assets and liabilities of Andhra Pradesh, but instead, with the monsoon session of Parliament commencing within six days — on August 5 — and the anti-Telangana MPs from both the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party obstructing all business, the ruling party was forced to go slow.

The most contentious issue is, of course, the status of Hyderabad. At the CWC meeting, it had been decided to make the city the joint capital for 10 years, by which time the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions were expected to build a new capital. The Telangana lobbyists insisted that Hyderabad should be the capital of the new State, not a Union Territory. But the escalating protests in the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, exacerbated by Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s vituperative attack on those from these two regions currently residing in Telangana, forced the Congress leadership to consider the question afresh.

Indeed, in the more than five weeks since the CWC decision, there has been very little progress not merely because settling the status of Hyderabad is proving so complicated, but with the general election less than a year away, the Congress made a call and decided to focus its attention on enacting a slew of pro-people laws relating to food security, land acquisition, street vendors and manual scavengers, as well as pro-reform legislation, including the Companies’ Bill and the Pension Bill. Telangana was placed on the back burner.

Now that the session is over, the government will have to get the process going swiftly to meet the winter session deadline. For, if there is no Telangana State before the next elections, the Congress will have to say goodbye to Andhra Pradesh, which brought 33 Lok Sabha seats to the party kitty in 2009, not to mention a State government.

As the days pass, political parties that had said they supported the Telangana decision are diminishing: the Telugu Desam Party that initially backed it has already changed its position, and while the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj — in her capacity as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha — has said her party is backing the move, Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP party campaign committee chief Narendra Modi, who visited Hyderabad recently, is in touch with those opposed to the creation of the new State. Not just that, he wants to promote a pre-electoral alliance with the TDP that is now opposed to Telangana. The Congress has no time to lose.