A sense of concern over the political unrest in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, and ways of resolving the knotty Telangana problem are uppermost in the minds of the central leadership.
After 20 days of turmoil in Andhra Pradesh and adjournment of the Lok Sabha sine die ahead of schedule, finding a solution to the imbroglio has moved up on the Centre’s political agenda. It is expected to set in motion measures it perceives will be acceptable to all once Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from the Copenhagen climate change summit.
Although embarrassed at misreading the consequences of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s fateful announcement on December 9 on initiating the process for Telangana statehood and for introducing a resolution in the Assembly, Congress leaders feel they had good reasons for doing what they did. These went beyond their worry over the deteriorating health of the fasting Telangana Rashtra Samiti president K. Chandrasekhara Rao. They had apparently sought guarantees from Chief Minister K. Rosaiah that there would be no loss of life during the ‘Chalo Assembly’ programme called by pro-Telangana activists on December 10. Mr. Rosaiah was reluctant to give such assurances in the surcharged atmosphere though he said he would see that the situation did not get out of hand.
More importantly, the Central leaders attribute the hasty announcement to the ‘misleading signals’ they received from political parties in the State.
On December 7, the Congress Legislature Party adopted a resolution, grudgingly though, authorising Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take an appropriate decision on Telangana. A while later the same day, at an all-party meeting Mr. Rosaiah convened at the instance of the All-India Congress Committee, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India promised to support an Assembly resolution on Telangana. Only the CPI (Marxist), the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimmen and the Lok Satta refused to jump on the bandwagon.
Little did the Centre realise that there was a deeper political meaning to this ‘consensus’ which collapsed later. Political leaders in Andhra Pradesh were playing a cynical game of one-upmanship by paying lip service to bifurcation when they were ill-equipped to contain the repercussions within or were themselves not willing for separation.
It would never happen, at least not so fast, as the Congress itself was a divided house, they imagined.
No sooner did Mr. Chidambaram make his statement than Mr. Naidu and Mr. Chiranjeevi did a complete turnaround on their pro-Telangana stand. Like their Congress counterparts, TDP leaders in the Telangana and Andhra regions are leading agitations for and against separation. Mr. Chiranjeevi suffered no qualms and took a clear stand in favour of an integrated State, never mind that the Praja Rajyam split after that.
Lok Satta president Jayaprakash Narayan, who met Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh earlier this week, said they indicated to him that the Centre went by the parties’ commitment to support the Telangana resolution. The Centre is now caught on the horns of a dilemma for, it can backtrack on its announcement on the resolution only at its peril of sparking fresh trouble in the region and undermining its own authority. Yet, it has made clear that it will make no decisive announcement until the resolution is passed.
Mr. Rao himself is not eager on the resolution as it is not a pre-requisite for introducing a Constitution Amendment Bill in Parliament. Moreover, when political parties are comprehensively divided along regional lines, it is unlikely that whips will be obeyed. It is only through consensus can the resolution be adopted since Telangana members account for only 119 in the 294-member Assembly.
Those well versed in the Centre’s thinking say that once the tempers cool down, it will evolve consensus. It will start negotiations with all stakeholders on the statehood issue and, in parallel, initiate ‘honest and earnest’ measures to rectify regional imbalances such as empowering people and by reviving the regional development boards. The Centre needs to tread cautiously this time in evolving solutions to pull Andhra Pradesh out of the political and economic morass.