TRS performance strengthens the case for a separate state

For the Congress, its problems in what is its strongest State, Andhra Pradesh, are only growing. On Friday, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) swept the by-elections in the State's Telangana region, winning 11 of the 12 constituencies that were being contested, thereby strengthening the case for a separate Telangana and reminding the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre of the assurance that it had given on the issue, and then backtracked on.

Congress general secretary in-charge of Andhra Pradesh and Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily was very guarded in his response to the results of the by-elections, where the Congress has fared poorly: “These are the people who volunteered to resign [on the Telangana issue]. The people wave chosen to vote for them,” he told The Hindu, adding, “We put up a good fight.” Asked whether the results did not put pressure on the Central government to push for the creation of a separate Telangana State, Mr. Moily said, “The matter is before the Srikrishna Commission. Let the report come.”

But a senior party functionary admitted that these results “had strengthened the case for a separate Telangana” and that from now on, “there would be greater pressure on the Centre” to act on the assurance made by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on December 9, 2009, when he had publicly declared the Centre's support for a new State. “We will now have to think of a new strategy,” he said.

What is worrying the Congress here, party sources said, was the fact that these results are a confirmation of the fact that it has lost the “goodwill” it had won in Telangana after the December 9 announcement: at that time, TRS supporters had celebrated the occasion, holding aloft Congress president Sonia Gandhi's portrait. The first signs of this loss of goodwill came when the Congress did a rethink on the issue, after the rest of the State exploded with party MP and former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajsekhara Reddy's son, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, leading those opposed to the division of Andhra Pradesh. In a bid to check the violence across the State, the Centre quickly set up the Srikrishna Commission to “examine the situation in Andhra Pradesh with reference to the demand for a separate Telangana State as well as the demand for maintaining the present status of united Andhra Pradesh,” and asked it to submit its recommendations by December 31, 2010.

Congress MP Madhu Goud Yashki, whose constituency falls in the Telangana region, pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party's Lakshminarayana had retained the twelfth seat, defeating Congress State unit president D. Srinivas in Nizamabad urban segment, with the help of the TRS. “The TRS is our naturally ally,” Mr. Yashki said, adding, “and we need to reach out to them – we can't afford a BJP-TRS tie-up in Telangana.” Currently, the Congress holds 56 of the 119 assembly segments and 12 of the17 Lok Sabha seats in the Telangana region.

So, while the Congress was not holding any of the seats that went to the polls on July 27, the results are a reminder of how much the party stands to lose if it does not get its Telangana strategy right before the next elections. The by-elections for 12 Assembly seats were called after 10 TRS MLAs and one MLA each of the Opposition BJP and the regional Telugu Desam Party resigned to register their demand for a separate State of Telangana earlier this year.

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