Govt. says it cannot concede BJP’s demand for Constitutional amendment

The UPA government that was congratulating itself on the smooth passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday found itself exactly 24 hours later at the negotiating table once again with the BJP to ensure that the Bill is passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, having failed to push it through on Wednesday.

Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi responded almost instantaneously to the BJP's demand for a financial package for Seemandhra by requesting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give the residual State special category status. But the government remained firm on the BJP's other demand: it said it could not concede a Constitutional amendment to empower the joint Governor of the proposed States of Telangana and Seemandhra.

Indeed, Parliamentary affairs Minister Kamal Nath even said the government was prepared to extend the current session — that was to conclude on Friday — to enable Parliament to approve the Bill.

Earlier, in a dramatic turn of events, an hour before the Telangana Bill was to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha, the principal Opposition party that had backed the government-sponsored bill for the creation of the country’s 29th State in the Lower House, sprang a surprise, demanding a Constitutional amendment to constitutionally empower a common Governor to be custodian of security for the 10 years that the proposed States will share a common capital in Hyderabad, saying Clause 8 of the existing Bill that covered the Governor’s powers could be challenged in a court of law, as well as a financial package for Seemandhra as the price for its support in the Upper House.

Mr. Nath’s first response to the BJP was that while the government was willing to give an assurance on the financial package, it wasn’t prepared to go through with a Constitutional amendment as it would entail returning to the Lok Sabha to ratify the changes: while a normal Bill can be approved in the din, a Constitutional amendment can be passed only when the House is in perfect order. The BJP, government sources said, might cooperate with the government ensuring the mandatory two thirds support required but many of the smaller parties that have no interest in Telangana might use the occasion to flag their own issues as they did on Tuesday in the Lok Sabha.

Simultaneously, Ms. Gandhi requested the Prime Minister to give the residual State of Andhra Pradesh special category status in an attempt to meet half-way the BJP's demands for a compensatory financial package that will enable it to make up possible shortfall in water, power and revenue once the new State is carved out.

On Wednesday, shortly before the Bill was to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha for the second time at 5 pm (earlier, it was listed for 4 p.m.), the Prime Minister, along with Mr. Nath, Union Ministers Jairam Ramesh and Sushilkumar Shinde and Ms Gandhi’s Political Secretary, Ahmed Patel, met senior BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu to try and break the deadlock but the conversation ended in a stalemate.

BJP meet

This was followed by an internal meeting of the BJP that ended with it still determined to get a Constitutional amendment through as well as a financial package for Seemandhra — something that was conveyed to the government. Now the Congress is waiting to hear from the BJP’s Core Group that will meet on the issue again on Thursday morning.

All this happened on a day when Kiran Kumar Reddy, who has been batting for a united Andhra Pradesh resigned as the Chief Minister of the State and quit the Congress.

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