Deferring a decision on a contentious issue can be a short-term tactic, but never a long-term strategy. If the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government were looking for further proof of popular support for a separate State of Telangana in the region, it came in the form of the Sagara Haaram rally in Hyderabad on Sunday. As tens of thousands gathered to demand statehood for Telangana, the Congress government reacted as if it were another law and order challenge, nothing more than an evening’s headache for the police. Quite astonishingly, even years after the revival of the Telangana struggle, and evidence of growing support for statehood demonstrated through by-elections and mass agitations, the Congress and the governments it heads at the Centre and in the State are still hoping they can eventually wear down the movement by their inaction. The Congress tactic is, of course, engendered by the fear that any decision either for or against Telangana could set off violent reactions, either in Telangana or in Coastal Andhra, where large sections of the people are opposed to any division of the State. But inaction does not guarantee peace; indeed, there is no alternative to dealing with this political issue head-on. Instead of trying to find a consensus on the basis of the B.N. Srikrishna Committee report, which offered various viable options for it to consider, the government was happy doing nothing at all. However, there is a price to pay for being reactive and defensive. Those on the streets are now the agenda-setters, with the government constantly in crisis-aversion mode.
The Sagara Haaram must be seen as another opportunity to engage with the advocates of Telangana and explore the way to a solution on the basis of a structured consensus-building process started with the help of the Centre. But both sides need to give up their maximalist positions. For instance, questions relating to the post-bifurcation status of Hyderabad — which is within the Telangana region but is a cosmopolitan city with links to the whole of undivided Andhra Pradesh — will have to be sorted out through broad-based consultations. What the Centre and the AP government ought not to do is equally clear: make a solution part of a political deal between the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. Irrespective of whether the offer of TRS president K. Chandrasekhara Rao to merge his party with the Congress in the event of statehood being granted to Telangana is a political ploy or not, the dangers in such a barter deal are self-evident. Political exigencies and electoral compulsions should not be allowed to decide the future of Andhra Pradesh.