Quite understandably, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti is portraying the results of the 12 Assembly by-elections in Andhra Pradesh as a referendum in favour of a separate Telangana State. The party won all the 11 seats it contested; the twelfth went to the Bharatiya Janata Party with which it had an understanding. After all, the by-elections were a direct fall-out of the Telangana issue with the sitting MLAs — 10 belonging to the TRS, one to the BJP and another to the Telugu Desam Party— resigning in protest at what they saw as a delay on the part of the Centre in carving out a new State. Statehood was indeed the dominant issue right through the campaign, and the TRS won all its seats with huge margins, a marked improvement over its performance in the general elections just a year ago. Its chief, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, who spearheaded the Statehood agitation by undertaking an indefinite fast last year, must be feeling vindicated. Both the Congress and the TDP, which have been equivocal on the Statehood issue, received a drubbing. Indeed, in a high stakes contest for the Congress, the party's State president, D. Srinivas, lost to the BJP candidate in the Nizamabad Urban constituency. The TDP, apart from conceding one seat to the TRS, lost its deposit in several constituencies, finishing a poor third. A pro-Statehood sentiment was clearly in evidence in all the constituencies that went to polls.
However, with the Srikrishna Committee now seized of the Statehood issue in all its aspects, Mr. Rao must resist the temptation to capitalise on the popular mood to fall back on his brand of political brinkmanship. The issue concerns the whole of Andhra Pradesh, and any decision on dividing the State will have to be taken on the basis of a broad consensus after due deliberations on its social, economic, and political implications. Although popular support for a separate State seems to have increased considerably within Telangana, too much must not be read into the poll outcome. The 12 constituencies were in any case the core base of the TRS and the Telangana movement. But the by-elections should force a serious rethink within the Congress and the TDP. The two parties, whose political base is spread across the State, have spoken in different voices at different times and at different places. Instead of seeking to tap parochial sentiments, political parties must take a reasoned, long-term view of this complex issue. While the TRS might be emboldened by the results, the proper course for the party will be to await the report of the Srikrishna Committee.