Aware of the rout it will face in Seemandhra, the Congress has pinned its hopes on a pre-election tie-up with the TRS and one after the polls with Jaganmohan Reddy
No one is in doubt that political considerations, more specifically the anxiety to grab the most number of Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, have made the Congress fast track the partitioning of Andhra Pradesh.
Not much imagination is needed either to predict that the Congress will face an unprecedented rout in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema where it does not even stand a remote prospect of winning any one of the 25 Lok Sabha seats. It is thus forced to put all its electoral eggs in the Telangana basket. The anti-Congress wave now is an extreme swing from the popularity of “Indiramma” whose pro-weaker sections image guaranteed the party a minimum 30 per cent votes in every election, win or lose, since the 1970s.
What defies logic or compulsions of realpolitik is that the Congress has firmly shut the door on itself in the race for the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Seemandhra while running at breakneck speed to breast the tape in the 17 constituencies in Telangana. There is no guarantee that it will win a majority of seats in Telangana without a pre-poll alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS)’s K. Chandrasekhar Rao who is playing hardball.
All eyes on this team
Yet, throwing caution to the winds, the Centre is racing ahead with the division of Andhra Pradesh. The State’s future now hangs by a slender thread in the form of the seven-member Group of Ministers. None of them are from Andhra Pradesh and belong to places as far as Kashmir (Ghulam Nabi Azad) and Kerala (A.K. Antony). They will sit and divide the Telugus, their water resources, their State capital, their revenue and, what many fear, their hearts and minds. They are mandated to fulfil in six weeks a task that took the Srikrishna Committee one full year, only for its report to be thrown into the waste-paper basket.
YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy has accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi of dividing Andhra Pradesh with the objective of installing her son, Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister. While this may sound a bit far-fetched, what may be true is that the Congress party’s prime minister-in-waiting may find it difficult to realise his dream without Jagan’s support after the Lok Sabha election — he is considered the front runner in Seemandhra. Did he not sweep the Assembly byelections last year by massive margins?
In this context, much significance is being read into the statements of Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary in-charge of Andhra Pradesh, a friend of the late YSR and considered his bridge with Ms Sonia Gandhi. A few examples are: “Congress and YSR Congress share the same DNA” and “Jaganmohan Reddy is like my son.”
It may all sound like a cosy relationship — a pre-poll alliance with the TRS and post-electoral adjustment with the YSR Congress. But what the Congress does not realise is that it takes two to tango, politically. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), already a partner of the TRS, is being wooed by the Telugu Desam’s N. Chandrababu Naidu who, during the past one month, shared a platform with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and called on BJP president Rajnath Singh.
Sense of betrayal
Quite surprisingly, Jaganmohan Reddy, in a slight change of tack, described Mr. Modi as an able administrator though with a caveat that he would like the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate-in-waiting to pursue secular policies. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), though a votary of smaller States, is unhappy with the BJP, for turning its back on Seemandhra where its cadre and supporters have deserted the party en masse.
Many people outside Andhra Pradesh may not know Vizianagaram except old-timers who remember Vizzy the famous cricket commentator on radio, who hailed from there. It is a town with a low profile, famous earlier for royal patronage of the arts, literature and higher education. Its institutions turned out famous film playback singers Ghantasala and P. Susheela while the town produced great social reformer Gurazada Appa Rao.
When Vizianagaram exploded into violence last weekend leading to police firing and the imposition of curfew, it was symbolic of the seething anger in Seemandhra over the Cabinet’s perceived insensitivity to the people’s concerns. The suffering caused by stoppage of RTC buses since August 12, the ruination of the micro-level economy, bandhs and power blackouts were inconsequential.
All that mattered was their anger that the Centre had reneged on its promise to redress fears about their children’s education, their jobs, availability of water for irrigation and the safety of their kin living in Hyderabad, a city that would ultimately be handed over to Telangana. Worse still, Union Ministers from Seemandhra and leaders, particularly Vizianagaram-based APCC chief Botcha Satyanarayana, were seen as conniving with the Centre while the A.K. Antony Committee meant to redress their grievances had vanished into thin air.
The sense of betrayal in Seemandhra is so deep that Congress leaders are gravitating either towards the YSR Congress or the Telugu Desam while some are taking temporary retirement from politics to focus on expanding their business empires. The BJP cannot be oblivious to the extent to which the political class as a whole has alienated itself from the people during the two-and-a-half month long agitation that was totally people-driven. In fact, it isn’t now since the party has been criticising the way the Centre has ignored the concerns of Seemandhra while pressing ahead with bifurcation.
It would be interesting to see if the main Opposition party, which has backed the United Progressive Alliance on several occasions in the monsoon session, would go along with the Congress on Telangana too when the Constitution Amendment Bill comes up in Parliament for passage by two-thirds majority.