It’s Congress vs Congress on Telangana

POLES APART: Party leaders are buffeted between the Congress president’s insistence on implementing theCWC resolution and Mr. Reddy’s equally adamant stand opposing bifurcation. Photo: Nagara Gopal   | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

Bucking the trend of Congress leaders unquestioningly falling in line with the high command’s diktat, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy has launched a one-man rebellion over Telangana, which seasoned party managers are struggling to quell before it gets out of hand.

Hailing from a Congress family, Mr. Reddy is not a rebel by nature. He became one after the muddle created by the Congress Working Committee’s (CWC) ill-timed decision on July 30, eight months before the general election, to divide Andhra Pradesh and create a new State of Telangana.

Party leaders are buffeted between Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s insistence on implementing the CWC resolution and Mr. Reddy’s equally adamant stand opposing bifurcation. But, as they have to please the party supremo before tackling Mr. Reddy, Ministers and bureaucrats are working overtime, preparing voluminous reports on how to partition Andhra Pradesh, and the life thereafter.

Understanding sensitivities

The Congress is in such haste that it finds itself out of step with the government. For instance, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Digvijaya Singh promised that the bifurcation issue would be referred to the Assembly twice, while Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde held that only the Telangana Bill, not the resolution favouring bifurcation, would be discussed in the State legislature.

The problem arises not with the galloping pace at which reports are being prepared, or the party-government disconnect, but from apprehensions that established procedures and conventions are being short-circuited or bypassed, and a new State is being created on the basis of a poorly negotiated settlement.

The essence of Article 3 of the Constitution dealing with the reorganisation of States is federalism. The Centre has given short shrift to this concept by brushing aside the reservations of the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president. Moreover, barring two, all members of the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted to take forward the process of bifurcation, hail from States which have water or boundary disputes with Andhra Pradesh. They are unlikely to understand the sensitivities involved in the division of India’s first linguistic State.

According to Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N. Chandrababu Naidu, it would have been fair had the actual stakeholders — warring political parties or even sections of the intelligentsia — been brought to the negotiating table and allowed to bargain before the bifurcation.

Indeed, the differences between the regions are vast and varied. The Telugu language, according to pro-division leaders, is not the glue that can bind the two regions. Telangana has been wronged, the economy exploited by Seemandhra capitalists, jobs have been taken away and resources plundered… So goes the argument of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in its 12-page submission to the GoM. It wants a “relocation” of non-locals recruited in the subordinate services in violation of the quotas fixed.

Status of Hyderabad

Several other thorny issues need to be sorted out, the most important being the status of Hyderabad, which the Centre has decided will remain a joint capital for 10 years before going to Telangana. Seemandhra leaders want Hyderabad to be a Union Territory and serve as a joint capital, but the TRS will have none of it. It wants Andhra Pradesh to build its own capital in two years.

The crux of the Telangana movement, as the TRS succinctly puts it, are: funds, water and jobs. It accepts some of the earlier awards of river water tribunals but wants the award of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal to be kept in abeyance. It is opposed to the multipurpose Polavaram project across the Godavari, the future lifeline of Andhra with spin-offs for Telangana too, till its concerns over submergence are addressed.

Mr. Reddy says common sense dictates that the State should remain united as these problems will become more intractable after division. It will harm both States as dams and reservoirs will be located in one State and irrigated areas in another.

The Centre has given its own prescription through the A.K. Antony Committee to address these concerns. It proposes a regulatory mechanism for water distribution, a special authority under the Governor to supervise law and order and urban development in Hyderabad, besides a bar on the Telangana government enacting laws revoking land allotment to institutions in the capital.

Coming as they do before the general election, such assurances can do little to rein in Mr. Reddy. He needs more to redeem his image and avoid going down in history as the one who was at the helm when Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated. No wonder the Congress is looking for a pliable Seemandhra leader to serve as a stopgap Chief Minister if Mr. Reddy goes.

Poll calculations

The Congress party’s haste has only given a handle to the Bharatiya Janata Party, a votary of smaller States, and to Mr. Chandrababu Naidu, who supported Telangana, to shift their stand. Both are now pitching for equitable justice to all Telugu-speaking people before going ahead with the bifurcation, and the TDP boycotted the meeting with the GoM.

The BJP is nervous about facing a fate similar to that of the Congress in Seemandhra. Without its backing for the Telangana Bill, the UPA government may find it difficult to push the legislation through in Parliament. Things will become more complicated for the Congress if the TDP and the BJP join hands for the Lok Sabha election. Much of this mess could have been avoided had the GoM held consultations with political parties before, and not after, the decision to bifurcate. It is impossible to visualise the Centre heeding to the suggestions of the TDP, the YSR Congress and the CPI(M), the last two openly opposing the division.

Mr. Reddy has become a party spoiler for the Congress’s well-laid out plans of bargaining for Lok Sabha seats with the TRS and taking a shot at post-poll arrangements with the YSR Congress in Seemandhra, a region where there is a tectonic shift in the ruling party’s vote base.

The only alternative for the Congress is to remove him. This is not so easy. Mr. Reddy is in no mood to oblige by stepping down voluntarily. He may even precipitate a crisis by resigning on the floor of the Assembly when the Telangana Bill is introduced. In such a situation, the Congress cannot risk imposing President’s Rule as it would attract ridicule for dismissing its own government, and all-round censure, more so after the Supreme Court’s verdict in S.R. Bommai (1994).

The people of Telangana agonised for three-and-a-half years after the Centre went back on its bifurcation decision, leading to hundreds of suicides. The reversal of its decision has made the people of Seemandhra take to the streets as they see an uncertain future, and fear forcible migration of employees and perpetual water disputes.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 12:10:19 PM |

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