Telangana finds a new man and moment

HYDERABAD, MAY 18. The movement for a separate Telangana received a boost with a massive public rally on Thursday. People came in hundreds of vehicles from Hyderabad to Karimnagar, culminating in an impressive public meeting there. The rally was organised by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, founded by Mr. K. Chandrasekhara Rao, who resigned as Deputy Speaker and MLA. Mr. Rao, who ensured the presence of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader, Mr. Shibu Soren, was able to garner public support in a way that the Congress and BJP MLAs from the region failed to get despite pursuing their agenda for a separate State in recent years.

Mr. Rao has said that the TRS would contest Panchayat Raj elections due next month to prove that it enjoyed public support for its separate State demand. In the next Lok Sabha elections, his TRS would win all 16 seats in the region, and from such a position of strength confront the Union Government for a separate State.

Referring to the disbanding of the Telangana Praja Samithi in 1971, immediately after Kasu Brahmananda Reddy was replaced as Chief Minister by Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao, Mr. Chandrasekhara Rao said that if the leaders who sat on the dais forsook the movement, ``people can stone them to death''.

The response Mr. Rao has obtained is indeed unique; and his credibility owes to his renouncing positions of power. Such has been his confidence that he has challenged the Chief Minister, Mr. N. Chandrababu Naidu, to contest against him in the Siddipet by-election.

The State witnessed a violent `separate Telangana' agitation in 1969 and a `separate Andhra' agitation in 1972; and the revival of the demand, 30 years after Indira Gandhi came up with a six- point formula to resolve the dispute, has created apprehensions among the people of the State. Mr. Rao argues that Mr. Naidu protected the interests of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, but did not intervene when the coal-based fertiliser factory at Ramagundam was closed down. He says that farmers in the Telangana region got a raw deal, as revealed by suicides among cotton farmers, the distress sale of infants by Lambada families, and the spread of viral fever in Adilabad district. He accuses the Congress and the BJP also of insincerity in their efforts to develop the region.

Of the 107 MLAs from the region, 41 belong to the Congress, but one of them, Mr. M. Narsimhulu, of Aler was expelled. About 20 of these MLAs regularly hold press conferences, urging the Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, to permit them to take up a movement for a separate State. Since they hold their meetings at the Congress Legislature Party office, people believe they have tacit approval to continue their actions. But the APCC president, Mr. M. Sathyanarayana Rao, says his ``lips are sealed'', since he cannot comment on the MLAs' behaviour without knowing the final decision of the high command.

The BJP is, too, is in a dilemma. It is the creation of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal States that has spurred the demand for Telangana and the BJP leaders say they are ``committed'' to smaller States, and specifically for Telangana. They say the State unit passed a resolution in Kakinada in 1998 for division, and incorporated it in their election manifesto of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. But the BJP aligned with the Telugu Desam Party before the 1999 September elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, and did not speak of separation either in its manifesto or public utterances.

The Mahbubnagar BJP MP, Mr. Jitender Reddy, and an MLA, Dr. Ravindranath Reddy, have met Mr. Chandrasekhara Rao at the TRS office and pledged their support for separation. At a recent meeting of the State executive, wherein it was decided to wait till the BJP high command gave its approval, Mr. A. Narendra, BJP MP from Medak, walked out in protest. The People's War Group is also for a separate State. The two Communist parties are for unity, and one ex-CPI MLA, Mr. Desina Chinna Mallayya, resigned from his party and joined the TRS.

This leaves the TDP as the sole political force which is for the unity of Andhra Pradesh in the face of growing strains, with the realignment of political forces posing a serious challenge to Mr. Chandrababu Naidu.

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