The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s unanimous endorsement of the creation of separate state of Telangana has set in motion the process of fulfilling a decades-old demand for separate statehood to the region in Andhra Pradesh.
Going by its track record, it had been uncertain whether the Centre would finally take the plunge and favour the creation of a separate state that would house 40% of Andhra Pradesh’s 840 million population or do another flip-flop. Even some Congress members of Parliament from the Telangana region as well as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leaders in Hyderabad had harboured such doubts.
In the first year of its second term in power, the Congress announced that it would initiate measures for the formation of a separate Telangana state, only to backtrack within days in the face of large-scale protests in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions that opposed the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
Although the ruling alliance has conceded the demand for a separate state, the Congress finds itself in a tough spot now. If it follows up by introducing a Bill in Parliament to grant statehood to Telangana, there will definitely be some repercussions in the regions that oppose it. Even those who are neutral argue that it’s better to maintain status quo.
The development is set to change the electoral arithmetic as well. If a separate state is formed, the Congress may gain two electoral advantages—the party may have an edge in the state and Lok Sabha elections from the region and the TRS, which has championed the cause of Telangana, may merge with the Congress. Telangana has 17 of the 42 parliamentary constituencies in Andhra Pradesh.
Still, the party risks losing the remaining seats—only those who have strong ground-level support would be able to survive the anti-Telangana tide in the other regions. Andhra Pradesh will hold state assembly and general election simultaneously in 2014. And the YSR Congress led by Congress rebel Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, is threatening to erode the traditional voter base of the Congress. The challenge posed by the YSR Congress, in fact, raised the urgency for the Congress to resolve the Telangana tangle to preserve its electoral chances in that region.
Unlike other statehood demands, the campaign for Telangana has been a purely political one and not based on divisive linguistic lines. The culture, tradition, language and terrain of Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema regions are similar.
For Congress, conceding the demand for Telangana state may have a domino effect with more regions demanding statehood. For instance, the people of Darjeeling have been campaigning for the creation of a Gorkhaland state. The culture, language, traditions and even the geographical terrain of the region are completely different from the rest of West Bengal, making a strong case for statehood.