Congress finds itself in a bind over Telangana statehood issue

Congress finds itself in a bind over Telangana statehood issue
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First Published: Tue, Mar 04 2008. 11 57 PM IST

Eye on polls: TRS MLAs in front of the Andhra assembly after submitting their resignations to the speaker on Tuesday in Hyderabad. Political observers say the growing impatience among the electorate i
Eye on polls: TRS MLAs in front of the Andhra assembly after submitting their resignations to the speaker on Tuesday in Hyderabad. Political observers say the growing impatience among the electorate i
Updated: Tue, Mar 04 2008. 11 57 PM IST
Hyderabad / New Delhi: Even as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that rules at the Centre deals with the brinkmanship of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, or TRS, its one-time ally — on Monday, three of the four representatives the party has in the Lok Sabha resigned, and on Tuesday its 19 legislators in the Andhra Pradesh assembly followed suit —it appears that this will be one battle the coalition will find difficult to win.
Eye on polls: TRS MLAs in front of the Andhra assembly after submitting their resignations to the speaker on Tuesday in Hyderabad. Political observers say the growing impatience among the electorate in Telengana could hurt the chances of reelection of MPs and legislators from the region.
TRS wants the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh to be made into a separate state and the Congress had, in the run-up to elections to the state assembly in 2004 promised this statehood.
However, in the wake of recent events, the credit for any move by UPA to grant statehood to Telangana will go to TRS even as it alienates other regions in the state, coastal Andhra Pradesh, and Rayalaseema.
And a refusal to do so would further alienate TRS and diminish the Congress’ electoral prospects in the region. Elections to the Lok Sabha could be held as early as the end of this year and the Telangana region elects 15 members of Parliament (MPs).
Currently, four of these are from TRS, seven from the Congress, and four from the others. The math of resignation adds up because one of the MPs from TRS refused to resign although the party said he would.
Pride apart, there are economic and other reasons why politicians and people in Andhra Pradesh’s other two regions do not want statehood to be conferred on Telangana. The region is rich in mineral deposits and the Krishna and Godavari rivers that flow through it are major sources of irrigation for the entire state. The state capital, Hyderabad, is also part of this region.
However, Telangana is also among the most under-developed regions in the country with all its nine districts, excluding Hyderabad, being termed “backward” by the Centre. These districts now receive special assistance from the Union government’s Backward Regions Grant Fund. The people of Telangana and parties such as TRS see statehood as the only road to development.
Electoral promise
In the 2004 assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress allied with TRS, a separatist regional party, and promised the creation of a separate state in an effort to counter the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which had an anti-Telangana stand. TDP won one of the Lok Sabha seats and 10 of the assembly seats in 2004. The Congress won 50 seats and TRS won 16 in the assembly elections.
“They (Congress) aligned with us to defeat Chandrababu Naidu who was a powerful enemy at that time,” says T. Madhusudan Reddy, a TRS member who represented Adilabad in Parliament.
“The Congress was on deathbed. The state and we gave it a fresh lease of life since it promised statehood to Telangana if elected to power,” adds Telangana ideologue K. Jayashankar.
That hasn’t come to pass and a disillusioned TRS first withdrew support to UPA at the Centre in late 2006; now, closer to the elections, its representatives in the Lok Sabha and the state assembly have resigned.
Immediately after announcing the resignations, TRS leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who represented Karimnagar in Parliament, has begun an ‘Aseervada Yatra’, a tour to seek the blessings of the people of Telangana and criticize the Congress for not delivering on its promise.
Even Congress representatives buy into the Telangana argument.
Vuppunuthula Purushottam Reddy, a member of the Congress and chairman of the Telangana Planning and Development Board formed by the State Government in May 2007, says that development can be achieved only if statehood is given to the region. “Though the state government had promised release of funds to the board for taking up developmental activities in the region, no funds have been released so far,” he added.
TRS attributes the backwardness in the region to migrants from the state’s two other regions who dominate trade and business activities in Telangana.
“YSR (Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh) is using money and muscle power to divert resources from Telangana, which is rich in minerals,” says Ravinder Naik Dharavath, a TRS member who represented Warangal in Parliament.
Schemes for votes
To contain growing resentment in Telangana, Reddy has announced irrigation and development projects worth Rs50,000 crore for the region.
Reddy’s announcements may have also been prompted by the fact that some members from his own party, such as G. Venkataswami and Purushottam Reddy, want a separate state.
“We are of the view that Congress would benefit by carving out Telangana into a separate state. We are asking our high command to announce a decision in favour of a separate state so that TRS will not benefit (from the resignations and protests). In fact, TRS leaders are willing to merge their party into the Congress if statehood is given,” says Purushottam Reddy.
Rajasekhara Reddy has also suggested the creation of a constitutional body to assess the backwardness of regions and districts in the state. He wants this commission to include an economist, former Reserve Bank of India governor C. Rangarajan, a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court, and a sociologist.
The commission will have the powers to direct the state government to release special funds to districts that were identified as backward in an effort to develop these over five years.
Meanwhile, TRS’ inability to win statehood for Telangana has upset party workers and others in the region.
“I used (to) participate in the party activities frequently, so much so that I had neglected my family and children in the process. But I found later that the leadership could not build tempo in the cadres on a continuous basis and failed to take the movement forward. I was disappointed with the way the leadership went on announcing deadlines for achieving statehood to Telangana and did not achieve anything for years,” says K.R. Sunanda, a homemaker who was an active member of the TRS until last year.
“We are fed up with the number of deadlines that the TRS leadership announced for achieving a separate Telangana,” says G. Venkat, a teacher in Torrur.
Rao hopes to revive support through the launch of the “Aseervada Yatra”.
Political observers say that the growing impatience among the electorate in Telangana could hurt the chances of re-election of MPs and legislators from the region in the by-elections that will be scheduled later this year.
And while the Congress faces the prospect of losing a few seats, TRS, according to one analyst, finds itself in a position where nothing less than a landslide victory will do.
“Anything less than a sweep of all the seats in the Telangana region would be interpreted by TRS’ opponents to mean that the sentiment for separate statehood is confined to just few pockets,” adds this analyst who did not wish to be identified.
A desperate TRS is now even willing to allow the Congress to take the credit for creating Telangana. “Let the Congress create Telangana and take credit, we will support them,” says Dharavath.
c.sukumar@livemint.com
Ashish Sharma contributed to this story.
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First Published: Tue, Mar 04 2008. 11 57 PM IST