Hyderabad: After putting the issue on the backburner for three years, the Congress-led coalition government at the Centre seems to have come around to the view that it can no longer delay a decision on dividing Andhra Pradesh to carve out a separate state of Telangana, politicians say.
The deadline for an announcement on Telangana is nearing. Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde said on 28 December that the Centre will unveil a decision in a month after presiding over, what he said, the last of three all-party meetings on an issue that has polarized Andhra Pradesh politics on regional lines.
“...we have indications that the Centre is moving forward on granting statehood for Telangana,” K. Jana Reddy, a senior Congress party leader from the Telangana region and a minister in the Andhra Pradesh government led by Kiran Kumar Reddy, said recently.
Without revealing details, Reddy said the Union government was working on a solution that would be acceptable to all three regions of the state—Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
That may be an impossible feat. Even Shinde conceded as much in his press conference after the all-party meeting last month. “When a decision is taken, some will be satisfied, some will not be,” Shinde said, calling on people in the state to maintain calm.
As the deadline announced by the Union home minister for an announcement on Telangana neared, Union home secretary R.P. Singh visited Hyderabad last Thursday and met senior officials of the Andhra Pradesh government.
Andhra Pradesh has been rocked by periodic bouts of unrest in the past three years over the campaign for Telangana. In December 2009, the Centre promised steps towards the creation of a separate state, persuading Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao to call off an indefinite hunger strike before backtracking on that assurance.
Telangana, which comprises Hyderabad and nine other districts, is home to 35 million people. The demand for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh rests on a perception that the region’s growth has been hurt because of neglect by successive Andhra-dominated state governments.
Central to the statehood issue is the status of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh and its biggest revenue generator. The TRS and other Telangana backers say they wouldn’t accept any solution that doesn’t make Hyderabad a part of the separate state they want.
Danam Nagender, another state government minister, said a decision on the issue is expected before 28 January. He said the centre is considering making Hyderabad the joint state capital of Andhra Pradesh and the proposed Telangana state for some years, or giving it the status of a Union territory.
Union territory status for the city is unacceptable because public representatives of the Hyderabad region will lose their political relevance, said Nagender, who represents Hyderabad in the assembly.
A senior Congress leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was “no other alternative” for the Centre but to grant Telangana statehood.
The emergence of Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, a member of Parliament and son of late former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, as a political force in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema after his departure from the Congress has dented the party’s political prospects in those regions, the politician said. By granting the demand for Telangana statehood, the Congress may preserve its hold over at least a part of the state, he said.
This politician said Hyderabad could serve as a joint capital for 5-10 years, until a new capital is developed for Andhra Pradesh. The Congress leadership is in touch with TRS’s Chandrasekhara Rao—known popularly as KCR—and back-channel consultations are under way, he said.
Andhra Pradesh has been a politically crucial state for the Congress, contributing 33 seats to the party’s tally in the 2009 general election.
“For the Congress, granting Telangana will be a pragmatic decision, as it will help the party to at least retain its hold on Telangana region in 2014 general election,” said G. Haragopal, a professor at the School of Social Sciences in the University of Hyderabad. He said it is possible the Congress will ask the TRS to merge with it. “And KCR will happily do so, as he prefers to go down in history as the one who sacrificed his party for Telangana cause,” said Haragopal.
“We had a bitter experience in the past; so we are cautiously optimistic,” said K. Taraka Rama Rao, a state legislator and son of KCR, referring to assurances in the past that the Centre had failed to keep. Should the Congress go back on its 28 December commitment, the TRS will intensify the campaign for statehood, Rama Rao said. “This time the agitation will be swift and spontaneous,” he said.