Everyone’s calling it the “Telangana Tangle”, but the discontent that the sub-nationalist movement has stoked has spread beyond Andhra Pradesh and could well engulf the entire nation.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s “in principle” nod in December to carving out a separate Telangana state may have been a political ploy to buy time from an immediate crisis. But the government has ended up with a full-blown disaster on its hands that may take a while to resolve.
Shrill cries of bifurcation are now coming in from half-a-dozen states. Some of these are instances of small groups with large aspirations hoping to find a “cause” that could pitchfork them on to the political centre stage; others are genuine movements that have been dormant for decades.
In Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Mayawati has demanded the creation of a Poorvanchal to the east, a Bundelkhand to the south (including parts of Madhya Pradesh) and a Harit Pradesh to the west.
Sub-nationalist groups in Bihar and West Bengal—two states gearing up for assembly elections— have also been energized.
A renewed demand for the state of Vidarbha has the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena opposition alliance in Maharashtra at loggerheads, with the former supporting the demand. Former Bodo militants in Assam, who had given up arms and accepted an autonomous council instead of a separate state, have also revived the demand for Bodoland.
Young turks: (from right) Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot and Jitin Prasada.
As these movements gather momentum, the issue should keep the UPA busy in 2010.
The red tide
The story of discontent doesn’t end with sub-nationalist demands. The Union government and several states will also have to finalize and execute a broad strategy to deal with Left-wing extremists, or Maoists.
The decades-old movement gathered steam in 2009, fuelled by growing disgruntlement among tribals, rural poor and others who have been left untouched by the great Indian success story.
The “rebels” are active in 223 of the country’s 602 districts across 20 states, says the government. In 1,400 acts of violence between January and August 2009, around 600 civilians were killed.
The government, elected on a pro-poor plank, is moving to implement welfare schemes on the one hand and tackle the Maoists by force on the other. But it is the battle for hearts that will decide which way the tide turns.
Hunting for youth
Often criticized for being geriatric, political parties are hunting for young blood.
The ruling Congress has an icon in 39-year-old general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who has revived the party’s youth and student wings and already signed on nearly four million youngsters.
Other young leaders, such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora, Manish Tewari, Sandeep Dikshit, Meenakshi Natarajan and Naveen Jindal, are likely to play a larger role in party affairs.
The BJP recently underwent a “generational change” at the top, with Nitin Gadkari replacing Rajnath Singh as president and Sushma Swaraj stepping into L.K. Advani’s shoes as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. Both are already in their 50s.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is hoping to hand over the reins to son Akhilesh Singh Yadav. Agriculture minister and veteran Maratha leader Sharad Pawar has given clear indications that he would let the younger lot, including his daughter Supriya Sule and Agatha Sangma, daughter of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader P.A. Sangma, play a key role in the NCP.
Rashtriya Lok Dal founder Ajit Singh’s 30-year-old son Jayant Chowdhury has emerged as a young leader in Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal appears to have handed over the mantle to chief minister Prakash Singh Badal’s son Sukhbir Singh Badal and cyber-savvy state finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal.