Congress on damage control in AP

Congress on damage control in AP

New Delhi/Hyderabad: The ruling Congress party on Friday embarked on a damage control exercise as emotions ran high in Andhra Pradesh, with political turmoil continuing in the wake of the Centre’s approval of its break-up and the carving out of a separate state of Telangana.

The party sought to paper over the sharp divisions that have emerged and asked its leaders in Andhra Pradesh to stop projecting the move as a victory or a defeat for any one side.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured members of Parliament (MPs) from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of the state, who met him in New Delhi on Friday, that nothing would be done in haste. The MPs asked the Prime Minister as well as finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, whom they met later, that there was no consensus on the issue and that the decision needed to be reviewed.

With 130 MLAs and one MP—L. Rajagopal from Vijayawada—submitting resignations in protest against the Central government’s decision, the party leadership held several meetings to defuse the crisis. According to a senior Congress leader, the party would delay a final decision and buy more time to resolve the issue.

Home secretary G.K. Pillai’s remark in Jammu—denied late in the evening—that Hyderabad would be the capital of Telangana, added to the volatility, with MPs reacting sharply to the purported comments.

A Congress MP, who did not want to be named, said the Prime Minister has said that the views of the two regions—coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema—will be taken into account.

The MPs admitted that a carve-up is inevitable, but that a “consensus would have to be evolved from discussions with representatives from all regions".

“We are aware that there is no going back on what the Central government has promised, but this is not the way," said one MP from Rayalaseema, who did not want to be identified.

The developments in Andhra Pradesh have posed a fresh challenge for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Mayawati renewed the demand for the trifurcation of UP, while the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) threatened hunger strikes for a separate Gorkhaland, split away from West Bengal.

Mayawati held a press conference in Lucknow on Friday to raise the demand for the creation of Harit Pradesh (western UP) and Bundelkhand (southern UP), while Darjeeling MP and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh supported the GJM demand. However, Union railway minister and West Bengal’s main opposition Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee ruled out breaking up West Bengal. The state’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) also doesn’t favour the creation of smaller states.

Some Congress leaders in Delhi said the developments in Andhra Pradesh had helped the party “expose" the state opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP), whose chief N. Chandrababu Naidu made a U-turn on Telangana. Others said the ruling party was the one that had come under pressure.

“The Central leadership’s decision was questioned by the state unit. They said in clear terms that unilateral decisions cannot be accepted by them," said Rama Brahmam, professor of political science, University of Hyderabad.

In Hyderabad, more MLAs submitted their resignations to the Speaker, taking the total to 130 out of 294 members of the assembly. Of this, 76 belonged to Congress, 40 to the TDP and 14 to the Praja Rajyam Party of actor Chiranjeevi.

With the MLAs shouting rival slogans in the assembly, the Speaker adjourned the House till Monday.

The coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions were hit by violence following a shutdown call. Tension prevailed in the two regions comprising 13 districts, with mobs damaging public property and bringing public life to a standstill.

The government has made heavy police deployments in the two regions, particularly in the four universities there, even as elected representatives cutting across party lines called for the withdrawal of security forces from educational institutions.

Asking Congress MLAs not to quit, chief minister K. Rosaiah said the Bill on Telangana would need majority approval. He said the state government was yet to receive either oral or written communication from the Centre on initiating the process of carving out the state.

“What home minister P. Chidambaram told me on Wednesday night was that I will be asked to introduce a resolution in the assembly to begin the process. I cannot give the time frame for introducing the Bill," said Rosaiah at a press conference immediately after the Speaker adjourned the assembly.

He said the Speaker was yet to take a call on the resignations.

An emergency meeting of state cabinet held on late Thursday evening ended in heated exchanges among ministers from the various regions.

MLAs belonging to Congress and Praja Rajyam formed a joint action committee under the leadership of Congress MLA Shailajanath to represent the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.

In an another development, MLAs from the Rayalaseema region under the leadership of T.G. Venkatesh, who had on Thursday called for a “Greater Rayalaseema" state, withdrew their demand.

BJP MLA Kishan Reddy criticized the Congress leadership for “playing games with the issue of Telangana".

Nannapaneni Rajakumari, a senior TDP leader and member of the legislative council who was among those who resigned, said businessmen from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, who had invested heavily in and around Hyderabad, are concerned over the safety of their investments.

GlaxoSmithkline Consumer Healthcare Ltd, a unit of GlaxoSmithkline (GSK), has decided to suspend operations at one of its units in Dowlaiswaram, in the interests of safety, according to a release to the Bombay Stock Exchange on Friday.

Still, industry does not foresee any major disruptions, although prolonged turmoil will affect productivity.

Some industrial units are concerned over losing orders from foreign customers following the ongoing unrest.

“The US government has already issued a caution note to its citizens on visits to Andhra Pradesh, which has impacted the scheduled visits of our customers, who generally close their budgets by the month-end," said Venkat Jasti, managing director of pharma company Suven Life Sciences Ltd. “This has resulted in companies like us losing expected orders."

Stressing on the need to understand the apprehensions of settlers in Hyderabad and the Telangana region on the safety of their assets and jobs, C. Ramachandraiah, social scientist with the Centre for Economics and Social Studies, suggested that the city should continue as the common capital for at least 15 years till the transformation process was completed.