What an awful mess the Congress leadership has made of the emotive issue of Telangana as a separate state! And to make matters worse, it is difficult to imagine how, during the short winter session of Parliament, the current Lok Sabha’s last, it can extricate itself from the morass it has landed in.
The government’s earlier expectation to push the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill through, regardless of what the state assembly says about it, no longer seems realistic.
For, after seeking four more weeks to discuss the draft Bill referred to it by the President under the prescribed procedure, the state assembly has summarily rejected it.
Ironically, the Congress Party rules Andhra, and its inconsequential chief minister, Kiran Kumar Reddy, has led the defiance of the party’s ‘ high command.’ Under the Constitution, Parliament can still pass the legislation for Telangana’s creation, but there are three massive roadblocks to the desired goal.
First, the Andhra assembly has not just rejected the Bill ‘ in its present form’, but also suggested no fewer than 9,000 amendments to it. The documents spelling these out, reportedly weighing 300 kilos, have already been sent to the union home ministry for forwarding to the President. Even if the head of state, on the advice of the council of ministers, is inclined to brush aside the assembly’s demands, he would surely need time to give reasons for his decision, and that would require some time. The Congress- led government cannot hasten this process, and in any case, Parliament has some other urgent tasks before it. It has to pass the vote on account not only for the general budget, but also for the railway budget. Moreover, Rahul Gandhi has commanded the government to push through a bunch of six bills, relating to corruption.
Secondly, and more importantly, the passage of the Telangana Bill through both Houses of Parliament is dependent on the support of the BJP, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where the Congress is in a minority.
Since the saffron party is also committed to the formation of Telangana, its support to the Bill was expected to be automatic.
But BJP leaders have made it clear that they cannot bail out the government because its Bill disregards the interests of Seemandhra, the region that is bitterly opposed to the ‘ bifurcation’ of their state.
Indeed, the BJP leaders are taunting the Congress by underscoring that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had formed three new states – Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand – without any controversy because it had first evolved a consensus among all concerned.
Thirdly, Congress MPs from Andhra have, in the recent past, disrupted Parliament all too often to drive home their opposition to the formation of Telangana, and their colleagues from the Telangana region have responded equally angrily.
This time around, they have threatened to table a motion of no- confidence in their own government and press it to a vote. In short, the Congress has done a better job of embarrassing itself than a dozen hostile forces could have done jointly.
The perplexing question is: how have the Congressmen of Seemandhra become so rebellious when sycophancy of, and unquestioning obedience to the dynasty is the party’s hallmark? Evidently, deep parochial and personal interests take precedence over loyalty to the dynastic leadership.
Remarkably, it is not only now that the Congress has bungled and blundered about the Telangana issue. The malaise is old. For years it did nothing to honour its commitment to form a separate Telangana state. Then, on a cold December night in 2009, after a meeting of the Congress core committee, the then home minister, P Chidambaram, announced that the government had conceded the demand for a state of Telangana and the process for doing so would begin immediately. This was because of the Congress’ fear of the likely consequences of the indefinite fast of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s chairman, K Chandrashekhar Rao, generally called KCR. The very next day, the rest of Andhra protested vigorously, and the government turned tail. To save face, it then appointed the Justice Srikrishna Committee, but to no avail.
Why then did the Congress high command bite the bullet last year and embark on separating Telangana from the rest of Andhra, inviting huge protests from Seemandhra and a firm refusal from the Telangana leaders to share Hyderabad city with the rest of Andhra as a joint capital, which is what the union government wants for a period of ten years? The best way to answer the question is tersely to go over the Congress’ flip- flops, since Andhra’s creation in the 1950s.
The truth is that this state was a Congress bastion right from the beginning. It voted for Indira Gandhi even in the 1977 elections, when she was at her nadir. After she was back in power and Rajiv Gandhi had joined as her heir apparent, he chose to give a terrible tonguelashing to the state’s harmless, but inefficient chief minister, T Anjaiah, elevated to that post by the prime minister herself. An enormously popular film star, N T Ramarao ( NTR) seized the opportunity to form a party, Telugu Desam, to ‘ restore Andhra’s self- respect.’ The dismissal of his government in August 1984 boomeranged.
He had to be sworn in again. Eventually, his son- in- law, Chandrababu Naidu, succeeded him and ruled for many years.
Only in 2004 did the Congress recover Andhra as its stronghold. The man responsible for this achievement was a hands- on and autonomous state leader, S Rajasekhara Reddy, better known as SR. In 2009, he did even better than before. That year, Andhra sent the largest Congress contingent to the Lok Sabha, 33 MPs out of the state’s total of 42. Unfortunately, a few months later, SR died in a helicopter accident.
His son, Jaganmohan Reddy, wanted to inherit his father’s job, again in the best Congress tradition. But the central leadership refused to countenance this.
The young man revolted, formed a party named after his father, and attracted a large following among Congressmen. The government’s decision to prosecute him for owning assets beyond his ostensible sources of income and to keep him in prison for 16 months without bail added to his, his sister’s and his mother’s popularity. It was then that some mini- Machiavellis of the Congress thought that Seemandhra having been lost, some votes must be salvaged by forming a separate state of Telangana.
However, as things stand today, it is seems most unlikely that Telangana can be formed before the parliamentary elections.
In that case, Congress could lose heavily in both the regions. This would be a classic example of self- destruction.