Originally Published 2010-12-30 00:00:00 Published on Dec 30, 2010
When the rest of the nation is looking up to a brighter day in the New Year, Andhra Pradesh, faced with the revived Telangana issue, may be knotting itself in very many complicated ways, and the unknotting could become even more complicated with each such unknotting.
Awaiting the 'Andhra turmoil'
With the national polity and media engrossed in the ‘2-G scam’, no one seems to have the time for the south Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, which is on the verge of bursting, as it has done on multiple issues in the past. Infighting in the ruling Congress Party, coupled with a revival of the ‘Telangana issue’, when the Justice Sri Krishna Committee is scheduled to submit its recommendations to the Centre by December 31, has made the waters murkier and trickier as well.

If the Congress substituted ageing Chief Minister K Rosaiah with a young Assembly Speaker Kiran Kumar Reddy, the choice also neutralised the rival claims of Jagmohan Reddy, the frustrated son of the late Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. Other than being a Reddy himself, coming as he does from the native Chittoor district of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader, N Chandrababu Naidu, Kiran Kumar, like Jagmohan, has no ministerial experience, for being considered for the top slot.

Ironically, for all three players – including Jagmohan, who has already walked out of the Congress parent, which seemingly did not want the ‘YSR clan’ to continue dictating terms to the high command and alienate other electoral components in a caste-ridden State – are not looking at the present, but at the future. Their aim already is Elections-2014. The general perception is that the inevitability of ‘anti-incumbency’ would see the Congress out of power in the State, particularly in the absence of a strong leader and popular Chief Minister in YSR.

Jagmohan’s decision to disassociate from the Congress also flows from such a perception. He is not ready to wait till the subsequent round of polls, due only in 2019. However, his camp seems to have forgotten the possibility of the TDP getting marginalised between 1914 and 1919 in the absence of a credible successor to an ageing Naidu at the helm, as the first non-Congress, non-TDP Chief Minister as they are hoping for at present. His staying capacity would also come under question if he is not able to capture power, pushing the Congress to the third slot in 2014 – but his camp does not seem worried.

There are also lessons for Jagmohan to learn from star-politician Chiranjeevi, whose political party did not take off electorally despite much media hype. Today, Chiranjeevi has promised support to the Congress in case the 20-odd party MLAs backing Jagmohan – his camp puts it at 50 – chips in. It could raise fresh leadership issues within the Congress, or Congress-led coalition but it could also change caste equations in a polarised polity.

By launching an ill-advised ‘fast unto death’, demanding higher compensation for flood-affected farmers, TDP’s Naidu demonstrated his continued lack of support-base in the rural areas, which trend commenced with his IT-centric ‘Cyberabad-like’ concepts while in power. By acting tough as Naidu continued his fast for up to a week, Kiran Reddy has proved himself to be strong Chief Minister. He needs to prove that he is also a ‘popular Chief Minister’ in the coming weeks and months – which is a tough task under the circumstances.

‘Telangana factor’

Apart from traditional issues of governance and anti-incumbency, the infant leadership of Kiran Kumar Reddy is also faced with the imminent revival of the ‘Telagana factor’, what with the Justice Sri Krishna Committee expected to present its recommendations on the need for the formation of a separate State, carved out of the existing tri-regional Andhra Pradesh. The State was faced with twin issues of ‘Telangana politics’ and attendant problems on the law and order front when Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) founder K Chandrasekhara Rao went on an indefinite fast, and gave it up after Union Home Minister P Chidambaram purportedly promised a separate State in a mid-night statement.

Together, they crippled the State’s economy until it became clear to the protestors – for a separate State in the Telangana region and against it in the other two regions of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema – that the Government machinery may come to a grinding halt, if daily revenue losses running to tens of crores of rupees was allowed to mount. The revived agitation that forced TRS’ Chandrasekhara Rao to re-launch his fast also exposed the ‘hidden hand’ of the Naxalites and their interest in continuing with the agitation.

It is unclear what formulations – one or more – that the Sri Krishna Committee would recommend to the Centre, of which of it, or any other, the latter would want to propose. One thing is for sure. If the denial of a separate Telangana would sour public mood in the region, which political parties and leftist-militants could seek to exploit, the reverse would be true in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, if one is granted.

A separate State could also rise with it questions about the future status of the State capital of Hyderabad. Capital of the princely State going by the same name under the Nizams, which in turn is part of the present-day Telangana, Hyderabad City is now identified with the ‘unified Andhra Pradesh’, in political, administrative and emotional terms, the last one particularly in the context of the ‘Hyderabad police action’, which caused the merger of the Nizam’s State with the Union of India, post-Independence. ‘Union Territory’ status for Hyderabad, on the lines of Chandigarh when unified Punjab was divided to create the present-day States of Punjab and Haryana, is a possibility, but that is also fraught with political and large-scale financial problems.

A via media could involve large-scale developmental funding from the Centre, for Telangana, with some kind of a constitutional provision in the form of a ‘Developmental Board’ as in the case of a few other regions in other States. But such efforts should be seen as sincere and effective, both by the TRS and the local population. It is another matter if the Naxalites, seeking to revive their militant movement in the Telangana region, after being rendered relatively ineffective over the past decade, compared to many other parts of the country, would accept it or allow its smooth implementation.

‘Developmental aid’ for Telangana, if it came to that, could flag off the implementation of such plans that are on the anvil, for eradicating Naxalism across the country, by addressing the needs and concerns of the neglected sections of the population. In the context of present-day Andhra Pradesh, it could also mean that the relatively prosperous regions of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema not having to underwrite the developmental expenditure of backward Telangana. But for leftist militants, ‘development’ is an anathema. A carrot-and-stick policy thus would have to be implemented with great care and caution – if that is acceptable to the people.

Political calculations

In the interim, Chandrasekhara Rao has publicly declared his intention to merge his TRS with the Congress, if the party-led Manmohan Singh Government at the Centre created a separate State of Telangana, as the purpose for which he had launched the same would have outlived its utility. It goes without saying that Rao could well be the first Chief Minister of a separate Telangana, whether or not the Congress supports him, and whether or not the TRS would have a majority in the new Telangana State Assembly.

The Telangana region, as may be recalled, accounts for about 120 of the 294 seats in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly at present. It would also have 18 of the total 42 Lok Sabha members from the undivided State, with the Congress facing the prospects of losing many from the high 33 at present. Rao thus offers the consolation of a party-ruled State in the region for the Congress, as even otherwise, expectations are that it would lose united Andhra Pradesh to ‘anti-incumbency’ in 2014, if tremors, driven by the Telangana issue on the one hand and the ‘Jagmohan factor’ on the other does not cause early elections.

Interestingly, there are aspects that the Congress high command may want to consider, both in political and administrative terms, before deciding on a separate Telangana. Heading a Government at the Centre, the party would have to weigh the possibilities about the creation of Telangana reviving and/or triggering similar demands for a separate State in other parts of the country. In political terms, a substantial Muslim population in Telangana could create a counter-poise for the BJP rival to emerge stronger, if only over time – and more so, if the TRS were to merge in the Congress. The party had performed well in parliamentary elections in the Telangana region in the Nineties, when a pro-BJP wave was discernible all across the country.

Yet, there are benefits to the nation and to the Congress. One, any possible merger of the TRS in the Congress would not only strengthen ‘national’ and ‘nationalist’ forces of political moderation in Telangana, thus delaying the possible revival of leftist militancy. It is the kind of time that the Governments at the Centre and the State could do with, to usher in big-time development to the neglected region. In its own way, the emergence of the BJP, or even the TDP in Telangana, with or without a new State, could stabilise ‘nationalist’ tendencies in the region, which is the utmost need of the hour, for the nation as a whole.

More importantly, the possible merger of a ‘separate State’ outfit like the TRS in a national party, if it happened, could furthermore marginalise fissiparous tendencies and peripheral groups – a lesson, thus, in the context of addressing near-similar issues elsewhere in the nation, as it moved increasingly away from the times and attendant spirit of the freedom movement. If handled with care and imagination, it could be a working model, as against the creation of smaller States in the North when the BJP was in power at the Centre. While not meeting the promised goals and routes of development, it is these States that are at the centre of leftist militant activities, since formation – particularly in the absence of an ‘inclusive’ nationalist political force that also had the inherent capacity of ‘absorbing’ all that it came in contact with – a recipe this for rendering peripheral groups and ideology ineffectual, over the medium and long terms.

For now, the Congress has entered into a damage-control mode, ahead of the five-member Sri Krishna Committee report on Telangana region. Capitalising on the cue provided by the disgruntled one-time State party president D Kesava Rao, who felt left out of the chief ministerial race and who brought together all nine Congress MPs hailing from the region for a ‘fast’, after the term had become farcical in Andhra Pradesh-2010, the party-led State Government has withdrawn all 1165 pending cases against a high 8,047 students, for participating in the protests over the earlier fast of TRP’s Rao. Obviously, the Congress, both as party and Government(s), wants to neutralise the fallout from the past, before preparing to face the Sri Krishna Report.

Thus, when the rest of the nation is looking up to a brighter day in the New Year, Andhra Pradesh may be knotting itself in very many ways – all of them inter-linked in very many ways, and the unknotting of which could become even more complicated with each such unknotting. It will take the Centre, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress high command and the divided polity of the State to come out of the muddle that Andhra Pradesh could find itself at the advent of the New Year. That was also much more than what late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to expend, as Prime Minister and party supremo, to tackle the ‘Telangana isse’, when no TDP was in sight and the late Mari Channa Reddy ended up merging his separate State movement with the Congress Party to become Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, though not immediately. If nothing else, it will all weigh on the Congress high command while handling alliance issues in States such as Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, where the DMK and the Trinamool Congress contribute 18 and 19 Lok Sabha members, respectively, to the party-led, ruling UPA kitty at the Centre. That would only be a beginning – two States that are among those facing Assembly polls in the New Year.

(Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation)

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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