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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2786

Pawn in power politics: Star-crossed Telengana

By G.S.Bhargava : (Syndicate Features

Failure to redeem the promise to carve a separate Telengana State out of incumbent Andhra Pradesh sticks out like a sore thumb in the two-year record of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It figured in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the ruling alliance and was included in the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament marking the Government’s assumption of office. That was on June 7, 2004, a fortnight less than the ongoing two- year celebration.

A Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader, A. Narendra, a minister in the Union Council of Ministers, was so excited by the inclusion of the Telengana commitment in the President’s Address that he confidently claimed that the new State was just six months away. That was in June 2004, nearly two years ago.

(Incidentally, there is a double irony about Pandit Narendra, as he is called in Hyderabad, rubbing shoulders with sea green secularists in the Union Council of Ministers, because not long ago he was a hard-core Hindutva votary. The BJP of which he was a nominal member sent him packing when he joined the TRS.

That was despite the Andhra State BJP adopting a resolution at its national conference at Kakinada in 1968 endorsing separate Telengana. A quotable quote of senior BJP leader, Bandaru Dattatreya, on that occasion was ‘one vote, two states!’

More relevantly, the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh joined forces with the TRS, to trounce the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its ally the BJP in the 2004 general election. The Congress tally had jumped from 91 in 1999 to 186 in 2004, a gain of nearly hundred percent, while the TRS opened its account with another 26 seats. Together they had two-thirds majority in the 294-member State assembly The TRS joined the State Government getting five ministerships. However, the bonhomie did not last long.

The TRS wanted the State assembly to adopt a resolution favouring formation of a separate Telengana State as a prelude to the Centre moving in the matter. The Chief Minister, Dr.Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy vetoed it saying that the agreement with the TRS was for establishment of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to go into the pros and cons of redrawing the boundaries of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, among others. The TRS did not agree. With the Congress party and its ally, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) having won the assembly election in Maharashtra the demand for a separate Vidarbha State suffered in silence. In the circumstances, the TRS saw no gain in going for a second SRC .It was also time consuming.

Further, the TRS and the State Government did not see eye to eye on peace talks with the Naxalites. The Government, at the instance of law enforcement agencies, had been insisting that the Naxalites surrender their arms before the Government would enter into talks with them but the extremists would not agree to the precondition. The TRS sided with them, despite instances of violence against police officers. It was because the TRS leadership was vulnerable to physical threats from the Naxalites although the argument put forward by it was that they did not want the Naxalites to hijack the Telengana movement.

The Chief Minister was unfazed by the TRS walkout from the Government because his party had 186 members in the 294-member House. Also, of the five TRS ministers one broke rank by staying on as a minister. In short, the TRS was on a weak wicket at the State level. Apparently, the State Congress leadership was having second thoughts on the alliance with the TRS. It began to think that they had overestimated the TRS contribution to the 2004 election win and in the process underestimated their own position. Thanks to untiring campaigning by YSR, the Congress party was at the top. Outside the Telengana districts also the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) suffered heavily, with several of its ministers from the Circars also eating dust.

The TRS was better placed at the Centre with five MPs .In view of the relatively meagre strength of the Congress party with just 146 members in a 515-member Lok Sabha, an addition of five was welcome. It did not also adopt a confrontationist stance towards the Manmohan Singh Government. For instance, Chandrasekhar Rao, who is a Cabinet minister, was originally allotted the shipping portfolio. When the DMK, another coalition partner, laid claim to the shipping portfolio, Chandrasekhar Rao readily ‘sacrificed it’, saying it made no sense for one from landlocked Telengana to be a shipping minister. (Incidentally, in 1933 Germany had a shipping minister to justify which Hitler demanded and seized the Danzig port in north Poland!)

As a result, Chandrasekhar Rao remained a minister without portfolio for several months, until he was made labour minister. Conventionally, ministers without portfolio like N.Gopalaswami Iyengar and V.K. Krishna Menon were close advisers and trouble-shooters in Nehru’s time. But Rao was content to be literally a minister without portfolio!

Meanwhile, the Congress sub-committee headed by Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, has been striving indefatigably for consensus on the formation of Telengana State. Mukherjee noted that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati and the Communists—not to mention the TDP—are against splitting of Andhra Pradesh. He is, however, outraged by the BJP coming out openly in support of Telengana, with the party president, Rajnath Singh and L.K.Advani, going on record. He claimed that having failed to ensure the formation of Telengana when the BJP was heading the NDA Government it had no moral right to shift its position.

The BJP, for its part, buried its 1998 resolution in support of Telengana because of its alliance with the TDP. Now with the TDP spurning the alliance, the BJP has reverted to its 1998 position. Tit for tat. Whether the BJP somersault facilitates Telengana or not, it shows that the issue is caught in the whirlpool of party politics.

More importantly, the committee approach is proving a slow process. It is said that Dr. Manmohan Singh being a bureaucrat by temperament and training has a flair for the committee system. It can be faulted for holding up decisions but never for inadequate cerebral application. In the process, however, as it happened in Jharkhand ‘denial through delay’ of what the people regard as a legitimate demand makes the ground fertile for extremists, call them Naxalites or Maoists.

- Syndicate Features -

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