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Congress, your time to decide on Telangana starts now

With the anger of a "tareeq pe tareeq'' shouting Sunny Deol, K Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) termed the meeting called by Union Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde "useless, hopeless and a drama'' and in the same breath, he also announced a Telangana bandh on Saturday.

The extreme disappointment was not surprising considering KCR had gone to Delhi proclaiming he had absolutely no expectations. In fact, he had dismissed it as a meeting of no consequence, saying nothing will come out of it. And till a couple of months ago, KCR spent considerable time in Delhi trying to convince the Congress to grant Telangana. He dismisses the one-month time the government has given itself to arrive at a decision as just another deadline.

But has the Congress pushed itself into a corner by publicly announcing that a decision will be taken by 28 January? It would seem so considering its two representatives at the meeting - Suresh Reddy from Telangana and G Venkat Reddy from coastal Andhra - spoke in two diametrically opposite voices on Telangana. How the party leadership reconciles these extreme differences on the contentious issue will be its biggest challenge in the New Year.

The Congress has said it will declare its decision on the formation of the state in a month. PTI

All eyes will therefore be on the Jaipur chintan shivirof the party in mid-January. That's where, Congressmen from Andhra Pradesh hope, crucial decisions on the way forward for the party in the state will be taken. In the bazaar of political speculation, there are already enough rumours floating around about who all in the state leadership will be handed pink slips after the conclave in the Pink city.

An overhaul of the state government and the party, while deciding on Telangana one way or the other is the only way out for the Congress. It won't be an easy decision given that moneybags from coastal Andhra have a decisive say in matters of the Congress and it would be very difficult to ignore them, especially when elections are just 16 months away. What would really matter are the party's internal survey results which will tell them their comparative chances of victory in Telangana, if they grant statehood or not. It will be, at the end of the day, a cold and calculated self-serving political decision by the party.

Over the next month, the Congress will watch with interest the fallout of the Telugu Desam Party's decision to tell the Centre that it stands by its January 2008 letter where it, in unequivocal terms indicated a decision in favour of Telangana. That was also the basis on which it fought the 2009 elections in an alliance with the TRS. However, after P Chidambaram's announcement on 9 December, 2009 about the formation of the new state, the TDP faced a revolt from its Seemandhra leaders, forcing Chandrababu Naidu to sit on the fence. It hurt him politically, which is why he has returned to a more pro-Telangana stance.

Naidu strategically chooses not to say in black and white that he is for statehood to Telangana. Very few believe he is sincere about sticking to the 2008 promise and that push comes to shove, he will step back and watch Seemandhra activists protest against the formation of Telangana.

But even with this vague letter, Telugu Desam leaders are now worried about their political future. Interestingly these include leaders not just from non-Telangana districts but even from Hyderabad city who are not sure of how settlers (people who have settled in Hyderabad from other parts) would react. They feel Naidu has taken a huge political risk by announcing that he is speaking in a more pro-Telangana voice.

The flip side however is that this could make TDP a more acceptable political force in districts like Karimnagar, Warangal and Adilabad. The TDP's cadre is still strong in these districts and given the disappointment with the Congress party's listless governance, Naidu - who is in fact in Telangana region now during his padyatra - could pitch himself as an alternative.

The Congress MPs from Telangana, at whose insistence this meeting was convened are a happy lot as they have something to show back home in their constituencies.

Meanwhile, Sushil Kumar Shinde, your time starts now.