Those who are demanding that the Congress should make up its mind on the Telangana issue before or at the all-party meeting today in New Delhi are looking west, because the important decision on the Hyderabad-Karnataka region is perhaps an indication to which way the ruling party will go.
A bit of history first. The districts of Yadgir, Gulbarga, Raichur, Bidar, Koppal and Bellary were once part of the Nizam kingdom. Now known within Karnataka as the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, this arid region is the more backward part of Karnataka. The Lok Sabha unanimously passed the 118th Amendment Bill last week granting special status and recognition to these six districts. The government can now establish a separate development board and also provide reservation in Karnataka government jobs and educational institutions.
While it is true that unlike Telangana, there is really no movement demanding statehood for this part of Karnataka, the Centre through this Bill wants to demonstrate that it is more inclined to recognise regional disparities within a state and find a solution through such development boards. It has already experimented in the past with a similar move in Gorkhaland in West Bengal.
Telangana has, however, seen development councils before. And the experience has been nothing to write home about. People of the region look at them purely as throwing a few crumbs like creating job opportunities by setting up PSUs and the feeling by and large is that only the politicians gain by grabbing positions on such boards. The proposal, if made formally, will be rejected outright by the political parties spearheading the movement.
But from the Centre's point of view, if such a move is made on Telangana, it is likely to receive no opposition from coastal Andhra side though it would only be fair that Rayalaseema — which in many senses is more backward than Telangana — should also get a regional developmental board. A development board with huge funds coupled with a second State Reorganisation committee could be the combo that the Centre could sell to Telangana.
The argument that is being built up in favour of a development board for Telangana on the lines of Hyderabad-Karnataka is that the Centre cannot have a dual policy on creation of new states. If development boards with an economic package and reservations are the way to deal with backwardness in some parts, the government cannot solve a similar problem across the border by creating a state.
The fear also is that creation of Telangana could incite a similar movement in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, besides of course, re-igniting statehood fires in Vidarbha and Bodoland.
But beyond these academic considerations also are serious political calculations. BJP's victory in Gujarat has given the party a boost and it now fancies its chances in Telangana, especially if Narendra Modi campaigns aggressively in the region. The Congress strategists are loathe to concede anything that may benefit the BJP politically.
Moreover, it is too late in the day for the Congress to gain politically even if it grants Telangana as it would be seen as a reluctant move, given under duress.
However, before firming up its mind on its stand on Telangana, the Congress will need to look within. Minus statehood, one-third of its MPs from Telangana could be TRS-bound, a few others for YSR Congress. There are many others who would prefer to float a Telangana front and contest under a common umbrella, since they are uncomfortable with the leadership style of both KCR and Jagan. They hope that with seat adjustments with the TRS and the BJP, a Front will help them guard their own personal political future.
Another concern for the Telangana Congress leaders is whether the 28 December meeting, which its MPs pushed its leadership to hold, will take place at all. Given the precarious law and order situation in Delhi over the rape incident, Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is busy firefighting and may be mentally and physically in a state of fatigue to douse the Telangana fire.