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Telangana: Will govt surprise with another big bang decision?

One of K Chandrasekhar Rao's favorite slogans over the last decade that he has been spearheading the Telangana cause is: "Ek aur dhakka, Telangana pucca" (One more push and Telangana will happen). But all that pushing has only resulted in an equal and opposite reaction, just like Isaac Newton said, from those opposed to bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. This is why an announcement on the formation of Telangana on 9 December, 2009 was quickly followed by a rollback two weeks later. The complicated nature of the problem has meant the Centre has treated Telangana as a hot potato.

But the theory that 'no decision is the best decision' is fast approaching its expiry date. The Congress has faced two Lok Sabha and assembly elections with a kabhi haan kabhi naa attitude on Telangana but 2014 will not afford it the luxury of sitting on the fence. Andhra Pradesh sending a contingent of 29 Congress MPs in 2004 and 33 in 2009, was a huge factor in UPA coming to power. A loss in the Deccan could well mean a stint in the opposition for the Congress.

PTI

Which is what gives hope to the votaries of Telangana that if push comes to shove, the Congress will grant statehood to Telangana. They point to the abysmal performance of the Congress in the Seemandhra regions in the byelections in June when it won just two of the 17 seats that it had won in 2009. This despite the Congress campaign that a vote for Jaganmohan Reddy would mean bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. The TRS believes the Congress should think about salvaging its position in Telangana since the other regions seem like a lost cause.

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao has been camping in Delhi for the past fortnight, amid suggestions that some breakthrough is in the offing. The man has often been criticised for his switch off-switch on attitude vis-a-vis the agitation, giving rise to doubts that he allows himself to be 'managed' everytime by Delhi. But that does not stop him from constantly announcing dates by when Telangana state will be a reality.

Is KCR then just a gullible politician who takes the Congress for its word or a wily leader who thinks three moves ahead on the political chessboard? More likely the latter. What he is adopting is a clever strategy. By constantly announcing fresh dates, he takes the small risk of inviting ridicule when nothing materialises on the said date but he succeeds in his mission to keep hopes and expectations alive. Akin to keeping the powder dry, making it easier to reignite when he wants to.

KCR knows that unlike 1969, when the Telangana agitation was a function of Congress internal politics, this time there are many players in Telangana politics. TRS has the first mover advantage but unless it constantly reinvents itself, it stands to lose ground to rivals like the BJP. Already with the BJP promising Telangana within three months of coming to power, the feeling is gaining ground that if it works out its strategy well, the saffron party could gain in terms of Lok Sabha seats in the event of the Telangana electorate voting strategically, especially in the semi-urban segments.

Which is why KCR needs to project himself as a sole arbiter of the people of Telangana in the Delhi durbar. The idea is to negotiate and bargain hard, while holding out the threat of a million march in Hyderabad on 30 September, just a day before the prestigious International Biodiversity conference starts in the city. The government would not want to allow that, given how the last Million march in 2011 had turned violent, vandalising statues of icons of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions on Tank Bund in Hyderabad.

TRS leaders know agitating at this stage, with no elections round the corner, won't achieve much. It would be only for the limited purpose of emphasising its supremacy in the creditlines of the movement. The gameplan, as many TRS leaders say, is to build up the tempo three months before the election to rake in maximum gains in the next assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

But that is of course, if the Congress does not blink. While the party is still talking in terms of a hefty financial package and a regional council, the TRS will accept nothing short of statehood. The Congress also wants to indulge in some democratic posturing by calling for an all-party meeting which will give it elbow room. It knows that the Telugu Desam is also a divided house and would want to expose the faultlines. And force Jagan to take a position on Telangana.

For every political party, it is all about power and less about sentiment. Likewise the Congress is looking at the Telangana issue from the prism of elections. Knowing anti-incumbency of ten years could translate into a rout in 2014, it wants to link statehood to a merger of the TRS with the Congress. Though KCR has agreed to do so after the formation of Telangana, Congress is wary of trusting him. TRS leaders themselves point to the fate that Chiranjeevi has met after merging his Praja Rajyam in the Congress.

The Congress has held meetings over Telangana but would be wary of rushing into a decision without taking everyone on board. The aftermath of 9 December is too fresh in everyone's mind. Several MPs from coastal Andhra are moneybags who cannot be ignored when elections are drawing near. Little surprise then that the party and the government are talking in different voices. While Vayalar Ravi and the like are talking to KCR, Union Home minister Sushil Shinde, virtually ruled out formation of Telangana a few days ago, citing security concerns of Maoists gaining in strength.

But with the government now dealing with its own survival post Mamata Banerjee withdrawing support to the UPA, the question that arises is whether the Congress would open up another front on Telangana with a big bang decision.

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