Telangana: Will Congress save its back by splitting Andhra?

The Congress party seems to have decided to go ahead with its 'Merger & Acquisition' blueprint to pump oxygen into its ailing unit in Andhra Pradesh, if indications its leaders are getting from the high command are true. "There are ample chances for the formation of Telangana state,'' is what the state's minor irrigation minister T G Venkatesh said with a sullen face after a visit to Delhi on Wednesday. Venkatesh is one of the fiercest opponents of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

Strengthening the impression that something big is in the offing on Telangana was the meeting in the Home Ministry on Thursday where the state chief secretary, Director General of Police and Intelligence chief were summoned for their inputs.

Pro-Telangana supporters. Reuters.

The "Telangana is inevitable'' message from the Congress leadership seems to have taken the wind out of the sails of the political votaries of united Andhra Pradesh. What they do not seem to realise is that they have only themselves to blame for forcing Sonia Gandhi's hand on taking this decision.

Sources with access to how Delhi arrived at a decision say two factors weighed on its mind. How well would the Congress do in Seemandhra (coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) regions if Telangana was not granted and how would the common man from these two regions react to the news of the formation of Telangana.

When a cross-section of Seemandhra MPs, MLAs and cadre were quizzed a couple of months back, none of them could paint a rosy picture of the party's prospects, even if Andhra Pradesh was not bifurcated. Reports from the ground in fact indicated that many of the heavyweight Congress MPs - who are at the forefront of the opposition to Telangana - would bite the dust if elections were to be held now.

What stumped the central observers was that many Congress leaders had cleverly planted their family members in the YSR Congress as an insurance policy should Jaganmohan Reddy do well in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. This was interpreted as a lack of confidence in the Congress party's own prospects in 2014.

In contrast, Telangana Congress leaders were confident the party would stand to gain if statehood was granted and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti merged with the Congress. The temptation to win a majority of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana tilted the Congress decision in favour of statehood.

Another argument put forth by Telangana Congressmen was that this would effectively snuff out the BJP's chances in Telangana. The saffron party was making gains riding on its promise to deliver Telangana within 90 days of coming to power in 2014.

Surveys also revealed that the average non-Telanganite is fed up with the procrastination on the issue and wants a decision to be taken either way. The aam aadmi from coastal Andhra too is reconciled to the formation of Telangana provided his safety and well-being is guaranteed in the new state. So far he feared being treated like a second-class citizen in a future Telangana state. The onus will now be on the Telangana leaders and general public to be more inclusive and avoid taunts and jibes at people from other regions.

The Seemandhra leaders will indulge in a bit of political posturing to oppose bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh but are unlikely to raise a din, the way they did in December 2009 when their mass resignations forced the Congress High command to reverse its decision to grant Telangana. Ministers admit that this time the MPs and Union ministers too are unlikely to agree to resign because the leadership wouldn't care less.

It was not as if other ideas were not thought over by Delhi. A school of thought within the Congress had suggested formation of a regional development council with a huge financial package but the proposal was rejected by the pro-Telangana groups, as it would have done little to douse the flames of the separatist movement. And more importantly, it would not have served the Congress' political interests.

The second part of the plan will be to 'acquire' the support of the YSR Congress should it indeed do better than the Congress and the Telugu Desam in Seemandhra 'state' as different private surveys indicate. With Jagan's bail pleas being rejected time and again, the patience of the YSRC is wearing thin and the Congress will try to strike a deal at the opportune time. A rich harvest of seats in Telangana and making YSRC an UPA ally, would help boost UPA-3's tally.

The contours of the Telangana package are however still a closely guarded secret. There is no clarity still on the status of Hyderabad and whether a couple of districts of Rayalaseema would be clubbed with Telangana state to clip Jagan's influence in the Seemandhra state further. As I was writing this, a Congress MP from Telangana called to say the 2009 experience has taught him that one can never be sure with the Congress unless it actually crosses the Telangana bridge and stays there.

"So till then, fingers crossed,'' he said. In his mind, both January 28 (when Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's self-imposed one-month deadline to announce a decision ends) and Dilli abhi door hai.

Updated Date: Jan 17, 2013 20:34 PM

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