Frontline Volume 22 - Issue 15, Jul 16 - 29, 2005
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THE STATES

Politics of separation

S. NAGESH KUMAR
in Hyderabad

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti pulls out of the Congress-led coalition government in Andhra Pradesh on the issue of a separate Telangana, but the junior partner's action does not worry the Chief Minister.

MOHAMMED YOUSUF

Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief and Union Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao.

THE uneasy, 12-month-old alliance between the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the Congress came to a sudden end in Andhra Pradesh on July 4 when five TRS Ministers resigned from the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy-led coalition government.

Although Union Labour Minister and TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao had been setting one deadline after another for the creation of a separate Telangana State, his sabre-rattling had of late become less frequent than before. As recently as on May 30, he even praised Rajasekhara Reddy for "doing something" for Telangana. Hence the TRS' decision to pull out of the government came as a surprise.

Four TRS Ministers - G. Vijayarama Rao (Civil Supplies), T. Harish Rao (Youth Services), A. Chandrasekhar (Minor Irrigation) and V. Laxmikanth Rao (Backward Classes Welfare) - submitted their resignation to Governor S.K. Shinde while the fifth, N. Narasimha Reddy (Technical Education), faxed his letter of resignation from Detroit, United States, where he had gone to attend a meeting of the Telugu Association of North America (TANA).

Chandrasekhar Rao, who holds his partymen on a tight leash, however, faced rebellion from within. The sixth TRS Minister, S. Santosh Reddy (Transport), refused to resign. He was peeved at the party supremo's "undemocratic and unilateral action" and criticised him of indulging in "political brinkmanship". Santosh Reddy was later persuaded to step down, but he did so on his own terms. He said that he would send in his resignation to the Chief Minister in keeping with the courtesies required of a coalition partner.

Declaring that he could not remain a slave in the party, Santosh Reddy demanded that the two TRS Ministers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, Chandrasekhar Rao himself and A. Narendra, quit. The TRS chief maintained that he had initially resolved to quit his Cabinet post but changed his mind because he thought he would find it difficult to mobilise support on the Telangana issue if he resigned. Moreover, he was a Minister in the Central government, which was different from the Congress government in the State. "We have confidence in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and in the UPA to deliver a separate Telangana," he said.

The TRS leader said he broke away from the coalition after cautioning the Chief Minister for the past six months against taking decisions detrimental to Telangana's interests, such as the location of the Pulichantala project at an unacceptable site and attempts to deprive water to Telangana from the Pranahita river. The TRS had also demanded a revival of the talks with the naxalites and full implementation of the Government Order 610 for the repatriation of non-local employees from Telangana. "Unfortunately, the Chief Minister snubbed us when he told reporters that it is a waste of time to talk to us," he said.

There were other reasons too for the TRS' sudden move. The killing of Riaz, a central committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Janashakti, in an alleged fake police encounter in Karimnagar district foreclosed the options of the TRS. Two TRS leaders were murdered by the naxalites while dozens of panchayat representatives had resigned their posts or fled to safer places after the extremists asked them to quit or face death. Before the Assembly elections, the TRS had tried to dispel doubts about its nexus with the extremists by declaring that it was only sympathetic to their cause and did not embrace their agenda.

Moreover, with the municipal elections fast approaching, the TRS would have to share the Telangana stage with a new entrant - film actress Vijayashanti, who has the potential to woo voters with her glamour and native Telangana accent. Moreover, the 5 per cent reservation for Muslims announced by the government recently had the possibility of taking minority voters away from the TRS.

Rajasekhara Reddy was nonchalant about the TRS Ministers' resignation. The withdrawal of support by the junior partner with just 26 MLAs made no difference to the stability of his government, which had 185 Congress members in a 294-member House. Barely a few hours after the TRS Ministers met the Governor, Rajasekhara Reddy left for Tel Aviv, on a scheduled visit with Ministers, officials and almost his entire family in tow. "I will take a decision at the appropriate time. After all, communication is no problem nowadays," he said.

MUSTAFA QURAISHI/AP

TRS Ministers, from left, V. Laxmikanth Rao, T. Harish Rao, G. Vijayarama Rao and A. Chandrasekhar, after submitting their resignations to the Governor.

Ever since a reluctant Rajasekhara Reddy took the TRS on board his Cabinet on June 24, 2004, internal communication was a big problem. Chandrasekhar Rao conveyed an impression that he had a direct hotline with the UPA chairperson, which, by implication, meant he did not attach much importance to the Chief Minister. Congress leaders from Telangana too had no love lost for the TRS chief whose strength, they felt, was overestimated by the Congress high command. Telangana Congress MLAs urged Rajasekhara Reddy to accept the resignations immediately as they saw an opportunity for getting Cabinet berths for themselves.

In 2004, under a seat-sharing agreement, the TRS got 42 Assembly seats out of 107 in the Telangana region, after hard bargaining with the Congress, but it contested 56 seats. Rajasekhara Reddy was never in favour of an alliance with the TRS but gave in to pressure from the All India Congress Committee. In the final reckoning, the TRS won 26 seats but several of its stalwarts, such as A. Narendra, lost to Telugu Desam Party (TDP) candidates. Also, several TRS candidates lost heavily to the Congress in Kamareddy.

Brokered by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the then AICC general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, the Congress-TRS alliance was forged after the TRS agreed that it would go by the recommendations of the second States Re-organisation Commission (SRC). A joint declaration signed by the then Pradesh Congress Committee president, D. Srinivas, and the TRS president said they respected the sentiments expressed by the first SRC but owing to the changed situation and several new equations that had emerged over a period, they agreed to abide by the Congress Working Committee's decision to seek a solution under a second SRC.

Since the Congress' view alone could not influence its decision, the UPA was cautious in its approach to the issue of a separate Telangana. The Common Minimum Programme clearly stated: "The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana State at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus." Accordingly, the UPA government constituted a three-member committee headed by Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and consisting of Union Ministers Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and Dayanidhi Maran (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) to consult various political parties on the separate Telangana issue. In contrast to the Congress, which is vulnerable to pulls and pressures from leaders from different regions in formulating its response to the Telangana issue, the TDP is unwavering in its support for a united Andhra Pradesh. It reiterated this stand in an eight-page letter submitted by TDP Parliamentary Party Leader K. Yerran Naidu to Pranab Mukherjee.

The TDP said there were movements for a separate Telangana even earlier, in 1969 and 1972. The issues then mainly related to educational and employment opportunities, irrigation facilities and the backwardness of the region. When the State was rocked on these issues, it was felt that such issues could not be resolved in an emotionally charged atmosphere and by taking hasty decisions that could not be reversed, the party said.

Reorganisation of States on the basis of language, the TDP said, was the result of a well-considered principle. It was this national consensus that resulted in the constitution of the first SRC, headed by Justice Fazal Ali and consisting of Sardar K.M. Panicker and Hrudayanath Kunzru as members. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had herself stated in Parliament on December 21, 1972, that linguistic States were very much a part of the national movement, it said.

The Left parties, which account for 61 members in Parliament, are also opposed to the formation of separate Telangana. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) feels that a separate Telangana would open a Pandora's box by giving a fillip to the existing demands for carving out 22 more States.

However, several major parties, including constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Samajwadi Party and the RJD have yet to give their responses to the UPA sub-committee, which met in New Delhi on July 7. Among them is the BJP, a votary of smaller States which has often changed its stand on the Telangana issue.

The TRS chief is unfazed by these developments. He says that 24 parties support the Telangana cause. How far a consensus is possible on the Telangana issue will be known after Pranab Mukherjee releases the sub-committee's report.

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