REFOCUS ~ After the breakaway YSR Congress swept Andhra’s 12 June bypolls, a weak Congress government in the state faces the imminent threat of several of its MLAs walking across to the Jaganmohan Reddy camp. In response, the Grand Old Party is planning a grand move on Telangana that involves a complete power rejig—including devolution—in a bid to keep Andhra Pradesh united.
The party’s aim is to hit two targets with one stone, and thus regain lost ground in the state that accounts for a large chunk of its representation in Parliament. The Congress expects the plan of action to keep the strong pro-Telangana lobby within its ranks happy, and also help arrest the YSR Congress’ rapid rise in the state’s coastal and Rayalaseema regions.
The Telangana region has been convulsed by a statehood agitation for more than two years now. Parts of the Justice Srikrishna Committee report, which looked into the issue, may serve as a face-saver for the Congress, which has been witnessing a dramatic reduction in its numbers over the past few months.
As a first step, Congress leaders who refuse to be named say that Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, from whom much was expected, will be replaced by a senior leader from the Telangana region. “Among names doing the rounds is J Geetha Reddy [who is currently a minister],” says a senior leader who was present at an AICC meet on 19 June in New Delhi, “This plan has been cleared by the High Command, as there has been a sense of dejection and disappointment over the bypoll results in which we managed to win just two seats [in the Assembly], while the fledgling YSR Congress won 15, apart from the Nellore Lok Sabha seat.”
Partymen believe that if the Congress does not come up with a credible Telangana plan that is in concord with popular aspirations, it will now start losing legislators from that region too. “As neither the Telugu Desam Party nor YSR Congress has taken a strong stand on Telangana, the Congress can outwit them,” says the leader, “It will serve twin purposes: one, keep our flock intact in the T districts, and two, play the card of a ‘united Andhra’, which will help negate people’s sympathy for Jaganmohan Reddy in coastal and Rayalaseema districts.”
The AICC meet also took note of how Jagan was able to capitalise on the sympathy factor after his father and former CM, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, died in a helicopter crash in September 2009. Many speakers also recalled how YSR had promised to help make Rahul Gandhi the country’s Prime Minister in 2014. “There was an acute sense of awareness that Congress influence in post-YSR Andhra Pradesh is eroding,” adds the Congressman who was present.
Of several recommendations made by the Srikrishna Committee, the Centre is keen on an option that envisions an Andhra kept together through the provision of a definite set of Constitutional and statutory measures—such as the creation of a statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council—to ensure the socio-economic development and political empower•ment of the restive region. “By exercising this option,” says a source, “the state government can address the core socio-economic concerns of Telangana. This ‘united Andhra’ option would impart a development momentum to all three regions: Telangana, the coastal belt and Rayalaseema. It would also take care of the future of Hyderabad and help it remain a bustling commercial, educa•tional, infotech and filmmaking hub.”
It would be a tricky manoeuvre, no doubt, as any rebalancing of power is, but its supporters believe it will also help the Congress hold onto its 50-odd MLAs from the region that elects 101 legislators in all, since they have been demanding all along that the party adopt a clear stand on the issue of statehood for Telangana. Political pressure is mounting on these MLAs to resign and recontest on the Telangana issue, just as MLAs of the TSR did. A mass resignation protest by 101 Telangana MLAs to force the question of statehood was rejected by the Assembly’s speaker, but that did not subdue sentiments. Batches of Congress MPs have been visiting New Delhi to prevail on the High Command to address the problem.
K Keshava Rao, a Congress Rajya Sabha member, has been saying that his party has misread the movement and blames Kiran Reddy for giving the Centre a distorted picture of the scenario in Andhra Pradesh.
The party’s salvage operation is expected to begin after the Presidential polls in July. Sources say the Congress has already reached an agreement with TRS Chief K Chandrasekhar Rao, whose fast-unto-death had precipitated a nerve-wracking agitation that lasted several months and resulted in a total shutdown of Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana. It had resulted in adminis•trative paralysis, with state government employees joining the protests, even as the pitch was queered by the participa•tion of Osmania University students with the tacit approval of Maoist elements.
While Congress bigwigs do not want to say anything on record, they admit that their party is now all set to strike a grand bargain on Telangana, in effect bartering its earlier support for statehood, for the sake of the party’s electoral survival. Jagan, they fear, is out to do an NTR on the Congress. Actor NT Rama Rao had set up the TDP in the early 80s, and he rode to power on Telugu pride, seen to have been injured by the then PM Rajiv Gandhi, who had publicly rebuked Chief Minister T Anjaiah on the tarmac of Hyderabad airport. Sonia’s snub of Jagan is also being seen in the same context; YSR’s son was first denied chief ministership, then stymied in his attempts to go on his Odarpu yatra, and later arrested by the CBI on corruption charges.
The only relief for the Congress is that Jagan is not in a position to topple the Andhra government and go for a snap poll. The TDP, which drew a blank in the bypolls, does not want an Assembly election either. The YSR Congress has also sought to calm nerves on its intentions. “The present Congress government is in place because of my husband [the late YSR], and we do not want to drag it down,” in the words of Jagan’s mother YS Vijayalakshmi, who is the party’s honorary president (Jagan having been remanded to custody till mid-July). But voting, there will be at some point or the other, and the YSR Congress’ showing is a cause for all other parties to worry. Don’t forget, Congress candidates lost their deposits in nine constituencies, the TDP’s in seven. Combined, the two parties got 2 per cent less than the YSR Congress’ vote. A decisive factor in the YSR Congress’ victory was the feisty campaign led by Jagan’s sister Sharmila Reddy, who drew vast crowds to her rallies.
In another public statement, Vijayalakshmi rubbished the Congress allegation that her party won because of sympathy for YSR alone. “Sympathy won’t last, Jagan will,” she said, adding that her son was targeted because he did not cancel his Odarpu yatra. “There is God and there is law,” she said, “Jagan’s arrest was premeditated. But voters were intelligent and know who set the CBI after him. I will meet the PM to apprise him of the harassment of YSR’s family.”
That sounds conciliatory. But the Congress is not taking any chances, especially since it has been publicly revealed that the CBI joint director heading the probe against Jagan had been leaking information to mediapersons. Currently India’s richest MP, Jagan, elected from Kadapa, has been charged with allegedly amassing a shockingly large fortune through illegal means when his father was CM. Moving forward on Telangana is the only way out, say Congress leaders.