Telangana Reshapes Andhra Politics

The Congress reaches out to Jagan, Naidu to the common man
BATTLE LINES
DEFT HANDLING Pro-Telangana supporters set fire to police vehicles during their 30 September rally

The 30 September pro-Telangana march in Hyderabad has brought fissures to the fore within pro-statehood outfits, much to the glee of the Congress, a section of which is gloating over the party’s deft handling of an issue that had threatened to paralyse Andhra Pradesh (and break what’s now the longest period of peace in the past three years). But the street protests have also led to a scramble among political parties—notably, the Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP)—to redraw their strategies.

The Telangana Joint Action Committee (T-Jac), an umbrella outfit led by Professor M Kodandaram in its fight for a separate state, has publicly fallen out with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), led by K Chandrasekhar Rao. Their rift was over the issue of holding a permanent sit-in once the four-hour march on Sunday came to an end. T-Jac activists wanted the nearly 300,000-strong crowd that had thronged Necklace Road, abutting the Husseinsagar Lake, to squat there until the Centre concede statehood. But the TRS legislators and MPs on the dais walked away, with most of the crowd they’d mobilised, leaving a stunned T-Jac to call off the plan. Ostensibly, it was a TRS display of anger over barbs that T-Jac had aimed at its top leader Rao, who has been camping in Delhi for a month, which the T-Jac interpreted as cosiness with the Congress.

That suspicion is not baseless, given the TRS’s parleys with Congress negotiators over a possible Telangana deal. In fact, well informed sources say that Rao plans to merge his party with the Congress as part of a deal that will see Telangana take shape as a new state and him become its first Chief Minister. But after Sunday’s events in Hyderabad, say observers, this may no longer be so easy, with cries of a sellout emerging from T-Jac quarters.

The Congress, meanwhile, for once, is appreciative of its Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who decided to allow T-Jac to have a run of Hyderabad for four hours despite the police—and even Governor—asking him not to permit the rally. The Andhra government had kept public bus services off the streets and closed its secretariat over the weekend in fear of its employees joining the stir. The Congress’ own Telangana MPs staged a dharna in front of the CM’s office. They even courted arrest when protestors making their way to the venue ran into a blockage by the police, who dealt with the marchers rather roughly, resulting in several clashes. Some ministers had also threatened to resign from the state cabinet. “The Congress will not survive in Telangana if it handles a people’s movement of the region in this fashion,” said MP Manda Jagannatham. Telangana representatives now plan to take their case to the party High Command in Delhi later this week.

Sunday’s events have galvanised parties across the spectrum, and it is clear that political equations are set to change. The Congress, reeling from the untimely death of YSR and rebellion of his son Jaganmohan Reddy, recognises how keen its own partymen from Telangana are on statehood. In Rayalseema and coastal Andhra, where public opinion is mostly against statehood, the Congress is aware that Jagan is steadily chipping away at the Congress and TDP base. Jagan’s breakaway, the YSR Congress (YSR-C), won 15 of 18 bypolls held in June in this region.

Congress sources have it that the High Command has opened a channel of communication with Jagan, as the party feels the YSR-C can win enough seats in the state to back the Congress at the Centre after the 2014 general election. Already, Congressmen feel that Jagan will be able to counter a padyatra by the TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu with his own odarpu or thanksgiving yatra (the one interrupted by his imprisonment on graft charges). With that in mind, the Congress is keenly awaiting the outcome of Jagan’s bail plea, coming up for hearing on 5 October.

Former CM Naidu, whose party didn’t win a single bypoll, hopes that his padyatra will regain him some mass popularity. Amid much fanfare, he started it from the southernmost town of Hindupur in Anantapur district on 2 October, and plans to walk across the state over the next four months.

The TDP, which has dithered over the Telangana issue, faces an internal revolt over its lack of commitment to the cause. “The party has become fertile ground for other political parties to poach from,” says a senior TDP leader, “and we need a strategy to counter the TRS in Telangana and check the YSR-C in the state’s coastal and Rayalseema regions.”