G Vishnu and Ashhar Khan
(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 32, Dated 10 August 2013)
The Congress finally bites the bullet on creating a new state. G Vishnu and Ashhar Khan on whether the party may have opened a Pandora’s box
The Telangana movement, which rode on the feelings of victimisation, discrimination, cultural differences and a strong ethno-nationalistic sentiment for the past 44 years, was finally close to fulfilment. However, the jubilation did not mask the reasoned cynicism of the students. The question almost everyone had on their minds was: Will things actually change?
“Sixty years of struggle. This is what we fought for,” said Krushank, a student leader of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of OU, struggling to catch his breath. MCA students Suman and Fatima, who were among the handful of girls at the gathering, were more cautious. “We are happy that we have a state. But we don’t know whether things will change on the ground. Political parties may benefit. But will things change in the society and Osmania?” they wondered. Perhaps, this scepticism of the grand narrative was the main reason why celebrations were muted in much of Hyderabad, a city that has been at the heart of the movement.
Telangana will comprise of 10 districts. Hyderabad, where businessmen and politicians from Andhra Pradesh have invested thousands of crores of rupees, will be the shared capital for the next 10 years, until a new capital for the residual AP is built. This came as a relief for pro-Telangana leaders and activists, who were anxious about the Congress’ plans of adding the non-Telangana districts of Anantapur and Kurnool and calling the new state Rayala Telangana.
For a movement that reportedly saw over 900 suicides and self-immolations in the past four years, the climax came much less dramatically with the Congress’ electoral considerations — a desperate attempt to avoid completely losing the region — taking more airtime and column inches than the movement itself.
“You will find that elite Muslims and Hindus don’t like the idea of Telangana, whereas the poor seem to be in favour,” says Zahiruddin Ali Khan, managing editor of Siyasat, one of India’s largest Urdu dailies that is published from Hyderabad. “The movement has always been about setting the balance right. Despite being a tiny part of the population, the Reddys and Kammas, two of the upper castes, enjoy a lot of power and wealth.”
Meanwhile, in Seemandhra (the combined region of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema), protests, mostly instigated by political parties, erupted in the districts of Anantapur, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Chittoor and Tirupati. Schools and colleges in many towns along the coastal areas remained shut on 31 July, owing to bandh calls given by political formations such as the Seemandhra JAC, an amalgamation of parties fighting against the separation. Most Seemandhra supporters have questioned the necessity of Telangana, arguing that Rayalaseema has more poverty and fares worse in terms of social indices.
Even though the formation of the state will not happen until next March, procedures have been set in motion. Whereas leaders from Seemandhra are hoping for the prospect of a favourable resolution in the Assembly rejecting the separation (because Telangana backers don’t seem to enjoy a majority support in the House), proponents of Telangana are confident that matters will end at the Parliament — where a resolution can be passed under Article 3, granting statehood.
Even though many who have accepted the decision — like a section of the Congress, BJP and CPI — have welcomed the decision to keep Hyderabad as a common capital, BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu disgarees on that particular detail. “You can’t have a shared capital. That will be against the interests of the Andhra citizens who will have to cross a border to access their capital. The Congress needs to formulate an immediate plan for law and order in the city before anything else,” he says.
Whereas Hyderabad is the biggest bone of contention, there are other issues such as the massive administrative intricacies involving names, office spaces and dizzying challenges of allocation of resources and sharing of power within Hyderabad. Telangana will also have to deal with several issues such as sharing water with Seemandhra, which is dependant on the Krishna, the longest river in south India, flowing from Mahabalweshwar in Maharashtra for more than 1,400 km before meeting the Bay of Bengal.
“I think Telangana will benefit as it will have a bigger voice in keeping more water for itself as a state,” says Padmaja Shaw, an academic with the English and Foreign Languages University.
These issues notwithstanding, the industry and trade bodies heaved a sigh of relief. “Every year, Andhra Pradesh exports goods worth Rs 40,000 crore. Over the past 10 years, there was a lot of uncertainty in the state. Thus confidence among investors was lacking,” says V Laxmikanth, MD of Broadridge Financial Solutions, a multinational finance firm. “We lost a bit of momentum in growth owing to lack of clarity. But now, I expect stability and hope that we will be able to better utilise the massive talent that Hyderabad and the rest of the state has to offer. I believe it is a step in the right direction.”
Ashok Reddy, president (global HR and corporate affairs), Infotech Enterprises Ltd, says the decision has brought a much-needed end to the prevailing uncertainty. “It’s an emotional issue and there could be differences. The industry is neutral and appreciates that there’s no ambiguity now. We hope that the governments that come up will be investment friendly,” says Reddy, who is also the chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries’ Andhra Pradesh chapter.
However, many state Congress leaders are a miffed lot and are threatening to quit if the party goes ahead with the plan to create a new state. “I’m personally unhappy about the Congress granting Telangana. But as a party member, I will abide by the decision,” says Pradesh Congress Committee president Botsa Satyanarayana.
But Congress Rajya Sabha MP V Hanumantha Rao, who hails from Hyderabad, is less charitable to the protests raging in Seemandhra. “If you compare both protests, people in Telangana made a lot of sacrifices,” he says. “Many people gave up their lives. The younger generation was emotionally involved in fighting against the injustice. Sonia Gandhi has considered all these aspects. I kept hoping that the sacrificing protesters were not martyred in vain. Sonia Gandhi has seen these sacrifices and understands the injustices. Now, both areas can develop together.”
Meanwhile, TRS leaders are busy charting their future course of action. “We have achieved what we wanted. Now the movement has to concentrate on social justice. We will have to make sure that backward castes get their due,” says Thirumani Kondal, vice-president of the TRS’ student wing. “(TRS leader) K Chandrashekhar Rao will not be the Telangana chief minister. We will have a Dalit CM.”
When Digvijaya Singh, the AICC general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, announced the creation of Telangana, he also mentioned that if the TRS comes forward with a merger proposal, the Congress will look at it favourably. Rao’s daughter Kavita hinted that the move could materialise soon: “My father had made it clear that we are ready to merge with Congress if the party gave us Telangana with Hyderabad as the capital.”
In 2009, the Congress did have a favourable view on Telangana, but the matter was brushed aside. As the 2014 General Election looms large and as opinion polls and surveys show that the Congress is at its weakest, the party finally decided to bite the Telangana bullet. Clearly, the Congress realises that without Telangana on the map, its chances of coming back to power at the Centre would be close to nil.
But the real story is slightly different. The first time the Congress had to seriously look into the Telangana issue was after the sudden death of the then chief minister, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, in a helicopter crash in September 2009. In December, the then Union home minister P Chidambaram had given a favourable statement, indicating that Congress was going to decide soon on Telangana.
Chidambaram was criticised even by his own party colleagues and the matter was put on the backburner. After much agitation, the home ministry announced the formation of commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice BN Srikrishna. The commission report took almost a year to be submitted. Even though, the commission did not come out with a specific recommendation, it was largely seen as anti-Telangana.
Meanwhile, YSR’s son Jaganmohan Reddy nursed ambitions of becoming the chief minister. The Congress wanted him to wait and offered him positions at the pcc level or at the Centre. But he wanted nothing but the top job. Low on patience, Jagan decided to rock the boat. He quit the party to start the YSR Congress. By 2011-12 Jagan’s new entity had started eroding the Congress party’s dominance in Rayalseema and Andhra regions.
In late 2012, the Congress carried out an electoral assessment. The findings were startling. The party was facing major losses in Rayalaseema and Andhra to the TDP and YSR Congress. The story was no different in Telangana. The Congress MPs were getting desperate. They told the party leadership that it was almost impossible for them to visit their constituencies.
Spirits in the YSR Congress camp are quite high, despite political pundits predicting a blow to its numbers if Telangana was separated. “The creation of Telangana will not hamper our political fortunes,” says senior YSR Congress leader Mysura Reddy, who is anti-Telangana. “We will win Seemandhra easily. We will also contest from the Telangana region.”
The TDP, too, is putting up a brave face.
“We respect the Centre’s decision. However, you will see that the tdp will gain massively in both the states,” party general secretary Varla Ramaiah. “The Telangana people will see through the duplicity of the Congress. We will have anti-incumbency factor working for us.”
Ramaiah goes on to claim that the TDP will side with neither the Congress nor the BJP, but instead will stick to a Third Front with the communist parties.
Sources within the Congress party reveal that a decision to create the new state was on the cards as early as the end of 2012. The party was waiting for an appropriate time to announce the decision.
In the past eight months, the basic job of the party’s national leadership has been to pacify, cajole and coerce the faction hailing from the non-Telangana areas to accept the Telangana decision. With crucial elections to both the Lok Sabha and the state Assembly less than a year away, the Congress deemed it fit to announce the creation of the new state.
Andhra Pradesh has 42 Lok Sabha seats out of which the Congress won 34 in the 2009 election (12 of them came from Telangana). After the state is divided, 19 seats will go to Telangana while Andhra will retain the other 23 seats. The Congress hopes to sweep 90 percent of the seats in Telangana. In the residual Andhra Pradesh, too, the party hopes that its stalwarts will pull off a win in their respective constituencies. As a Congress insider puts it, it is better to win half the seats rather than lose everything.
If the TRS merges with the Congress, the party will face virtually no electoral competition. In effect, this move has ensured that the Congress and the TRS will reign supreme in Telangana while in Andhra, the TDP and YSR Congress will divide the anti-Congress vote. Hence Congress is hoping to reap the benefits in both regions. How the elections play themselves out is a separate matter but this is the thinking prevailing in the Congress.
Two days days before the CWC gave the final go-ahead saw hectic parleys in New Delhi. The United Andhra faction led by the Union HRD Minister MM Pallam Raju, a four-time mp from Kakinada in Andhra, knocked on all doors to stop the split from materialising. Several Central ministers from the Andhra region joined his endeavour. These included JD Seelam, Panabaka Lakshmi, Purandeswari, and Chiranjeevi. The group first met Digvijaya Singh to put its view across. Their face-saving formula was to have a discussion on the recommendations of the Justice Srikrishna Commission’s report in Parliament. But they were snubbed. They were later granted an audience with Sonia Gandhi but by then it was too late.
“We will abide by the decision but we are worried about the developments. We have conveyed our concerns to the leadership,” says Raju. It was being said that Andhra Pradesh CM Kiran Kumar Reddy will resign before the announcement. After meeting Digvijaya Singh, Reddy said “the news of my resignation are all rumours.” Thus ending the last-ditch effort by the United Andhra faction.
The creation of Telangana has given hope to people in other regions who have been demanding separate statehood. The Congress mp from Nagpur in Maharashtra has shot off a letter to Sonia Gandhi demanding a separate state of Vidarbha in the northeast of that state. Congress mp Mukul Wasnik, too, raised the issue in the CWC. At the UPA coordination committee meeting, which unanimously decided in favour of Telangana, there were divisions initially. Farooq Abdullah of the NC went back in history on the pros and cons of division of states. Though he gave his nod, sources say he was not fully convinced.
Demands for to carve out separate states of Gorkhaland in the north of West Bengal, Bundelkhand comprising some districts in southwest Uttar Pradesh and northwest Madhya Pradesh, and Harit Pradesh in west Uttar Pradesh are gaining steam. This was discussed at the UPA coordination committee meeting but the consensus was that everything will be decided at the appropriate time.
The Congress has made its move. Now it’s waiting and watching to see how the other political parties counter this move electorally. The party feels that if demands for other states grow louder, it will trigger the option of constituting a States Reorganisation Commission, which would be only the second since India’s independence from British rule in 1947. But first the Congress needs to ensure that problems in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are ironed out smoothly.
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The Song of Telangana
By Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad
MAGAZINE | AUG 12, 2013
Fifty-seven years on, a people’s dream takes shape
Joy erupted at Osmania University’s Arts Block in contrasting ways. It shone out of the triumphant, gulal-smeared faces of hundreds of students, and flowed freely through tears of joy. As the poker-faced Ajay Maken and Digvijay Singh announced the Congress Working Committee’s nod for India’s 29th state—Telangana—it was greeted by shouts of ‘Jai Telangana’ and enthusiastic hugs, and celebrated with motichoor laddoos, crackers and zooming bikes. This was the same battleground which has seen angry sloganeering, lathicharges, teargas shells, dharnas, stone-peltings and suicides. Today, it’s rife with hope, even if tempered with a large dose of caution. “The economics of a new state will of course have to be worked out,” says Manne Krishnak, an Osmania University Joint Action Committee leader. “But at last we have self-respect and self-rule.”
Respect restored. That’s the predominant feeling among the people of the region. “The people of Telangana have spent years at the feet of Rayalaseema and Andhra people,” says BTech graduate M. Rajnikanth Goud, who hails from Rangareddy district. “It is our day of independence.” The 23-year-old, who works in a small IT firm in Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad, says among the 50-odd employees, he is the only one from Telangana. “My language and culture were a source of office jokes. Even in interviews, Andhra employees would guess where I was from and insult me. Now, the IT sector will have more people from Telangana.”
More jobs, plum posts in the government and private sectors and better education. All this will now come their way, feel the Telanganaites, given that the region’s most developed city, Hyderabad, will be the joint capital for both states for 10 years, by which time Andhra Pradesh has to build one of its own.
And herein lies the heartburn.
“The people of Telangana have spent years at the feet of Andhra, Rayalaseema people. It’s our day of independence.”
Hyderabad’s transition to Cyberabad took place under the chief ministership of Telugu Desam Party supremo Chandrababu Naidu from 1995-2004. It began with the IT boom and today HiTec City is home to IT giants like Google, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, TCS, as well as other biggies like Deloitte, Accenture, HSBC, Bank of America, Facebook and Amazon, among others. With the booming IT sector came high salaries, highrises, shopping malls and multiplexes, fuelling the real estate and retail sectors. A boom in the biotechnology, pharmacy and health sectors followed, leading to rapid growth between 1999 and 2008. With its superior infrastructure and thriving climate of opportunity, the 650 square kilometre metropolis came to be the dream job destination for youth from rural areas of both Telangana and Seemandhra.
Ravindra Goda, a government bank employee in Vizag, just cannot understand why Hyderabad should be gifted to Telangana when both “Seemandhra and Telangana have helped develop it”. Niranjan Reddy, MD of advertising agency AIM Vyapti Advertising, hails from Kadapa (in Rayalaseema), studied in Vijayawada (coastal Andhra), and opened up his business in Hyderabad. Calling himself an “all-region” man, he says it is impossible to develop another capital in 10 years. “Investors wouldn’t know where to invest once there are two states. It’s like hitting the restart button.” He predicts a fall of at least 20 per cent in the retail and real estate sectors in the coming years.
A shared Hyderabad is causing some grief in Tollywood too. The epicentre of the Telugu film industry, the city boasts studios such as Ramoji Film City, Annapoorna, Rama Naidu, Saradhi and Padmalaya and is home to most Telugu stars and filmmakers. Though 50 per cent of Tollywood’s revenues come from what is called the Nizam territory (Telangana districts), the film industry is ruled by coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Daggubati Suresh, film producer and brother of star Venkatesh, rues that the Telugu people have lost their political voice. “Smaller pieces find it difficult to survive since there are no economies of scale. We’ll have to live with whatever’s given and hope the Telugu film industry stays united,” he says.
Telangana Joint Action Committee chairman M. Kodandaram admits having a common capital will remain a bugbear. But the weightier concerns of power generation and supply or of water-sharing will be easier to address, he feels, because previous committees have looked into them.
“Investors wouldn’t know where to invest once there are two states. It’s like hitting the restart button.”
It was Jawaharlal Nehru who had described the 1956 merger of Telangana with Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra as the marriage of a reluctant bride. The States Reorganisation Commission had advised against the move, on grounds that the people of Telangana would be swamped by those from the coastal regions. But Andhra Pradesh came into being, with a gentleman’s agreement of special safeguards for Telangana. Intermittent agitations for the honouring of those safeguards came to naught.
Finally, for a struggle which for long was also a fight against feudalism, it took an upper-caste Velama, K. Chandrasekhara Rao, to set up the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in 2001, and his 10-day fast in 2009 for the Telangana agitation to pick up steam and force then home minister P. Chidambaram to make an announcement on December 9 of that year and for the Congress now to give it shape.
Of course, the political expediency of the move is not lost on anyone. With opinion polls predicting a sweep for Jaganmohan Reddy in Seemandhra and a TRS surge in Telangana, not to forget Narendra Modi’s impending visit to the state this month to try and open a BJP account, the timing was just perfect for the Congress to pull the Telangana rabbit out of the hat.
KCR and his party, for one, are stumped. Statehood was their plank, and the Congress has thrown it out with this ace. Why, it had been banking on the electorate’s resentment against the Congress’s wavering stance on the issue. So, while he welcomed the announcement, KCR said he will celebrate only when the bill is finally passed in Parliament. The party plays coy on any talk of a merger, and its leaders such as Shravan Kumar and T. Harish Rao continue to bat for KCR, comparing him to Nelson Mandela and calling him Telangana’s ‘jaati-pitah’. “KCR is the true architect of Telangana,” says Harish Rao.
Jaganmohan may have lost some ground in Telangana, what with him asking 16 of his MLAs to resign a couple of days before the CWC meet over the united Andhra issue. However, political analysts say that having a steadfast stand will help Jagan win more seats in Seemandhra.
“In the districts of Telangana, there’s immense hope among Muslims that statehood will improve their lives.”
Telangana politics also has a caste spinoff. It complicates the scenario for the Reddy community, who dominated the state’s power elite for ages, by splitting their bases in Telangana and Rayalaseema. (The attempt to include Anantapur and Kurnool, both Rayalaseema districts, in Telangana was a bid to prevent this.) The new Andhra will be left as a battleground for the Kapus and the Kammas (whom Naidu’s TDP represents). However, the TDP may also pose a problem for the Congress with the support base it has among the 44 per cent OBCs in the 10 districts of Telangana. Despite voting patterns changing over the years, this lot has remained with the TDP since the days of N.T. Rama Rao who brought several of them into leadership posts allowing them to take on forward castes like the Reddys and Velamas. The OBCs include castes such as Matsyakarulu, Nayi Brahmins, Rajakulu, Shilpakalu, SC Christian converts, Gouds and Yadavas, of which the latter two are the most articulate in the statehood movement. Forced, therefore, into a delicate balancing act, it was a tame Naidu who addressed the media a day after the Telangana announcement. The Telugus, he hoped, would remain united even if division was inevitable. He also asked for a Rs 4-5 lakh crore package to develop a new capital in Andhra and sought national status for the Pranahita-Chevella irrigation project in Telangana.
The Muslims in Hyderabad have by and large accepted the decision, though the Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen had earlier been vocal in criticising the division of Andhra. “In the districts of Telangana, there’s immense happiness and hope among Muslims that statehood will improve their lives,” says Siasat editor and TDP leader Zahid Ali Khan. Zafar Javeed, chairman of the AP Federation of Minority Educational Institutions, says, “People cannot live in discomfort for long. When long-standing aspirations are fulfilled, minority Muslims would like to flow with the mainstream.”
Anti-division agitations, however, continued to rage in Kurnool, Anantapur, Vijayawada, Guntur, Visakhapatnam, Kadapa and other areas, with leaders caught between the angst of their people and the firmness of the high command. Resignations have become the order of the day and Seemandhra is catching on the disturbing trend of suicides. Vijayawada MP Lagadapati Rajagopal, a strong unity proponent, says the game isn’t over yet. “All the Seemandhra MPs will vote against the bill in Parliament and keep the state united at all costs,” he says.
The Congress’s eyes, however, remain firmly fixed on the fringe benefits. Telangana has 17 Lok Sabha seats and 119 assembly seats. Should there be a TRS-Congress coalition/merger, it can aspire to the magic figure of 60 assembly seats and 12-14 LS seats. And in Seemandhra, which has 25 LS seats and 175 assembly seats, the simple majority is 80. The Congress currently holds 97 seats here but with a Jagan sweep forecast, it would need to have a post-poll truck with YSR Congress.
Parakala Prabhakar, political analyst and author of Refuting an Agitation: 101 Lies of Telangana Separatists, says it is sad that the Congress has reduced the issue of statehood to a calculation of how many seats it would win. “Instead of looking at statehood on a linguistic principle, the Congress is simply redrawing the political map for seats in the 2014 elections,” he says. “Even Indira Gandhi—who cannot be compared to anyone in realpolitik—stood like a rock in the 1969 and 1972 agitations. But today, in the Congress, no one has the stomach to ride a storm, and therein lies the tragedy.”
Meanwhile, Telangana protagonists are keeping a keen eye on the five-month deadline set by Digvijay Singh. After all, they have been bitten before. As student leader Krishank puts it, “Flip-flops define today’s politics. One can never be too careful where the Congress is concerned.”
Poll Position: The Parties After The Telangana Announcement
Chandrababu Naidu’s seven-month-long padayatra has kept party flock together. But he has lost a lot of ground in Seemandhra with his letter of support for Telangana. Many United Andhra supporters feel had he stayed silent, CWC wouldn’t have given decision on Telangana.
Since it was BJP which first said it was going to give Telangana if voted to power, it has some support. Modi’s rising popularity is also going to reflect well for party. However, Telangana’s 12.4% Muslim voters would not want to have anything to do with the saffron party.
MIM has been trying to expand its base in some districts in Telangana; might just increase tally in assembly. The Owaisis retain might in the Old City. The MIM has had differences with the Congress and Akbaruddin Owaisi’s imprisonment over a hate speech only widened the gap.
The rebellion among the Seemandhra leaders might subside as even star batsman-CM Kiran Kumar Reddy now accepts that a division is certain. But it would be difficult for the ruling party to retain its numbers in Seemandhra unless it has some kind of a poll tie-up with Jagan.
The resignation of 16 MLAs on the eve of announcement has made clear Jagan’s stand. The party is all set for huge gains in Seemandhra but in Telangana, it would be completely alienated. If the division does come through, Jagan would have to completely forgo the Telangana region.
Capital Talk: Possible Capitals For Seemandhra
Headquarters of Prakasam district, it has lots of vacant land and good rail and road connectivity. Yet to get an airport but has a port. Known for its agriculture and granite industries. Among the minuses: no great infrastructure in place and no major rivers in the district. Ongole is a water-scarce city but it is being floated as a possible capital of the new state.
Commercial and business hub of Andhra region. Located on the banks of the Krishna river. Fertile soil and so agriculturally rich. Known for its automobile parts, garment and hardware industries. Has an airport at Gannavaram and is close to Machilipatnam port. Just a 5-hour drive from Hyderabad, but is already developed to the maximum possible limit; expansion difficult.
The beautiful, cosmopolitan port city is at the state’s eastern corner, along the Eastern ghats. It has steel, petroleum, fertiliser industries and a shipyard. The Eastern Naval Headquarters is located here. It has an international airport, and is well connected by road and rail. It has several engineering and management colleges, and Andhra University.
Previously, capital of Andhra State from 1953 to 1956. Lies on the banks of Tungabhadra river. Has quite a few colleges. Considered the gateway to Rayalaseema.
Houses the famous Balaji temple at Tirumala, one of the world’s richest temples and the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, a rich trust board. Touristy place, with high floating population. Surrounded by hills, making expansion difficult. Close to Chennai. Located in Chittoor district and education hub of AP. Well connected by air, road and sea.
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Show N Tell Time
MAGAZINE | AUG 12, 2013
The Congress is at a T-junction, and not just in Andhra. The go-it-alone strategy of ’09 takes a backseat.
Rule of Seven
How the Congress is trying to blunt the BJP edge?
1. Tying up pre-poll allies for UPA like Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and, potentially, TRS through Telangana
2. Making it difficult for possible partners like Jagan Reddy’s YSRC to ally with BJP
3. Shedding the go-it-alone philosophy by eyeing JD(U) in Bihar; hunting for allies in Uttar Pradesh
4. Rushing through the food security bill with ordinance to overcome parliamentary gridlock
5. Series of second-gen reforms to push FDI; moving to arrest sliding rupee, rising inflation
6. Team Rahul reorganised to give a spiffy, results-oriented, media-friendly outlook
7. Not taking BJP media blitzkrieg lying down; countering Narendra Modi all the way
Reading tea leaves involves a set process: the person searching for answers drinks from a cup of tea, leaving a few drops of the liquid at the bottom. The cup is taken by the ‘reader’ who interprets the meanings of the accidental symbols formed by the soused tea leaves left behind. Rationalists dismiss it as hocus pocus but believers say there is a divine message in the dregs.
It’s hard to come to instant answers in the jumble of politics, geography, sentiment and expediency that defines Telangana. There are no dregs here, but there is a divided state. What will be left behind may be bushfires that will take a while to burn out. The T-card has been played by the Congress in a blur of swift moves that should inevitably set in motion events that create the new state of Telangana. Because it is to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh—which gave the ruling party its single largest contingent of MPs in the current Lok Sabha—and also because it has been done in the run-up to a general election, there are political calculations at work although the end results are difficult to divine.
What we can say with certainty is that the Telangana move should be seen as part of the larger Congress strategy of giving primacy to regional players in the game that will now pick up speed till the voting dates in 2014. From being the pre-eminent player in undivided Andhra since 2004, the Congress is now quite reconciled to its imminent decline and is open to pre- and post-election business with the emerging regional players—the TRS, hopefully, in a pre-election arrangement and the YSR Congress in the post-poll arithmetic. A BJP strategist watching the Congress moves—and planning a Narendra Modi visit to Hyderabad on August 11—says this: “It’s smart timing for the Congress as they’ll soon be in the nothing-to-lose phase. Now they even have a bit to gain.”
The party is now reconciled to its imminent decline in Andhra and is open to any pre- and post-elections business...
Zoom out from the micro picture of Andhra to the country as a whole and another trend becomes clear. The Congress has changed its core strategy from what it followed in 2004 and 2009. Then it believed in going it alone to test the waters. Then it had attempted to rebuild bases in the heartland states where earlier polls had reduced it to being a marginal player. From whatever is understood of Rahul Gandhi’s political philosophy, it certainly involved attempting to keep some distance from the parties that emerged from the churn in the post-Mandal era. Rahul had always believed that the Congress was in competition for electoral support from the same social segment as these parties.
His “go it alone” strategy seemed to have worked to an extent in the 2009 general election when the Congress managed 22 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul was credited with rebuilding the base but the story collapsed rather quickly as the Congress virtually became a non-player in Bihar and subsequent assembly and byelection results from UP also reinforced the message that the grand old party was just a bit player in the big state. As a senior leader says, “The 2009 result from Uttar Pradesh was an exception and is unlikely to be repeated. That said, defeat teaches you new ways to stay alive.”
Indeed, ever since the disastrous result in the UP assembly polls last year (when it won only 28 out of 403 seats), the Congress has been rethinking its place in the universe of Indian politics. Greater respect to regional players is already part of the action plan. So before the CWC endorsed Telangana, we had the Congress form a government with the jmm in Jharkhand. As general secretary B.K. Hari Prasad says, “It would be foolish in this election to carry on alone when we can build strategic alliances.”
There are certain ironies here. Rahul Gandhi will be the face of the 2014 campaign although there will be no formal declaration of him being the PM candidate. Rahul has spent much of the past decade engaged in organisational work, aimed at first rebuilding the Youth Congress and now revamping the Congress. Yet the fact is that the party is not in good health in most places. Hence an election where he will be the central campaigner may be perceived to be about personalities as the media will inevitably pit him against Modi. But the Congress strategy is quite the reverse of the BJP’s approach for 2014, for now it’s about pragmatism and not personality politics. As a senior leader says, “It is important for us to have a member of the Gandhi family in the front of each campaign. But politics is not about their charisma alone as it was in the time of Indiraji.”
“The 2009 result from UP was an exception, and unlikely to be repeated. But defeat teaches you new ways to stay alive.”
The bottomline is this: the Congress strategists know it is a question of minimising losses and preparing a strategy for an eventuality where the BJP could just be a nose ahead in the race to be the single largest party in 2014. They want to be prepared for what comes after the result is declared in May 2014 (if polls are on schedule). Hence, in 2013 the Congress has no plans to foolishly go it alone in Bihar but is weighing the choice of going with either Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) or Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD. Sources in the party say it is a close call, but Sonia Gandhi may eventually settle for Laloo as she is said to have a personal soft corner for him. He also represents one polar position on the secular-non-secular binary that is bound to come into play in an election where Modi will be giving it his all. The Uttar Pradesh strategy is yet to be worked out as the political situation is fluid and although there is talk of the Congress trying to ally with the BSP or SP, it is not clear what the regional powerhouses would want to extract from the national party. While more pre-election alliances should be worked out, the second part of the strategy involves the post-result scenarios.
So it’s not just Andhra Pradesh that stands at a T-junction. The Congress obviously expected to create a storm in the tea cup of the state, and even temporarily resuscitate old demands for small states across India. The party decision-makers believe that when the dust settles at least two players of the region will be in positions where they would have little choice but to make post-election alliances with the Congress.
But it’s not quite as simple. In 1998, the BJP powered by the Atal Behari Vajpayee had 18 per cent of the vote in Andhra Pradesh. In 1999 and 2004, the BJP and TDP struck pre-poll alliances although the latter never formally joined the NDA at the Centre. Since that time, both parties have been in decline in Andhra although the BJP’s stock has fallen more dramatically. The Congress’s, meanwhile, both rose and fell.
Now new players are on the scene. The boundaries are shifting, both literally and metaphorically. One can even argue that no other state has witnessed such dramatic changes in the fate of so many significant political forces. Andhra Pradesh could indeed become the marker for the national chaos and the calculus of impossible arithmetic as we now pick up speed and begin to race towards yet another general election and the campaigns and strategies that precede it.