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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Small state versus Modi


The Congress move to carve out Telangana is purely political and goes against its own earlier recommendations, reports Pramod Kumar
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: August 18, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Telangana | Small states | Gorkhaland | Bundelkhand | Congress | K Chandrashekhar Rao |

On August 1, when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) decided to formally put its stamp of approval on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the creation of Telangana, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi met at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 7 Race Course road. The mood was far from upbeat. Unlike the NDA government which basked in the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, there was palpable tension. Unlike the NDA, Manmohan Singh had no plans to go on either Doordarshan or AIR to broadcast the good news.

The reasons are not far to seek. The decision to create Telangana is entirely political with one major thrust area as its pincer: to counter the growing influence of Narendra Modi, this was Rahul Gandhi’s big gambit to divide larger states into smaller entities so that the new political elite which emerges in the new states would be naturally inclined towards the Congress.

In the words of a Congressman, this is a trial balloon to see how people demanding smaller states out of biggies like UP, Maharashtra, Bengal and Assam on linguistic and regional considerations, react to Telangana. While Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh may maintain that there is nothing political about the decision, the facts tell a different story. Insiders say that the Telangana decision became a reality the day Digvijay became the party’s Andhra Pradesh observer. He was convinced that politics would have to be centred around the Telangana question. They say that Rahul was convinced with Diggy’s logic that NDA had enjoyed the fruits of carving out smaller states in Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand.

Diggy’s other logic was this: Gujarat is a small state with highly developed indices, not the least because its foreign remittances are high. Modi had made an impact there but it was unlikely to have a pan-India appeal, given the country’s diversity. Therefore dividing UP into four or five parts will increase the Congress’s vote share and the number of seats, in addition to hastening the process of regional development.

Post-Telangana, the demand for smaller states in Gorkhaland and Assam has warmed up leading finance minister P Chidambaram to declare that there would be no smaller states after Telangana. He also wanted to know whether the PMO or the home ministry had a plan of action in mind should the demand for smaller states escalate from other parts of the country.

It is useful to remember that when K Chandrashekhar Rao, boss of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), had begun his agitation for carving up Andhra Pradesh and started to distance himself from the UPA, the Congress under trouble shooter Pranab Mukerjee had set up a Group of Ministers (GoM) to look into his demands along with similar demands from other states. After 33 sittings, the GoM had come to the conclusion that it would be dangerous to further divide bigger states and instead advised those states where such demands were rising, to look inwards and improve their delivery mechanism in backward areas.

This was the logic pursued by Chidambaram as well and there is a good chance that Pranab may raise objections once the bill comes to him for final clearance. This is why the UPA government has deferred the introduction of this bill until the winter session of Parliament.

BJP thinker Govindacharya believes that politics has acquired a ‘shallow’ hue. If carving out smaller states helps in coming to power, when the only criterion at stake is who will become PM, where is the question of bothering about peoples’ welfare? If smaller states get you the votes, there is no point looking at India’s contemporary history to evaluate the fault lines.

Insiders in the party believe that if there is a problem about carving out smaller states or if there is a threat to regional imbalances, it would not shy away from setting up a regional development board, particularly if it helps the party in the 2014 elections. It would not even back away from fanning regional sentiments, should the need arise. In fact, the Congress may already have started. Which is why minister of state for home, RPN Singh believes that UP needs to be further carved into Purvanchal, Pachimanchal and Bundelkhand as these demands are old and just. A sudden Congress U-turn to enliven proceedings could hold the key to 2014.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017