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Monday, November 18, 2019

The great Congress Vote Trick


By announcing Telangana, the UPA government has let the genie out of the bottle. Can it now control the forces unleashed?
TSI | Issue Dated: August 18, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Telangana | Andhra Pradesh | Seemandhra | UPA | Congress | N Kiran Kumar Reddy |

In 1956 when the new state of Andhra Pradesh came into being, in principle it rejected the States Reorganisation Committee (SRC) headed by Justice Fazl Ali’s views that “The Telangana area is to constitute into a separate State, which may be known as the Hyderabad State with provision for its unification with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in or about 1961 if by a two thirds majority the legislature of the residency Hyderabad State expresses itself in favour of such unification’’.

The new state never came down to it. More than 55 years later, the genie is finally out of the bottle. Close to its 66th birthday, the country is being prepared to be splintered further into smaller states, more specifically the 29th state in the Indian Union.

Most agree that in principal, the decision to carve out Telangana – as other smaller states - is a genuine demand for administering large unwieldy states, where archaic delivery mechanisms have been unable to reach the people who need development the most. In big states, often the degree of growth is so uneven that the disparity becomes apparent and has led to demands of bifurcation. In the case of Telangana though, it is the timing of such a move that has raised hackles all around. “It is a question of vote bank politics. In principle there is no problem with smaller states but the way it has been done now suggests that the Congress motive is far from welfare. It has been done with an eye on elections,’’ says noted constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap. (See interview)

To be sure the demand for Telangana is not new. When Hyderabad was ‘liberated’ from the Nizam of Hyderabad, there was a debate in the Telugu speaking districts of the state on whether to join the newly-formed Andhra Pradesh carved out of Telugu-speaking districts of the erstwhile Madras state. To convince the Telangana leadership to join the new state, an agreement was reached between the leaders of both sides. This came to be known as the Gentlemen's Agreement. Equally it is true that it was in the Andhra region that the strongest campaign for reorganisation of state boundaries around linguistic lines were waged back in the 1950s and 1960s.

What happened last week with the creation of Telangana was no `Gentlemen’s agreement’ though; it reeked of crass political opportunism that a nervous Congress appeared keen to induce into political proceedings before General Elections 2014, unmindful of the consequences.

In announcing the bifurcation, it was also India’s first linguistic division since 1956. In 2000, the NDA government had carved out Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh out of UP, Bihar and MP respectively but the language agitations which have visited many parts of south and west India, have not been much of a problem in the Hindi-speaking states, leading to a smooth transition of power and resources in these three states.

Ironically, in this game of brinkmanship, K Chandrashekhar Rao, leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the lone voice for a separate state in the last decade or so, has been shafted out by the Congress, whose local leaders are taking complete credit for the new state and hope to cash in heavily in the elections. Rao – also known as KCR – is fuming. From starting off hailing the Congress announcement as a revolutionary move, he is bitter, saying that the declaration of Hyderabad as union territory can only happen “Over my dead body.’’

KCR is certain to up the ante in the days and weeks to come. He has been in the forefront of an agitation with a one-point programme of statehood and is no mood to be kept out just when the party has begun.

Much of the statehood question in India has been linked to linguistic and regional aspirations. Regional parties since the salad days of the Congress one-party rule have come to dominate the national agenda and their role in government formation – as the former NDA government and now UPA have revealed – is a near certainty in the 2014 general elections as well. The Congress, never a traditional backer of small states and regional outfits, now finds it has no choice but to play along and take a lions’ share of governance, as much as it can, under the circumstances.

Writes Louise Tillin, lecturer in politics at the King’s College, London and author of ‘Remapping India: New States and their Political Origins’: “Since 1989, no single national party has won a majority of parliamentary seats across India. Many of the regional parties which are now critical players in federal coalition governments derived strength from regional nationalist identities grounded in language. Rather than promoting the break-up of India, the ability of the central government to create new states has in many - though not all - cases helped to accommodate regional aspirations.”

Some analysts maintain that smaller states is not necessarily a bad thing and point to a country like the US which has 50 states but that has not posed a problem for federalism in any way.

More importantly, the Congress with its back to the wall, sees in the Telangana balloon the antidote to beat back BJP and the Narendra Modi challenge. Already since the announcement, Congress leaders say the BJP has been put on the defensive with its Hindutva line wilting before escalating regional aspirations in various parts of the country.

Surprisingly low key and docile has been the role of former Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu, who is seen as pro-Telangana in Seemadhra and pro-Seemadra in Telangana. The near absence of once powerful TDP from the state’s political scene has acted as a catalyst to the Congress decision.

Support for small states has come from various quarters, including Dalit leader Mayawati who said that UP, the country’s biggest state, needed to be split into four parts. There are similar demands emerging from Vidharbha and importantly, Gorkhaland, where agitations about regional autonomy have gained ground over the years.

Says Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi: “It is wrong to say that the Telangana decision is going to spur separatist demands from other parts. At the moment, it is only a proposal.’’ Maybe, but its timing, coming as it does a few months before general elections, is just too opportunistic. Maybe, it needed another SRC to do a comprehensive job.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017