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Hyderabad Blues

Since its very inception, the controversial Telangana issue has impacted the political terrain colossally with Telangana supporters hailing the idea of creation of India’s 29th state juxtaposed with protesters from the remaining state of Andhra Pradesh rejecting this thought. With a separate statehood, comes a string of uncomfortable questions which are subsequently raised. The obvious one on the timing of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 2013 being brought in Parliament session by the Congress-led government.

Andhra Pradesh signifies an important component for the Congress with 42 Lok Sabha seats, figuring in the list of four Indian states with the highest number of representatives in Parliament (After Uttar Pradesh - 80, Maharashtra - 48 and West Bengal - 42). Telangana will have 17 out of the 42 parliamentary seats in the state, a crucial vote share which the Congress is anticipating to bag in its kitty for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections this year and also something which might help them survive in the state. This is a testing time for the Congress which is trying its best to survive, and especially in Andhra Pradesh, which accounts for 33 of the party’s current 206 seats in Parliament - more than any other state.

The week was packed with action on the Telangana issue with PM Manmohan Singh inviting the bigwigs of the BJP to end the impasse in Parliament on this issue. The BJP on Wednesday offered conditional support to the PM on the crucial Telangana Bill, making it clear that the government should address concerns of the people of both Telangana and Seemandhra. While on Tuesday the Congress cracked the whip expelling six MPs opposing the formation of Telangana from the party for agitating. They had given notice of no-confidence motion against their own government.

Thursday witnessed chaotic scenes in the house, with Parliament erupting in chaos over the issue and angry MPs coming to blows, pulling out a microphone and pepper spraying the chamber. Scenes of waving banners and shouting slogans, lawmakers disrupted the lower house as the contentious bill was introduced.

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath slammed the unrest as a ‘big blot on our parliamentary democracy’ and called for the ‘strongest possible’ action against the offending MPs. ‘It is the most shameful day in our parliamentary history,’ Nath told reporters outside Parliament. Speaker of the Lok Sabha suspended 17 MPs over the unrest.

Apart from the political gain that the formation of Telangana offers, another aspect which has dented the Congress’ hopes to create Telangana hurriedly and garner seats is the rise of the ‘Jagan phenomenon’. Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress party chief Jaganmohan Reddy who has opposed the creation of the new state and on-the-face-of-it has stuck to his demand for a united Andhra, has gained popularity amongst the local populace.

Caught in a fix on whether to pull the plug on Telangana’s formation or let the idea fade, the Congress faces a huge risk either ways. In the Lok Sabha polls if the party lets go of the idea then K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) might sweep the Telangana region and the united Andhra vote would benefit N Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Reddy’s YSR Congress in Seemandhra. On the other hand, if the Congress goes ahead and insists on the formation of the new state it would in a way be writing off Seemandhra completely and putting all its bets on the 17 Lok Sabha seats that Telangana has to offer.

Demographically, Telangana is the largest of the three regions of the state, the other two being — Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Telangana activists have cited injustice being done to the region in the distribution of water, budget allocations and jobs. In the region 68.5 per cent of the catchment area of the Krishna River and 69 per cent of the catchment area of the Godavari River exist. Supporters of Telangana feel that the benefits of irrigation through the canal system are being gained primarily by the Coastal Andhra region.

After the Congress won in 2009, under pressure it was forced to revive the idea of giving Telangana a separate state status. After a meeting of the Congress core committee, the then home minister, P Chidambaram, had announced that the government had agreed to the demand for creating Telangana and the process of doing so would begin immediately. This decision was taken after immense pressure built on the government as TRS’s KC Rao went on an indefinite fast asking for the creation of Telangana. Soon after this announcement, the rest of Andhra protested vehemently against the move and the government appointed the Justice SriKrishna Committee to resolve the issue.

The five-member committee headed by Justice SriKrishna was set up in February 2010, and was entrusted with the task of finding what ‘all sections of society’ feel about the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. During an all party meeting in January 2011, which was boycotted by the TRS, BJP and TDP, the SriKrishna Report on Telangana was released by home minister P Chidambaram to five other parties from Andhra Pradesh.

The report placed before the government several options on how to handle the three parts of the state: Coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema. It essentially discussed six solutions to the existing problem. The report listed six options and then itself ruled out the first three options as not being practical, saying the most ‘workable option’ was the sixth one – ‘a united Andhra Pradesh with constitutionally - allocated regional rights to help the socio-economic development of the Telangana region.’

Interestingly, even though Jagan Reddy and Naidu have been opposing the creation of Telangana, the Congress alleged that they have divisively changed their stance on the issue. In October 2013 in an attempt to clarify its decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, the Congress released letters submitted by both TDP and YSR Congress, wherein they express their support for the formation of Telangana. Congress general secretary and party in-charge of Andhra Pradesh Digvijaya Singh questioned the ‘complete u-turn’ by both the parties. He termed it ‘amazing political opportunism’.

In his letter dated 18 October 2008, Naidu wrote to then minister of external affairs Pranab Mukherjee expressing his party’s support to the formation of a separate Telangana state. ‘The Politburo of the Telugu Desam Party has discussed thoroughly on the conclusions arrived at by the Core Committee and agreed with its recommendations in favour of formation of a separate Telangana state,’ the letter from Naidu had said.

Likewise, the YSR Congress had on 28 December 2012, written to home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde expressing support for Telangana but said the government should ensure no injustice is done to anyone. ‘As per the decision taken. We reiterate that our party respects sentiments of the people of Telangana. All we request from you is a solution acceptable to all without injustice to any one taking into consideration all aspects and problems, at the earliest, in a fair, just and equitable manner as a father would do,’ the letter signed by MV Mysura Reddy and KK Mahender Reddy had said. Both Jagan and Naidu denied these charges.

In July 2013, the Congress working committee unanimously passed a resolution, recommending the formation of a separate Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad was proposed to be the joint capital for both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for 10 years and soon after this started the violent protests in the Seemandhra region opposing this decision. Following this in October 2013, the union cabinet approved the creation of a new state of Telangana. It also approved the setting up of a Group of Ministers (GoM) to go into the various issues which concern both the states including setting up of a new capital for the remaining state.

By December 2013, the cabinet approved the Telangana draft bill prepared by the GoM and thereafter the fate of the bill was to be decided in Parliament. The same month president Pranab Mukherjee sent the bill to Andhra Pradesh assembly so they could give in their views on it, giving them time till 23 January 2014, to respond. With constant disruptions in the assembly a consensus wasn’t looking possible so the President gave a 7 days extension, fixing the deadline to 30 January by which the assembly to give its views on Telangana draft bill.

On 30 January this year, Andhra Pradesh assembly Speaker declared that assembly had completed the debate and said, he would send to the President of India a compilation of over 9,072 suggestions and amendments he received in writing from members and transcripts of 87 members who had spoken on the bill in the house. Further he accepted the chief minister’s notice of the resolution, to reject the AP Reorganization Bill and declared that resolution passed, amidst pandemonium and protests from Telangana MLAs.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said that the bill that the President sent to the assembly was never meant to be put to vote and said that the Congress high command and the Centre would go ahead with its plans to introduce and pass the Telangana Bill in Parliament during the current session. On 7 February 2014, the cabinet cleared the Telangana bill in which the amendments included the details of financial package to Seemandhra to address their concerns.
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