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“Hot T? Get a cuppa from your kitchen.” That’s what a local Congress leader had to say on the sense of urgency around the Telangana issue. Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the party’s Andhra Pradesh in-charge, chose to sidestep the political minefield by saying that the one-month deadline need not be taken too literally: “The Congress resolution can’t be bracketed within a one-month deadline.” Members of the elite Congress think-tank, meanwhile, continued to ply Sonia Gandhi with ‘dependable’ surveys for and against statehood.
Massive groups of Congress leaders, both from Telangana and Seemandhra, have been swarming Delhi, to gnaw steadily on the weary ears of Azad and his fellow pointsman on Andhra affairs, Vayalar Ravi. The question, however, is: will Madam bite the bullet? “It’s all a numbers game now,” a Telangana MP told Outlook. “The Congress is definitely looking at how its chances will improve in 2014 if it concedes on Telangana.” A survey by this MP in the region apparently shows that if the state is not divided, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) stands to win 70 assembly seats, the YSR Congress about 25 seats, while the Congress would get only 3-4 seats. More alarmingly, when those surveyed were asked to rate chief ministerial candidates, TRS chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao had a rating of 31 per cent, and TDP president Chandrababu Naidu 30 per cent. In other words, Naidu’s stock has risen in Telangana ever since he said his party had no objection to Telangana.
TRS will be the biggest loser were Telangana to emerge. That’s what Congress is relying on for electoral gain.
As of now, several options are being floated. These include an Autonomous Council, a Telangana Territorial Administration (after the present Gorkhaland model), a financial package, as well as the real thing: a separate state of Telangana with Hyderabad as the capital for 5-10 years. However, Vijayawada Congress MP Lagadapati Rajagopal Rao rules out all these and predicts status quo. “If a financial package is given,” he says, “it would rule out a separate Telangana, and its votaries won’t accept that. Remember, taking no decision is also a decision.” That line, creditable to Telangana origin Congress prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, was never more resonant.
All other parties—TRS, TDP, YSR Congress, CPI, CPI(M) and BJP—are playing a waiting game. TRS’s Rao, after mouthing a few words about a referendum in Hyderabad, retreated to his farmhouse in Medak, unavailable even to party leaders. Political experts feel that were Telangana granted statehood now, the TRS may be the biggest loser. It may have to merge with the Congress and lose its own identity. As a TRS politburo member puts it, “At this juncture, if the demand is granted, it’s good; if it doesn’t, it’s even better.”
Not conceding Telangana would spell doom for the Congress, predicts Congress MP from Peddapalli, G. Vivek. “If Telangana comes,” he says, “we stand to win 15 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats there and 7-8 in Seemandhra. If not, we won’t get any seats in Telangana.” Congress leaders are also worried over Jaganmohan Reddy attracting a chunk of the minority voteshare: Muslim, Christian and Dalit. The arrests of the Owaisi brothers, Akbaruddin and Asaduddin, say many, will drive the Muslims directly to Jagan.
YSR Congress leader Mysoora Reddy says his party’s stand on Telangana is clear. “The decision has to be such that it benefits everyone.” The Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) which used to look to the TRS for its agenda is also keeping a low profile. There have not been many agitations on the ground.
TDP leader and united Andhra supporter Kodela Sivaprasad says that, as the main opposition party, his side has done its job by presenting its case to Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde. “The UPA,” he says, “knows that it is a question not just of Telangana, but also of Bodoland, Gorkhaland, Vidarbha and Harit Pradesh. If the decision is provoked by political considerations rather than people’s interests, it will be from the frying pan into the fire for the Congress.” The TDP is patting itself on the back for having outwitted the Congress by issuing a letter stating it has no objection to Telangana.
MP Rajagopal feels a united Congress is more important than state formation. He thinks a Telangana resolution will be defeated in Parliament and it will be a united AP which will go to polls in 2014.
However, even if the UPA were to opt for a safer Telangana Territorial Administration, it will have to contend with an eroding voter base. Recent surveys show the voteshare for the TDP and Congress has fallen to 15-20 per cent, compared to 36.56 per cent for the Congress and 28.12 per cent for the TDP in 2009. Now, it is the YSR Congress which is likely to get a 30-35 per cent voteshare. Which means a bulk of the Muslim voters (9 per cent across AP), Christians (3 per cent), backward castes, Reddys, women and youth across all castes see Jagan as their future CM. So, unless the Congress pulls out several rabbits out of its hat, its prospects in AP will remain bleak.