UNITED AGAINST TELANGANA
Even as Congress tries to rush through the division of Andhra Pradesh, the party is faced with internal resistance in the form of its own chief minister
Even as his state grinds to a halt, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy can only borrow an analogy from his favourite game of cricket to argue that the match is not over till the last ball is bowled. He is eager to be the standard- bearer of a united Andhra Pradesh rather than be remembered as the man who presided over the bifurcation of the country’s first linguistic state. But he has competition. Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee ( APCC) President Botsa Satyanarayana is one from within the party; two doughty political rivals— YSR Congress President Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Telugu Desam Party ( TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu— have launched their hunger games against the division.
Jagan was first off the block. He began the fast on a makeshift dais just outside his Lotus Pond party office in Hyderabad on October 5. Party activists and supporters gathered for a glimpse of a fasting leader who used the opportunity to grant ‘ exclusive’ media interviews. But by the end of the fifth day, as sugar levels dropped, a reluctant Jagan was moved to hospital. Not to be left behind in the struggle for a united Andhra, Naidu began fasting on the lawn of the state- owned Andhra Pradesh Bhavan in Delhi on October 7.
Satyanarayana wants Kiran Reddy’s job. He is playing the OBC card as a counterpoint to the dominance of the Reddys in the state. For his part, Kiran Reddy is keeping a dialogue open with striking government employees and leaders of those manning the power utilities. Even as he appeals to them to return to work, he does not threaten them with invoking the law against those disrupting essential services. Schools and colleges are having a longer than normal Dussehra break but a dark one as there are blackouts in the Seemandhra region. Power cuts have crippled emergency services in hospitals and disrupted banking as the ATMS are also shut for want of power.
Opposition leaders hope that people of the 13 districts, collectively called Seemandhra— who are opposed to the October 3 decision to carve Telangana with 10 districts as India’s 29th state— will vote for them. Their concerns are clear: They believe if Telangana becomes a reality, they will lose vote share to the Congress- Telangana Rashtra Samithi ( TRS) combine in Telangana and have to compete against each other in the Seemandhra region in the 2014 General Elections. “This is a ploy to try and make Rahul Gandhi the next prime minister of India,” says Jagan, as he asks, “How can the Central Government do it without a resolution in favour of division being adopted by the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly?” Naidu uses a more emotional argument. “The Congress is playing dirty politics with the Telugus for the sake of gaining power,” he says.
The ruling Congress is on a weak wicket in Seemandhra. The prospect of a territorial partition has left many in the party in a tizzy. In the face of snowballing protests, Kiran Reddy admits the office of chief minister is not permanent and he will oppose any resolution to carve out Telangana. “I will not give up now. I wish the issue is debated in the Assembly first so that people’s representatives can decide whether a united Andhra Pradesh will benefit them or whether the division of the state is good for them. Only then can I take a call,” says the Chief Minister. He has made it clear that the Congress will get a drubbing in Seemandhra and is asking for intervention of the kind that Rahul Gandhi made against the ordinance protecting convicted politicians.
Internal bickering is worsening with Congress MPs from Telangana accusing Kiran Reddy of being in cahoots with Naidu, pointing to the TDP chief being allowed to sit on indefinite fast at the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan in Delhi. “The commander is the conspirator,” declares Deputy Chief Minister Damodar Raja Narasimha, who is from Telangana, alluding to Kiran Reddy as the force
behind the widespread protests in Seemandhra. TRS MLA K. T. Rama Rao says Kiran Reddy would rather back the Seemandhra agitation than go down in history as the last chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. P. Govardhan Reddy, a Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Telangana, says “the Chief Minister should be sacked and arrested under the Preventive Detention Act as he is behind the agitation”.
The APCC chief’s plight is worse. Satyanarayana’s properties, including the Satya Engineering College, the office of the Satya Cable Network and the Janapriya bar and restaurant, in which he allegedly has a stake, were ransacked in the otherwise quiet town of Vizianagaram, forcing the police to impose curfew and post 300 personnel to guard and protect his home. “The Congress has lost people’s confidence in Seemandhra. The Centre should respect the aspirations of the people before proceeding further,” he says.
Satyanarayana may have been singled out for a vicious attack because of his doublespeak on division. On July 12, he had said that there was nothing wrong in having two states with Telugu people. But on October 8, he changed his stance and said he was all for a united Andhra Pradesh. Others are not being spared too. Protesters against bifurcation lay siege day after day at the homes and properties of the Congress ministers and other elected representatives across Seemandhra demanding that they pressure the Central Government to renege on its plans. Four Central ministers, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stall bifurcation and announced that they have resigned, have stopped attending to official work from October 8.
Unable to cope with the growing internal strife, the jittery Congress is trying to take cover by releasing letters in support of Telangana given earlier by the TDP and the YSR Congress. “Both had given support to Telangana in writing. Amazing political opportunism,” tweeted Congress General Secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, Digvijaya Singh.
In a firefighting measure, less than 72 hours after the UPA government constituted the Group of Ministers ( GOM) on Telangana, it has recast the GOM whittling down its strength from 10 to six. While retaining Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, the new entrants are Defence Minister A. K. Antony, who will now head the GOM, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, with Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy as special invitee.
Now, with Antony recuperating at the Army Research and Referral Hospital, Delhi, after a surgery, and Chidambaram planning a trip to the US, it is uncertain whether the GOM can present its report as suggested within six weeks. Congress is toying with the idea of imposing President’s rule if the rebellious Kiran Reddy does not come around, isolate the other opponents within the party and present the Telangana legislation in the winter session of Parliament in November. It assumes Telangana is a done deal. It may not be so.
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POLICE CLASH WITH SUPPORTERS OFUNDIVIDED ANDHRAPRADESH IN ANANTAPUR DISTRICT
JAGAN MOHAN REDDYON THE FIFTH DAY OFHIS FAST IN HYDERABAD BEFORE BEING RUSHED TO HOSPITAL