Congress' Panicky Reaction to Telangana Leader's Blackmail

The recourse to emotional blackmail by Potti Sriramulu in the 1950s to carve out Andhra Pradesh from the Madras Presidency has been successfully emulated by another politician in the state.

It is possibly Sriramulu's death from his hunger strike in 1952 which persuaded the ruling Congress in the state and at the centre to concede K. Chandrasekhara Rao's plea to create a separate Telangana state by dividing Andhra Pradesh before his condition became any worse during his fast unto death.

The consequences of Rao's demise would have been too fearful to contemplate. Hence, the panicky reaction. However, the desperate examples of these two Andhraites have shown that if anyone can summon the courage to court death, it is virtually impossible for a government to reject his demand.

Someone like Irom Sharmila in distant Manipur can be kept alive by forced feeding through the nose. But to undertake such a step in the heart of the country is not easy, especially to counter a demand which has some validity since the issue of a separate Telangana had the approval of the States Reorganization Committee in 1955. There was hardly any alternative for the government, therefore, to backing down in the context of the violence that broke out in Andhra Pradesh.

However, while the state created by Sriramulu has stood the test of time, the fallout from the acceptance of Rao's demand will be a lot of more messy. Even if the current turmoil over the vivisection subsides in course of time and the contours of the new state are settled, the nettlesome issue will be the future of Hyderabad.

Since both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (which, incidentally, joined Andhra Pradesh in 1956 - three years after its formation) are claiming the city - one of South India's major metropolises - the suggestion to make it a Union territory has already been mooted and rejected by both.

Although Chandigarh, which is a Union territory, is shared as a capital by Punjab and Haryana, it is a new city. Hyderabad, on the other hand, is 500 years old and has far greater emotional value, therefore, for the people of the region. Reaching a consensus on its future is bound to prove to be more contentious than the government's convenient retreat over dividing the state.

At the moment, however, it is the bifurcation which has set off a furore as the resignation of the MPs and MLAs of the Congress and the other parties show. The Congress is in a dilemma because of the divisions within the party. It does not seem to know at present whether to advance or to retreat.

Few can predict how calm will be restored, especially in the absence of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy. Had the popular former chief minister been alive, he might have been able to defuse the situation. Perhaps he would have persuaded Rao not to resort to such a desperate measure, which was obviously aimed at inflaming passions and thereby negating a rational approach.

But now, the far less charismatic Congress leaders of the state will have to bank on Sonia Gandhi to resolve the crisis. Needless to say, this is possibly the sternest test the Congress president has had to face so far. It will involve pacifying the people and politicians of Andhra Pradesh, who are aggrieved over the loss of territory, and also help the new state find its bearings in the midst of a storm, which will continue to rage for quite some time.

The squally weather will not be confined only to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The formation of a new state will revive the demands for more of its kind. The longstanding call for separating the Vidharba region from Maharashtra will come to the fore along with similar claims for Gorkhaland in West Bengal's Darjeeling area and Bundelkhand and Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh.

Since Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand have already been carved out of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, it will not be easy to deflect the demands for more such divisions. The claim that smaller states lead to better administrations will again be made although the jury is still out on the issue if only because two of these states - Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand - have fallen prey to the Maoist virus.

Since the demands of this nature are invariably accompanied by violence, the possibility of disturbances in areas like Darjeeling is very much on the cards. Already, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is planning copycat fasts-unto-death by its activists. Protests and demonstrations are all the more likely because the centre's standard response of playing for time no longer carries much credibility.

It is this tactic which failed miserably for the Congress and the Manmohan Singh government over the Telangana issue. The ruling party must now be regretting that it did not utilize the time when Rao was its ally to hammer out a solution. Instead, its dilly-dallying compelled the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader to leave the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and start considering an extreme step.

There is little doubt that the Congress had underestimated Rao's determination. It may be that the poor performance of his party in the recent elections persuaded Rao to take what was virtually a suicidal course.

Now that he has pulled it off with some risk to his life, he will become a hero in Telangana, but not in Andhra Pradesh, where he will be excoriated. Arguably, a similar fate awaits people like the GJM's Bimal Gurung if he ever succeeds in separating the Darjeeling area from West Bengal. Even he becomes the darling of the people of the hills, he will be persona non grata in West Bengal.

This is a possibility which separatist leaders within the Indian Union will have to keep in mind since the break-up of the states will create a set of heroes and villains.


More by :  Amulya Ganguli

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