Embarrassment to govt: Chiranjeevi opposes T-bill in RS

Embarrassment to govt: Chiranjeevi opposes T-bill in RS

In an embarrassment to UPA, a minister today opposed Telangana bill in Rajya Sabha in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, drawing flak from BJP which questioned whether a member of the Council of Ministers can oppose the government's decision.

Participating in the debate on the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, Tourism Minister Chiranjeevi opposed the bill in the present form and sought amendments to take care of both Telangana and Seemandhra regions.

He said the bill was brought without consultation with leaders of the state except the Chief Minister, much to the cheer of the opposition who chanted "shame shame".

After speaking against his own government's decision, the minister attacked BJP for going back on its promise of Telangana formation in 2004 during NDA regime and questioned its "double standards".

This forced Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley to seek a ruling from the Chair if a minister is allowed to speak against the government's decision in the presence of the Prime Minister. The Chair, however, said it was up to the member to decide what to speak and treasury benches on whom to field.

In his maiden speech, Chiranjeevi said his personal views on the separate state have not changed but he will obey his party's decision. "There is a process. The process adopted to divide the state is very unfortunate we were rushing and acting in haste, causing so much pain and anger.

"Being a Congressman speaking against my own party is painful. I am talking on behalf of all Telugu people and not of any one region. All Telugu people made me what I am today...

"We must pause for a moment and think. The issue is livelihood of 11 crore Telugu people. I am pained people are deprived of their basic rights. I feel heartbroken. We have to respect emotions of people...anxiety of Seemandhra people."

Chiranjeevi accused the government and Congress party of not consulting leaders of the region before deciding on the bifurcation of the state.

Through there was pandemonium in the House when the bill was taken up, the agitating members withdrew from the Well and became silent when Chiranjeevi rose to speak.

"All of a sudden CWC announced the decision (on Telangana formation), everyone was shocked. Except for Chief Minister, no leader from the region was consulted," Chiranjeevi said, adding no discussion was held even after several committees including the A K Antony Committee and GoM were constituted.

"Last week, when the bill was introduced in Lok Sabha nobody knew. No discussion was held...," he said.

The minister said no discussion was held on Sri Krishna Report that recommended that a united Andhra Pradesh was the best option and went on to accuse the BJP, TDP, YSR Congress and other parties for rousing emotions on division of the state due to which some vulnerable youth committed suicide.

"However, Congress party alone cannot be blamed for this situation...When NDA was in power, they got back on their words...Now BJP is trying to stall the bill...Except MIM and TRS, all other parties including TDP, CPI(M) are to be blamed for this situation," he said, as TDP and BJP members opposed him and entered into a verbal clash.

Seeking amendments in the bill, Chiranjeevi demanded that Hyderabad be made a Union Territory on the lines of Chandigarh and special category status to Seemandhra to provide tax exemption and tax holiday. He said the Centre should take full responsibility of completing Polavaram project and river-linkage project.

He also demanded that Centre should provide a special package for Seemandhra region to address to the revenue loss. "I strongly feel equal justice to Telugu people will not be done if the bill is passed without these changes," he said. 

Earlier, objecting to Chiranjeevi's criticism of his own government, Jaitley questioned, "Is a member of the Council of Ministers in the presence of Prime Minister entitled to speak against the substance of the bill. Is he speaking on behalf of the party or government or in his own individual capacity..."

"How can he express his views against the collective wisdom of the government. He has to first resign as a minister and then speak against the bill. Only contrary, he is reading out virtues to us on what consistency means," Jaitley said.

He wondered that Chiranjeevi who is opposing Telangana continues to be a member of the same government which took the decision for the creation of the new state.

BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu supported his colleague and said Chiranjeevi is a "good actor but not in the House. The point is a member of the Council of Ministers cannot speak against the government. If he has to speak against the government, he has to resign first."

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien, however, ruled that it is up to the treasury benches and the government on whom to field.

He said, "It is up to the minister or member as to what to speak. Chair cannot direct a member to speak in a particular way. It is up to the minister to decide if it is ethical to be in government and oppose it."

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