24x7 channels go high on Congress' old wine

24x7 channels go high on Congress' old wine

That is what happened late Wednesday night as some channels virtually went on to announce the birth of Indian Union’s ‘30th State’ of Telangana. When Union Home Minister made the late-night  statement on Telangana, Indian Union consisted of only 28 States and seven Union Territories. The nation is yet to be told about the missing ‘29th State’.

What did the Home Minister state that prompted this conclusion about the imminent birth of Telangana State. Chidambaram said: “The process of forming the state of Telangana will be initiated. An appropriate resolution will be moved in the Assembly (italics added).”

The Home Minister went further to place the above statement in its immediate context: “We are concerned about (TRS leader Chandrasekhar) Rao’s health. We request him to withdraw his fast immediately. We also appeal to all concerned, especially students, to withdraw their agitation and help restore normalcy.”
Rao was into the 12th day of his indefinite hunger strike to press with his party’s demand for statehood to Telangana. The Manmohan Singh government and the leadership of the ruling Congress were seriously worried about Rao’s fast deteriorating health and avoiding any untoward development was obviously their immediate priority. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a series of consultations during the day to defuse the crisis.

As it turned out, the trick worked. Rao ended his fast within 45 minutes of the announcement in Delhi. It was as if the TRS leader was just waiting for an offer that could be projected as a victory while calling off his hunger strike. Actually, neither Rao nor his party had to proclaim victory as that job was more than accomplished by round-the-clock news channels and sections of the print media stepping in to remove any doubts about granting victory to Rao.

The reality is that the Congress – the ruling party at the Centre and Andhra Pradesh – hasn’t really announced the formation of the new State through that carefully crafted statement of the Home Minister. At best, Chidambaram’s statement can be construed as an expression of intent to carve out Telangana state. As often it happens in politics, there is a huge gap between intent and action.

The Congress history has a long Telangana chapter to it. Any firm conclusion about Chidambaram’s statement without reference to this history can be highly misleading.

Nothing new
Actually, there is nothing new in what the Home Minister has said that the Congress has not stated before on the issue. True, under pressure from Andhra and Rayalaseema Congress leaders, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not favourably consider the States’ Reorganisation Commission’s (SRC) report on having two separate states of Andhra and Telangana when the first linguistic state of Andhra Pradesh was created on November 1, 1956. For 45 years thereafter, the party continued its firm commitment to Andhra Pradesh’s unity as a linguistic State. As the ruling party in Delhi and Hyderabad, it weathered two rounds of violent pro-Telangana movements in the late 1960s and early 70s, without altering its opposition on the bifurcation of the state.

Eight years ago, in October 2001, the party did introduce some flexibility to its 45-year old position. Dictated by its vulnerabilities as the opposition party both at the Centre and the State, the party sought to put the ruling NDA in Delhi and Telugu Desam Party in Hyderabad on the back-foot by suggesting for the first time that it has an open mind on carving out a Telangana State. This was when the NDA government had created the three new states of Jharkhand, Uttarkhand and Chhattisgarh. Rao had just formed his Telangana Rashtra Samithi outfit with a single-point agenda of fighting for Telangana State.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest executive body, adopted a recommendation of the five-member party panel headed by Pranab Mukherjee in favour of constituting a second SRC to consider formation of Telangana and Vidarbha states.  

“The (Mukherjee) committee has gone into the history of demand for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Telangana from the times of the establishment of the SRC in 1953. The committee has come to the conclusion that there are many valid reasons for the formation of the two States. However, the reorganisation of existing States raises a large number of issues and the Committee feels that this whole issue can best be addressed by another SRC to be set up by the Government of India,” said a CWC statement of October 30, 2001.

Political tactic
The resolution was political tactics to corner the ruling NDA as the onus of setting up a SRC was on it, not on the Congress. The party did approach the then Union Home Minister L K Advani with the proposal of setting up another SRC and, expectedly, it was rejected.

Subsequently, as a concession to its poll ally TRS, the Congress election manifesto for the 2004 assembly and parliamentary elections in Andhra, reiterated the CWC position. “The Congress party recognised the growing emotions and aspirations of the people of Telangana region and referred to the CWC resolution which declared that there were many valid reasons for formation of separate States in Vidarbha and Telangana.”

Contrary to all projections, the party recaptured power at the Centre and in Andhra in 2004. It had, thus, the opportunity to implement the CWC position. But what did it do? The party used the cover of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition to duck the issue. The UPA common minimum programme thus articulated the party’s reluctance on the statehood issue.

“The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana State at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus.” The party pretended to be working for a consensus by appointing a three-member ministerial sub-committee under Mukherjee. The panel never reached any conclusion. The reason: The Congress party never submitted to the panel its position on the issue.
Thereafter, when TRS threatened to pull out of the UPA in 2006, the Congress offered to Rao a “process” to “initiate” the exercise for setting up Telangana State. By that time, Rao knew it meant nothing – just a ploy to avoiding a decision. Rao eventually severed ties.

But, in February 2009, just before the last April-May general elections, then chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy re-visited the by-now obvious ambivalent state of the party: “The Government of Andhra Pradesh has no objection to the formation of Telangana State in principle and feels that the time has come to move forward decisively on this issue. However, before taking a decision, many of the issues need to be resolved as serious concerns have been raised by the stake-holders,” he said in the State Assembly.

And, he tried to give the impression of being sincere and announced a process for going ahead with the issue. Reddy announced: “The government has, therefore, decided to constitute a committee of members of both the Houses to deliberate the issues and concerns on the formation of Telangana and further steps could be taken after the report from the joint committee is submitted to the government.”

Ironically, the responsibility of heading the joint panel was entrusted to K Rosaiah, the present chief minister. Needless to say, the panel has done precious little since February. Has, Chidambaram, therefore,  announced last Wednesday any new process that was not initiated earlier by the late chief minister in February? Unless, the joint panel of the state legislature arrives at a consensus, as envisaged by the late chief minister, will there be a draft resolution ready for approval of the state legislature? The answer is: NO. Because, such a resolution has little chance of getting the legislature’s endorsement without a consensus within the state Congress and among the ruling and opposition parties.

Political positions
»AP Congress election manifesto for 2004 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls said this on Telangana: “The Congress party recognised the growing emotions and aspirations of the people of Telangana region and referred to the CWC resolution which declared that there were many valid reasons for formation of separate states in Vidarbha and Telangana. However, the reorganisation of the existing states raised a large number of issues and the whole matter could be addressed by another SRC.”

BJP & Telangana
»At its Kakinada session in 1997, the BJP passed a resolution favouring the formation of a separate Telangana state. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, it gave the slogan, ‘one vote, two states’. The performance of the BJP in that election was spectacular; it stood on par with the Congress and received more votes than the TDP in the Telangana region.

»“The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana state at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus.”

TDP U-turn
»Telugu Desam politburo adopted a one-page resolution in Hyderabad on October 9, 2008, marking a U-turn in its stand on the demand for separate statehood for Telangana. Operative part:
“In deference to the sentiments of the people of the region, the Telugu Desam supports the demand for a separate statehood to Telangana.”

Naidu on resolution
»TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu, explaining the change in the party’s stand, said: “Telangana state is a historic necessity…The TDP will do whatever required legally, constitutionally and politically for the creation of Telangana state.”