Ambiguity on Telangana may hurt Congress

Hyderabad: As elections approach, Congress workers in Andhra Pradesh’s Telangana area find themselves in a spot because their party is the only one that doesn’t have a strong position on the demand for a separate state to be carved out of the region.

Andhra Pradesh will see both state and general elections simultaneously.

Telangana is one of the three regions the state is divided into. It comprises 10 districts, including state capital Hyderabad. The region accounts for 119 of the state’s 294 assembly seats and 17 of 42 Lok Sabha seats. The demand for statehood is often used by regional, and even national parties, as a political issue. There is a widespread belief that statehood guarantees development.

Actor-politician Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam took the lead in supporting the demand for Telangana’s statehood in August. In October, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the state’s main opposition party that had opposed the demand for statehood, did a volte-face.

Then came a chorus of similar voices. In November, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, promised it would carve out a separate state within 100 days of coming to power.

It was in January 2008, that the Communist Party of India (CPI) had backed the demand for Telangana state. However, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is firm on its stand against smaller states.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), spearheading the movement for statehood, has joined the TDP, CPI and CPM to form a so-called Grand Alliance (Maha Kootami) against the ruling Congress. The TRS, which was an ally of Congress in 2004, won 26 assembly and five Lok Sabha seats. It joined the Congress-led coalition governments both in the state and centre. However, it subsequently accused the Congress of going back on its promise for a separate state and pulled out of both governments.

Even the Congress would appear to be blinking. Last month, chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy suggested the creation of a constitutional body to assess the backwardness of Telangana region and take measures to improve it, but analysts see this as a move to calm dissidents within the party who support the case for Telangana’s statehood.

Uppunuthula Purushottam Reddy, a member of the Congress and chairman of the Telangana Planning and Development Board formed by the government in May 2007, said statehood is a prerequisite for development.

Chief minister Reddy had repeatedly said his government is keen to develop the region. Insisting that the constitutional committee would deliberate on the issues and concerns, he said further steps could be taken after the committee submitted its report.

“Absence of clarity on the demand for statehood to Telangana is definitely a cause of concern among Congress cadres in the region, especially when all the other parties in the state are supporting Telangana now, including TDP,” said B. Kamalakar Rao, member of legislative council and spokesperson for the Congress in the state.
However, he claimed the lack of unity among the members of Grand Alliance on seat sharing in the ensuing elections and the fact that CPM is opposed to formation of small states would only work in favour of the Congress. “There should be no problem for at least 50 Congress contestants out of 119 assembly seats in the Telangana region, who have been known as strong protagonists for the cause of Telangana. Same is the case with candidates from other parties. Irrespective of which party they belong to, only those known for their sincerity towards statehood to Telangana will get elected,” said Rao.

One analyst isn’t convinced. “Telangana is just one of many issues over which Congress cadres are finding difficult to face (the) public, the other issues being allegations of rampant corruption, rising prices of essential commodities, poor medical and education facilities in rural areas and lack of connectivity to villages,” said C. Narasimha Rao, a political analyst.

C.R. Sukumar

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