By T S Sudhir
“It will be the first time that instead of cutting a cake on a birthday, the Congress plans to cut a state on Sonia Gandhi’s birthday on December 9.” This was the acerbic comment from a prominent and well-respected social activist in Hyderabad to me over phone just a while ago. Not that he is opposed to formation of Telangana state but there are many like him who are uncomfortable with the ruling party dividing Andhra Pradesh with 2014 in mind.
The EVM in 2014 is indeed on the Congress mind if the manner in which pressure is now being mounted on the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to merge with it is an indication. The argument is that the pro-Telangana vote will be split between the Congress and the TRS in case the two do not merge and therefore to maximise political gains, the TRS should cease to exist as an entity. After all, 17 Lok Sabha seats in a future Telangana state are at stake.
“Why not,” argues former PCC chief D Srinivas, who was instrumental in stitching an electoral alliance with the TRS in 2004, even though the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was lukewarm about the idea. “It is always better. If it is a merger, I would welcome it,” he adds.
But Srinivas does not find the TRS sharing the same enthusiasm. After having done all the hard work in the last decade to achieve statehood for Telangana, the TRS realises that it is a brand in itself and it would be foolish to reduce that equity to a zero and allow another party to have the cake and eat it too.
There are several reasons why the leadership and the cadre is not in favour of handing over the car (its poll symbol) to the Congress hand. TRS politburo member, D Sravan says the cadre wants the development agenda in a future Telangana state to be driven by the TRS.
Another reason is the virtual stampede within the Congress on who will be the CM of Telangana state. Jaipal Reddy, who has forever shunned state politics, has thrown his hat in the ring, if reliable sources in the Congress are to be believed. He will have to fight off competition for the top job from deputy chief minister Damoder Rajanarasimha and minister Jana Reddy. D Srinivas is looking to Sonia Gandhi for her blessings even as several dark horses like Geeta Reddy and Sridhar Babu day dream about their chances. In this situation, the TRS feels the Congress will sideline them in the leadership stakes.
They are also wiser from the Chiranjeevi experience. The actor-turned-politician would have perhaps carved out his own political space in Andhra Pradesh’s choppy waters if he had the stomach to remain in the ring with his own Praja Rajyam party. But he squandered away the goodwill by merging with the Congress. The result is that today the Megastar of Telugu cinema is totally dependent on the ruling dispensation for a meaningful political role.
The TRS also does not want to give up the opposition space by merging with the Congress. While it realises that 2014 elections will be won on sentiment, performance will come into question in the next election. And they fear a party like the Telugu Desam, that has considerable cadre strength in Telangana, will come back into the reckoning in due course of time. Staying away from the Congress will help the TRS ensure it remains a bipolar contest.
Also with the chances of a UPA3 government looking bleak, a merger will reduce K Chandrasekhar Rao’s chances of doing business with the BJP, should Narendra Modi get the numbers.
So perhaps at this moment, fighting 2014 polls in an alliance with the Congress would make better sense. But then the TRS realises it may end up fighting much fewer seats and that would curb the growth of the party. KCR has gone on record to say he will fight the elections alone. But if he does change his mind, he will drive a hard bargain and ensure he gets the lion’s share of the seats to contest in the elections apart from extracting a promise that TRS leaders would get plum posts in a future government of Telangana.
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