By T S Sudhir
“Can’t say” was the cryptic reply by Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief minister, Damodar Rajanarasimha, when asked if the idea of Rayala Telangana state was gaining currency with the Group of Ministers (GoM). Rajanarasimha’s reply, which also conveyed a crestfallen frame of mind, was a clear indication that the Centre was hardly open about what it planned to do with Andhra Pradesh. It was only when Rajanarasimha was asked for his reaction to a possible Rayala Telangana state by a Congress leader during his visit to Delhi last week that realisation dawned on him that Rayala Telangana as a proposal had not been dumped.
Since July 30, when the Congress Working Committee bit the bullet on Telangana, the Centre has engaged largely in a cloak-and-dagger like operation, as if hatching some conspiracy in the dark night. Realising that the extreme positions made Andhra Pradesh a political minefield, it has attempted to divide with an attempt to rule.
The idea of Rayala Telangana is back on the table with precisely that reason. If implemented, Kurnool and Anantapur districts of Rayalaseema region will be added to Telangana state, making the division of Andhra Pradesh equal in Parliamentary terms. Both Rayala Telangana and Seemandhra will then have 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly seats each.
The intention clearly is to kill several birds with one stone. And the man responsible for pushing Sonia Gandhi towards Rayala Telangana is Kiran Kumar Reddy, whose open revolt has jolted the Congress leadership.
At the moment, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has the upper hand, with 153 MLAs from Seemandhra (who will vote against the Bill) versus 119 from Telangana. If the draft bill on Rayala Telangana is sent to the Andhra Pradesh assembly for approval, chances are that all the 28 MLAs from Kurnool and Anantapur would support the Bill, altering the equation completely. It would make the grandiose plans of Kiran Reddy defeating the Bill on the floor of the House that much more tough.
It is very important for the Congress High command to ensure the state assembly clears the draft Bill. Because it fears President Pranab Mukherjee, a stickler for rules, could play spoilsport if the assembly negates it. A thumbs down in the assembly could also create legal hurdles.
Union minister from Kurnool, Kotla Surya Prakash Reddy submitted resolutions passed by 1700 gram panchayats in Kurnool and Anantapur expressing desire to merge with Telangana rather than be with coastal Andhra. The argument is that they would not like to lose out on the advantage of being associated with Hyderabad as the capital.
Also the fear is that Rayalaseema will stand to lose out as both culturally and in terms of prosperity, it is very different from coastal Andhra. It will be like poor cousins to coastal Andhra. Most people predict that sooner than later, if Telangana state is created, Rayalaseema’s four districts – Kurnool, Anantapur, Kadapa and Chittoor – will seek to branch out as a separate state, from coastal Andhra.
Rayala Telangana will reduce the clout of both Jaganmohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu who will fight with each other in a reduced political space in Seemandhra.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) can be marginalised in a Rayala Telangana state. Straightaway, they will come a cropper in the 28 seats in the two Rayalaseema districts, which the Congress can hope to sweep.
Interestingly, at an informal meeting of pro-Telangana irrigation and agriculture experts over the weekend, some reportedly expressed the view that Rayala Telangana should not be dismissed as it would give the complete control of Srisailam dam to the state. If only Telangana state were to be formed, Srisailam dam would be divided into half between the two states.
Given that the Seemandhra leaders have been making a noise about making Hyderabad a city state or Union Territory, this would split their opposition to the idea of division. Creating a hybrid state instead of a pure Telangana would also allay fears about safety of people from non-Telangana region in Hyderabad.
Leaders from Kurnool and Anantapur who were resigned to a long spell in the political wilderness – given the anger against the Congress on the streets since the decision – can once again hope to return to positions of power. Because the division is no longer about anything else but Hyderabad.
For the past three weeks, Intelligence Bureau sleuths have been gathering opinion about bifurcation, including Rayala Telangana from votaries of Telangana. Though TRS leaders concede that the Centre is giving the Rayala Telangana proposal serious thought now, they are also suspicious that the Congress is playing mindgames. They think it is psychological warfare being played to force TRS and BJP to relent on their rigid stance on status of Hyderabad. The bone of contention is who should look after law and order in Hyderabad during the ten years that it serves as the common capital. TRS and BJP want it to be under the Government of Telangana while Seemandhra leaders want it under a neutral authority like the Governor, reporting to the Union Home ministry.
Both the TRS and the BJP have conveyed their opposition to a Rayala Telangana state, stating they want only Telangana state with ten districts, with Hyderabad as the capital. Their argument is that Rayalaseema with its distinct culture, does not have much in common with Telangana. Besides, how fair it would be to divide a region for selfish political gains.
Which is why the doubt in many minds if the Congress is playing a double game out here. Use Rayalaseema only as a bargaining chip, a mere tool in its use-and-throw policy. That once a Rayala Telangana draft Bill gets through in the assembly, give in to the BJP demand by reverting to the original Telangana proposal in Parliament. BJP has just four members (three plus one associate member) in the Andhra Pradesh assembly and does not really matter while its votes count much more in Parliament.
In this furious game of cards, no one is really saying `SHOW’ yet. The guessing game is still very much on.