Trapped by Telangana
Not that the Congress Party has not weighed all options before giving its final nod to the creation of Telangana state. Maybe it is an exit strategy for the party led by Sonia Gandhi, in Andhra Pradesh. Maybe not. But the Telangana state-hood decision is, however, likely to trigger massive protests including from within the Congress at both state and national levels. Already United Andhra supporters are back in the streets to protest against bifurcation. It is a matter of time that coastal Andhra and Rayalseema regions will be up in arms. At the time of writing the Congress Working Committee (CWC) the party's highest decision-making body formally endorsed the decision, ostensibly okayed by the Supreme Authority Mrs Sonia Gandhi.
In truth Congress Party is now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The party cannot avoid the ire of the people of Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema, and Greater Hyderabad where the desire for integration is strong. Whereas, a decision taken against division would affect the electoral prospects of Congress Party in 3-4 Telangana districts. In effect both the decisions could potentially jeopardize Congress Party's electoral prospects in the state of Telangana.
There are a total of 294 Assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh. Out of which 175 seats are in the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. Hyderabad, Secunderabad, and Ranga Reddy districts have 28 Assembly seats where the desire for separation is nonexistent. In the Telangana districts surrounding Hyderabad there are roughly an additional 20 Assembly seats where the sentiment for separation is muted. Therefore, the separate Telangana issue is in play in about 70 constituencies.
These numbers clearly indicate that a large majority of the population in the state does not want the state divided.
The quandary that the Congress is facing in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions is the Jagan factor. YSRCP is perceived to be a strong contender in the upcoming elections in these two regions. Some in Congress Party think that dividing the state would help them win seats in the Telangana region, and that will offset their losses in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. Unfortunately, there aren't enough seats in Telangana to overcome the losses that the party will endure in the other two regions.
So, how can Congress get out of this difficult situation and still be a winner? It is undeniable that there is a strong sentiment against division in nearly 200 Assembly seats in the state. Unfortunately, no major party is catering to this people's desire for integration. TDP, BJP, CPI, TRS are all for division. YSRCP is playing truant being a cat on the wall. CPM pays lip service for integration. That leaves MIM as the only party staunchly standing against division of the state. Indications are that they too will accept the fait accompli.
If Congress Party, in Smt Indira Gandhiji's footsteps, takes an unequivocal stand against division of Andhra Pradesh, it will become the patty of choice for millions of voters that have a burning desire to keep the state united. Combine this decision with an alliance with MIM, and there emerges the winning strategy. The Muslim vote bank, energized by anti-Modi sentiment, could be a tie-breaker in many constituencies in the state in the upcoming elections.
Now, what happens in the Telangana region? Will the Congress Party have to pay a steep price in the region? Not necessarily.
Those who are demanding the division of the state mainly allege that injustice was done in government jobs, education, river waters and political power.
Over the last few years, with the implementation of 610 GOs and other policy changes brought in by the state government, the issue of government jobs is in reality a mute issue. Now, the separatists allege under representation in state level offices such as the State Secretariat. An amicable solution to this is to adopt a quota system by district and by zones to hire employees even to the state level offices.
Education is another controversial sector. This could also be resolved by allocating funds equitably to each district based on population or other relevant socio-economic indicators. This kind of decentralization will no longer give scope for allegations of step-motherly treatment towards one region or the other.
River waters have been contentious issues for decades. Though inter-state river water allocations are done as per the Central Government appointed tribunals such as the prior Bachawat tribunal or the current Brijesh Kumar tribunal, allocation of river water within the state is under the state government's purview. This gives rise to a great deal of suspicion and creates misunderstanding among regions. Therefore, the power to allocate or reallocate river waters to different projects in the state should be given to the state legislature via a simple or a 2/3rd majority.
Lastly, separatists allege that the political power is often in the hands of leaders from Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Though evidence suggests that this is not true, these misgivings can be addressed via decentralization of power to the district level.
73rd constitutional amendment allows State Government to empower Panchayats to become self-governing institutions. Today the Panchayat system in Andhra Pradesh is not independent, but is tightly controlled by the State government. Indian constitution allows Panchayats to act as units of self-government. According to the 73rd amendment, Panchayats can prepare and implement 'plans for economic development and social justice'.
Then it is too late to explore all avenues to keep Andhra United. They think it is better to stick to the time tested practice of divide and rule.
Vol. 46, No. 5, Aug 11-17, 2013
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