Telangana: Why Congress will struggle to contain the fire

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In a democracy, the growth of any popular movement is a positive thing. Democracy, after all, is the best channel through which popular aspirations get an expression. In a multicultural country like India, deepening of the democracy essentially leads to more decentralisation, whether political, economic or socio-cultural.

The Telangana movement also deserved a high appreciation for it reflected a genuine urge for acknowledgement of an identity. But something terrible happened with its script and as a result, we are witnessing a crisis gradually heading to a point of no return.

The prime reason which completely undermined the genuinely popular movement is the play of narrow politics. The Congress-led UPA perfectly imitated the former colonial masters by implementing a 'divide and rule' policy in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh after it perceived serious threat to its electoral prospects in there.

The TDP and YSRC are engaged in a fierce struggle to undermine the Congress

Andhra Pradesh has played a major role behind the Congress's successive electoral victories in 2004 and 2009 but this time, the situation is so different that it decided to play the ultimate card, and that is to divide the state so that it can ruin the opposition's chances in the elections.

The Congress's formula is simple. Divide the state so that the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) allies with it and ensure that 17 of the parliamentary seats from Telangana goes to its basket. In the remaining parts, it sincerely hopes that two of its main opposition parties, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Congress (YSR) fight it out among themselves to make the equation easier for the Congress. In this way, the Congress expects to somehow manage the 2014 poll results and form the UPA III at the Centre.

The purely political game plan of the Congress has opened a Pandora's Box in the state, where the polity is turning out to be a highly fractured one, perhaps even more than Uttar Pradesh in the north. What is more alarming is that the party might not still succeed to manage things to its satisfaction.

Here are some reasons:

A. The Congress is an exhausted force at the moment, both at the Centre and in Hyderabad. To execute what it has planned in Andhra Pradesh, the party requires a robust leadership and a managerial capacity but it lacks both at the fag end of a disastrous term at the Centre. The vacuum created by YS Rajasekhara Reddy's death has not been filled even after four years and the rise of the YSR Congress on the popularity charts has seriously rattled the Congress's base in the southern state.

The local leadership has revolted against the high command, which is a serious concern (it is ironical that the formation of a separate party by Rajasekhar's son did not end the headache for the high command), and in this situation, the party is very unlikely to avoid a rout in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions and could just about manage in Telangana with the help of the TRS.

B. The two regional parties, YSR Congress and TDP, have already engaged in a fierce struggle to make inroads into the Seemandhra region, which has 25 seats. Both these parties have taken U-turns after understanding that with the vote-market in Telangana looking more saturated, that of Seemandhra offers more opportunity. It is very likely that both these parties will somehow steal the wind out of the Congress's show both in terms of capitalising on the anti-Congress sentiments and television ratings.

True, the ambivalence of TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu on Telangana has seen him trailing YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy in the prestigious race but that doesn't write him off by any means. He can have the Kammas and OBCs backing him to become the main opposition in both states (against Congress-TRS in Telangana and YSR Congress in Seemandhra) and above everything, can return to the NDA if the national picture looks very much in favour of Narendra Modi in a couple of months time. That could put the entire Andhra formula of the Congress in doldrums in the future. The TRS, even if it enters into an alliance with the Congress, won't be an easy ally to deal with.

C. The BJP will try to ruin the Congress's nationalistic designs by playing a localised game in Andhra Pradesh. Not a big force in the state, the party will only look to capitalise on the anti-Congress sentiment and make whatever gains come its way. With the TDP tilting in it favour and the YSR Congress also praising Modi's administrative ability, the BJP will remain interested in the state politics to play a spoilsport for the Congress and TRS. On the possibilities of the TDP or YSR Congress allying with the BJP, Chandrababu looks more certain to do that for he needs a push to come back to prominence and the Modi wave is the best option available for him. The YSR Congress can expect to flourish on the anti-Congress sentiments.

D. One also feels that the recent act of open criticism of the UPA government by Rahul Gandhi has also played its part in the latest flare-up in Andhra Pradesh. Gandhi's trashing a controversial ordinance planned by the government to shield convicted politicians and the prime minister and his cabinet's consequent surrender has made Jagan ask: Why can't the decision on Telangana be reversed? This is a question on the government's credibility.

The central leadership, by rendering itself ineffective in matters of governance, will have to make some answering to the people of Seemandhra and those opportunist forces trying to make use of their sentiments. The turmoil seen over the creation of Telangana is being compared to the peaceful creations of three states during the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000.

Then, the creation of Jharkhand was also a consequence of a political strategy by former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad and the NDA leadership, but yet there was no ruckus for the matter was handled skillfully. Forget about skills in Telangana, there is no leaderships (either at the central or state levels) to address the sensitive issue.

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