Twin dilemmas of Congress

by Kalyani Shankar

(August 06, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) With the Andhra Pradesh by-polls boosting the Telangana movement and resulting in an indirect advantage for Jaganmohan Reddy, the Congress must get its strategy right once and for all

All is not well for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. As a senior Congress leader pointed out, the party is facing two monsters — one created by the revolt of Mr YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy, and the second in the form of a resurgence in the Telangana movement following Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s resounding win in last week’s Assembly by-polls.

The recent results are a wake-up call for the party as despite winning a landslide majority in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls last year, there is no political stability, mainly owing to lack of strong leadership in the State. The Chief Minister, Mr K Rosaiah, has turned out to be a weak leader. There will be a question mark on the Congress majority in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly if Mr Jaganmohan Reddy decides to call off his 30-odd MLAs.

The by-poll results clearly show the strong regional sentiment. The TRS won 11 of the 12 seats while the BJP bagged the only other. All 119 MLAs from Telangana had agreed to resign six months ago, but the Congress and TDP MLAs backed out. Ten TRS MLAs and one each from BJP and TDP, however, stuck to their guns and they have now won back their seats with an increased majority. The TDP seat has been wrested by the TRS.

The results did not come as a surprise as the Congress and the TDP contested the polls in a half-hearted manner. The Congress has lost the goodwill it earned after the December 9 announcement by the Home Minister that the process for a separate Telangana will be initiated. The local Congress was not in favour of even contesting while New Delhi decided to put up candidates most of whom have now lost their deposits. As for the TDP, its leader Mr N Chandrababu Naidu was busy with the Babhli agitation ignoring the by-polls. Perhaps, he knew that the TDP could not win on its own. In 2009, the TDP, in alliance with the TRS, won 39 out of the 57 seats it contested in Telangana region whereas the TRS could win in only 10 of 45 seats allotted to it. The Congress did well due to the Machiavellian strategies of the late Rajasekhara Reddy.

The Congress should worry not only about the increased victory margins of the candidates but also about political instability. This is the second time the TRS has performed well on its own. Mr T Harish Rao, nephew of Mr Chandrasekhar Rao, retained Siddipet by 95,381 votes, the kind of majority usually seen in Lok Sabha elections. All other candidates secured majorities ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 votes. The students of the region support the movement.

If the Srikrishna Commission set up to go into the Telangana issue recommends a separate State in December, there would be bloodshed in Andhra Pradesh. Rayalaseema would seek a Greater Rayalaseema. Moreover, where would Hyderabad go? Billions have been invested in Hyderabad by outsiders as well as industrialists from Andhra Pradesh.

The future is uncertain if things are not handled politically. First of all, the results have strengthened the case for a separate Telangana. From here onwards, there will be more pressure even from within the Congress now that the people of Telangana have spoken clearly.

Secondly, apart from being a moralebooster for the TRS, the results could influence the Srikrishna Commission. It cannot ignore the voters’ desire while submitting its report in December this year.

Thirdly, the results are indirectly set to tilt the balance in favour of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, who had been testing the waters with his Odarpu Yatra. Mr Jaganmohan Reddy’s supporters, emboldened by the by-poll results, have once again stepped up their demand to replace Mr Rosaiah.

Fourthly, the poll outcome has widened the differences within the Congress. This is evident from the way the MPs from the pro- and anti-Telangana camps have started dinner diplomacy in the capital to strategise how to put pressure on the Centre.

Fifthly, political instability would increase. There is demand for the ouster of Mr Rosaiah. There is another group, which demands action against Mr Jaganmohan Reddy.

The Congress leaders have put up a brave face, claiming that losing a dozen seats in the 294-seat Assembly does not mean that things are not well. It is true that the Congress was not holding any of these seats, but the results are a reminder of how much the party stands to lose if it does not get its Telangana strategy right before the next polls.

If the Congress leadership wants to set right things in the State, inaction cannot be the answer. The division in the party on Telangana does not auger well. The first thing is to bring unity in the party. This will be a difficult in view of the sensitivity of the issue.

Secondly, PCC chief D Srinivas has cut a sorry figure, as he could not get elected in the by-polls despite spending huge amounts of money. A package deal to replace the PCC chief as well as the Chief Minister should be worked out before the Srikrishna Commission report is submitted.

Thirdly, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy should be tackled immediately. If the Congress is complacent that there are three-and-a-half more years for the next Assembly polls, things may go out of control.