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General elections in less than 60 days: Why creation of Telangana is politically a big deal

It helps going back to Mao to get a better insight into certain contemporary political episodes. The Chinese helmsman once said: "When politics develops to a certain stage beyond which it cannot proceed by the usual means, war breaks out to sweep the obstacles from the way...When the obstacle is removed and our political aim attained the war will stop...It can therefore be said that politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed."

It took a virtual 'war-is-politics' scenario in Lok Sabha to get the floor cleared to pass the bill to create India's 29th state. A pepper-spray attack, smashing of a TV screen, and a bout of wrestling sums up the action in the lower house. The Rajya Sabha too resembled a battleground with an MP manhandling the secretary general, another one breaking a few mikes and a market brawl-like scene playing out in the well. There could not have been a more thunderous and made-for-television birth of a state.

So, what makes bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh (AP) such a big deal?

Fear Factor

Remember, we had seen in early 2000 parliament okaying the creation of three states in a relatively more orderly manner: Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, Uttarakhand out of UP and Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. The difference with Telangana of course is that there's a general election due in less than 60 days, which inspired both protagonists and antagonists to make the new state a pre-poll political sizzler.

The huge business investments in Hyderabad added to the highstakes battle. Jaipal Reddy, senior Congress minister from Telangana region, said in Lok Sabha: "The Congress has fulfilled its promise to the people of Telangana. It is a historic day."

As the bill was finally cleared, K Chandrasekhar Rao, chief of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which led the recent agitation for the new state, exulted: "I thank everybody, especially Sonia Gandhi, for her initiative. I salute the sacrifice of those who died in the agitation for Telangana state."

But beyond those emotional and triumphant sound-bytes lie the political plots. AP is the biggest south Indian state, sending 42 Lok Sabha members. It has been a trusted Congress bastion mostly. The successive Congress governments as well the 10-year rule of N Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) both overlooked the Telangana demand and even neutralized the movement.

Till Naidu made one fatal mistake: in his second term, Naidu denied a ministerial berth to a seemingly dormant TDP colleague and, instead, forced him to settle as the deputy speaker with a sulk. That sulk soon grew into a revolt — K Chandrasekhar Rao walked out of TDP and formed TRS to rekindle, with zeal, the movement to bifurcate the state. Seasoned Congress leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy duly tapped into the opening.

Congress soon tied up with TRS to oust TDP, sweeping both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in which an impression of an early creation of Telangana was let out in the air. Soon YSR used his political and administrative skills to neutralize Naidu and Rao in the 2009 LS and Assembly polls.

The 30-plus LS seats YSR had delivered were key to formation of two the UPA regimes in Delhi. TRS' political plank was virtually in cold storage till a plane crash killed YSR and the leadership vacuum in AP Congress helped Rao get back into action. Adding to that was YSR's son Jagan Mohan Reddy revolting and splitting the state Congress to form the YSR Congress.

All of a sudden, Congress' biggest southern base now looked like a threat in the April-May polls. That fear made the Congress go for the next available option — bifurcate AP, risk 25 LS and 175 Assembly seats in Seemandhra to sweep 17 LS and 119 Assembly seats in Telangana. We will soon see TRS either aligning or merging with Congress, leaving TDP in no man's land in the Telangana region.

Scurrying for Seats

The Congress' Telangana push also had its matching effect on the rival side. Overnight Jagan, jailed for 16 months in a corruption case, metamorphosed himself as the real champion of "united AP". "The Congress has created the Telangana state in a most undemocratic manner only with an eye on electoral calculations. I will fight it out to protect the unity of AP," Jagan said.

This even as Congress' own chief minister, Kiran Reddy, having played up the role of a rebel, resigned and is about to form a party with other Congress rebels for a united AP. But the air is thick with talk that both the YSR Congress and Kiran Reddy's party — comprising traditional Congressmen — could "return home" post-polls to add to the grand old party's numbers. The emergence of YSR Congress and the Kiran Reddy outfit also means the TDP could well face an electoral meltdown in Seemandhra as well.

That BJP finally voted for the Telangana bill made the anti-Telangana Naidu's alliance with a pro-Telangana BJP untenable. Naidu says he was "'disappointed" and "may have to review the alliance with BJP". BJP took a conscious decision to back the Telangana Bill even if it meant risking its pact with TDP for two reasons: one, BJP has been traditionally backing the T demand as a plank to try and make a base there.

Two, many BJP central leaders feel TDP is a dead horse and, therefore, the party must keep its options open for exploring post-poll deals with both Jagan and TRS (if it has not yet merged with Congress by then) in the event of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) taking a shot to form the government in Delhi.

When the bill was being passed, Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj said: "I know the Congers leaders will now go to the people and say it was their party and Sonia amma that created Telangana. I am sure people of Telangana will also remember the role played by this Chinna Amma (younger mother) and BJP's support to the Telangana bill". Over then to the amma of all polls, the general elections!


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