The Congress’s belated Telangana move is a politically expedient fulfilment of the statehood promise it repeatedly made but failed to keep since the 1950s when Andhra was carved out of the Madras presidency.
The ten districts of Telangana were formerly part of the Hyderabad State. Pandit Nehru called their 1956 merger with Andhra a “matrimonial alliance with provisions of divorce.”
Will the long-pending divorce the Congress has brokered deliver electoral alimony it expects in return?
Observers expect dramatic changes in the region’s political landscape if K Chandrashekar Rao keeps the quid pro quo to merge his Telangana Rashtra Samithi with the Congress. “With Telangana happening, Rao’s is a party without an agenda,” remarked Prof Vishweshwar Rao of Osmania University.
The region has 17 Lok Sabha seats. The TRS there has oscillated between the Congress and the Telugu Desam, promising at one stage to subsume its entity with the Congress’s in exchange for Telangana’s bifurcation from Andhra.
The recent Panchayat polls in Telangana mirrored the Congress’s clout and TRS’s dwindling fortunes for want of grass-root workers.
“The writing’s clear for the TRS leadership--- merge with the Congress or squander the political advantage from making Telangana a reality,” said Professor Rao.
The TRS merger, if at all, would be as much of a lifeline for the Congress, gasping for breath as it is in the state where its own progeny, Jagan Mohan Reddy, ruined its formidable base so assiduously cultivated by his father and Gandhi family loyalist, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy.
“The Congress-TRS lineup will leave other contenders way behind in Telangana,” said Zaheeruddin Ali Khan of the Hyderabad-based Urdu daily, Siyasat.
Khan said the statehood move drew resistance from the cash-rich but numerically weak Reddy and Kamma elites that controlled united Andhra.
In his view, Telangana could deliver to the Congress the Dalit-OBC-Muslim alliance that helped it wrest Karnataka from the BJP and the JD (S). The elite castes marginalized in that case were the Lingayats and Vokkaligas.
“A majority of the 1000-odd people who died fighting for Telangana were dalits and backwards,” recalled Prof. Rao. “The Congress will have to project leaders from among them to keep the ground it hopes to gain,” he said.
But the double-edged Telangana gamble might cost the Congress dear in the State’s other two regions: Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. The fight there will be between Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Jaganmohan’s YSR Congress.
The prognosis as of now is that the Congress could have problems opening its account in the 25 Lok Sabha seats at stake in these regions.
Making the best of a bad situation---that’s been its strategy in Telangana where the mighty Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao pitch fell on deaf ear in the 1971 polls in the backdrop of the region’s many statehood movements.