The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — comfortable so far in Andhra Pradesh despite virtually backing the Congress move to divide the state — has received the first jolt on Wednesday.
Its leaders in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions — now being called Seemandhra — are pressing the party for a clear shift from its commitment to the creation of Telangana.
On Wednesday, even as the home ministry was preparing a note on Telangana for next day’s cabinet meeting, more than 70 BJP leaders from the 13 Seemandhra districts met party chief Rajnath Singh and veteran LK Advani.
They wanted the party to go slow on its Telangana policy, considering the 65-day public protests in the region against the Congress decision. “We cannot be blind to the anger pouring out on the streets,” one of the BJP leaders from Seemandhra told HT.
BJP national executive member Somu Veerraju said, “They (Singh and Advani) listened patiently and reacted positively. But we want them to take a strong stand to reflect our concerns.”
The BJP passed its first resolution on Telangana in 1997 — even before the Telangana Rashtra Samithi was formed exclusively on the statehood demand — and has been pressuring the UPA for bringing in the bill. But now, it faces the same internal niggles as the Congress.
Finally, the party had to issue a statement, saying it would urge the Centre to evolve a proper mechanism to address the Seemandhra concerns while introducing the Telangana bill.
The calculation is clear: Although the party is poised equally in Telangana and Seemandhra with two seats in each region, it has a bigger stake in Seemandhra, which has 25 Lok Sabha seats compared to 17 in Telangana.
But this fresh position of the BJP may spell trouble for the Congress, which has so far been confident of getting the Telangana bill passed in winter session of Parliament with BJP support.
The 25 Lok Sabha MPs from Seemandhra — including 19 from the Congress — may oppose the state’s bifurcation. And parties like the Samajwadi Party and the CPI(M) have already stated their opposition to the division.
What triggered the internal protests in the BJP so late in the day was a comment by leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj. She said at a rally in Mahbubnagar in Telangana last week that the Congress must honour its decision and give Telangana — including Hyderabad — away.
First, Hyderabad is one of the touchy issues — besides sharing of water, revenues and natural resources — for Seemandhra leaders, as their people are fighting hard to keep Hyderabad and the Bhadrachalam area, which was a part of Andhra before it had been merged with the Telangana region in 1959.
Second, the fact that their leader made the comment while sharing the dais with Telangana Joint Action Committee leaders also provoked a sense of betrayal.
The faux pas caused much heartburn, especially as it might neutralise the gains the party made in coastal Andhra, following its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rallies.
Modi took extra care during his Andhra tour. At his Hyderabad rally on August 11, he confined himself to blaming the Congress for “mishandling the issue and creating a rift between the two regions”.
With her party in a tight spot, Swaraj is said to have assured at a meeting with Seemandhra leaders on Friday that the party would insist on resolution of all issues before the division.