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Lost and not found

The Congress will be further diminished in the South if it ignores political developments in Andhra. The state government must show some spirit, writes Lalita Panicker.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2013 23:03 IST

Gone but very certainly not forgotten — a rare occurrence in politics, but such was the personality of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Sakshi TV, his son’s homegrown channel showed YSR raining down blessings in the form of red dots on Jaganmohan Reddy for months after the leader’s death. The enforcement directorate may be hot on his heels and has moved to attach a part of his considerable properties but Jaganmohan Reddy and his YSR Congress party is a force to reckon with even in adversity.

Jaganmohan Reddy’s dazzling rise in politics is just one of the headaches for the Congress in the state. Once the party considered the state its stomping ground. But today that very ground is shaky to say the least for it. After the lacklustre reign, if you can call it that, of K Rosaiah, now duly rewarded with a governorship, the Congress installed what it thought was a dynamic youngish chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy. But he has rivaled Rosaiah in anonymity, often seeming to be a bystander as political developments gather momentum in the state.

The main problem has been that of the Telangana agitation. Kiran Kumar Reddy should have been burning up the wires asking the Centre to come to a decision on this. Instead, he has kept spectacularly silent, as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has picked up and run with the issue. Time and again, the state has been brought to a standstill by Telangana agitators while the chief minister has remained almost comatose.

He had better wake up fast if he has to have even a fighting chance of delivering the state to the Congress in the next election. At the moment, this seems unlikely. The venomous remarks by the Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (MIM) MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi will, hopefully, earn him some time in the clink. But, his party, led by his mild-mannered brother Asaduddin Owaisi, was till recently a supporter of the UPA. It pulled out of the UPA some months ago and is looking longingly at Jaganmohan’s party. If this happens, Kiran Kumar Reddy is on a slippery slope with one foot on a banana peel.

It is true that YSR’s act was a very hard one to follow. He had the ear of the Congress high command, he was a Santa Claus-like figure handing out sops to the dispossessed, he himself came from a minority so had the trust of other minorities, especially the Muslims and he was an astute political strategist. It was a gross miscalculation on the part of the Congress to have imagined that it could push aside the YSR legacy and begin afresh in the state.

There is no doubt that Jaganmohan Reddy is not pure as the driven snow. But he could have been handled a whole lot better. By pushing him aside, with his admittedly unacceptable claim to the top job, the Congress waded into waters it did not know how to navigate. Jaganmohan Reddy has been able to cash in on the nostalgia for his father in the absence of a credible leader in Hyderabad.

As for the periodic upheavals on the Telangana issue, the Congress handed this issue on a platter to the less than savoury K Chandrashekhar Rao, chief of the TRS. He had all but been written off in a previous election, but got a new lease of life thanks to the Congress speaking in many voices on the issue. Commissions and their recommendations are not going to buy peace on a volatile issue like statehood. But the Congress plunged into the fray with no thought on how to resolve the issue of Hyderabad, let alone other problems associated with a division of the state.

With this mess in Andhra, the Congress stands diminished in the South. Kerala has always chosen between the Congress and the Left, so there are no surprises there. The rest of the South has gone to other parties. It was Andhra which had the potential of returning a large contingent for the ruling party, but Telangana, the YSR Congress and the MIM seem to have rained on its parade.

The most inexplicable act of dithering in the face of grave provocation was the deafening silence after Akbaruddin Owaisi made his poisonous speech. The police wittered on about how the speech had to be translated. How much more lame can you get? The offending Owaisi then sailed off to London for treatment and had there not been the threat of an Interpol alert, he might have spent a few weeks frolicking in the snow before he came home a hero.

In fact, the paralysis of the state government did allow him to come home to a rousing reception and gave his followers the courage to damage public property. His more reasonable brother watched in silence while he tried to feign illness to escape the law. And now that he is in custody, we hear reports of tension in the city. This could have been avoided if he had been picked up even as his vicious words dropped from his lips and his lumpen supporters hemmed in. But as always, procrastination seems the thief of better sense and sound political judgement.

The fact that the Congress president is planning to deal with the Telangana issue brings some hope of resolution. But the first task of the high command should be to get the state government to signal its presence. Advertisements in newspapers will not do the trick. The state faces many development problems from failing agriculture to lack of drinking water. In enlightened self-interest at least, the state government should bestir itself. At the moment, it appears an opaque entity watching helplessly as political developments around it take on a life of their own.

Perhaps, the Congress needs a few blessings from on high like Jaganmohan Reddy got from the electronic version of his late father. At the moment though, such divine intervention does not seem to be forthcoming.