The storm over the controversial Telangana issue, having abated for a while, has returned as a hurricane with at least 14 Lok Sabha MPs and 82 MLAs from the state, cutting across party lines, having submitted their resignations. The bandhs and agitations planned at the behest of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti which is spearheading the separate statehood for Telangana campaign will mean another round of chaos and hardship for people in the state. The state government is not in immediate danger but the Centre will now be forced to act to contain the crisis.
The agitation got a fillip when the Centre, after promising in 2009 to initiate a consultative process for statehood, was unable to deliver. The Srikrishna Commission which submitted its report on the issue earlier was unable to come up with a solution acceptable to the pro-Telangana agitators. Its central theme was that a unified Andhra Pradesh with possible Union Territory status for Hyderabad could have been a workable option. The Centre which has asked for more time for the consultative process to come up with a solution by consensus has very few options which will work on the ground. One is to accept a separate state which then raises the question of the status of Hyderabad. The other is to have a time-bound programme to devolve powers to an eventual state and the third would to have a special and extremely generous package for the Telangana region but stop short of a separate state. The Congress governments both at the state and Centre are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Any attempt to grant Telangana would mean unrest in Rayalaseema which opposes a division of the state. The Maoists could take advantage of a fledgling state and regroup after having been on the backfoot for quite a while. But as is the wont with such emotionally charged agitations, the pro-Telangana protestors have adopted an intractable position.
The usual ploy of endless consultations and discussions hoping that the issue will die down is not likely to work this time given the support across the political spectrum. Hundreds of people have died and many students have lost at least one college year, thanks to endless bandhs and violence over this issue. In these troubled waters, the BJP has also begun fishing for political dividends in a state which it has yet to crack. The best that the Centre can do is to agree to introduce the statehood bill as early as possible and hope that it is able to iron out contentious issues through deft bargaining. This is the only way that the Centre can keep its head above the water even as the hurricane does its worst.