The Congress’s rout in an assembly by-poll in Telangana is reason enough to recall a piece of history. But first the contemporary account: Banswada is the TDP’s loss. It didn’t contest the seat its sitting MLA retained upon defecting to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. The Congress got the loser’s tag as it dared to enter the fight.
That Banswada spared the Congress the humiliation it faced by losing security deposit in Hisar is by itself a miracle, given the strong anti-incumbency sentiment motored by the TRS’s relentless pitch for a separate State. But celebrations in Congress circles over the 30,000-odd votes the party fetched in a one-sided battle are ‘the height of complacency’ in a politically challenging situation.
Those who are gung-ho in defeat would do well to recall 1971 when an agitated Telangana withstood Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” juggernaut, giving Chenna Reddy’s Telangana Praja Samiti 10 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the region. That demonstrated the 1969-71 movement’s strength to the most powerful PM the country has seen.
Indira caught the signal and responded by sewing up an agreement with Chenna Reddy. She asked Brahmananda Reddy to make way for Telangana man PV Narasimha Rao’s domiciliary appointment as Andhra CM. But for that quirk of fate, Rao wouldn’t perhaps have scaled the political heights he did by becoming Prime Minister in 1991.
Besides handing over the CM’s office to Telangana, Indira put in place an affirmative action plan to address the region’s grievances. The patchwork didn’t last. In 1973 began the counter-movement for a separate Andhra.
“Indira should have seized the opportunity and separated Telangana from Andhra. She didn’t,” said a Congress MP. What followed was a “deal” safeguarding interests of all regions: Rayalaseema, coastal Andhra and Telangana. The musical chairs this time saw Andhra wrest the CM’s slot from Telangana. PVNR was out. J Vengala Rao the new incumbent.
The chronicle of opportunities lost for a durable closure of the issue that’s threatening the Congress’s electoral primacy in the State is much longer, dating back to Nehru’s time and finding, post-2000, its more recent expressions. Telangana never wanted to be part of Andhra Pradesh; neither before 1956 when the state came into being nor now when the region is in the grip of an unprecedented political turbulence.
Andhra was created in 1953 from the Telugu-speaking northern districts of the Madras Presidency. The Telangana part of Hyderabad state was merged with it three years later to organize what’s now AP. The move disregarded the states’ organization commission’s 1955 report that showed the people of Andhra as “overwhelmingly” supportive of the larger unit while recognising Telangana’s right to decide its future. It said in the same go that public opinion “has still to crystallize” in Telangana.
Nehru responded instead with constitutional safeguards for Telangana vis-à-vis education, employment and budgetary allocations. Reached as well was a gentleman’s agreement enforced without much consistency that the deputy CM would be from Telangana each time the CM’s slot went to Andhra.
The Congress’s comeuppance is from promises made and broken like pie-crusts. When the Telugu Desam was in power, YS Rajasekhara Reddy encouraged Telangana protagonists, including those in the Congress to create problems for Chandrababu Naidu. That period witnessed K Chandrasekhara Rao desert the TDP to form the TRS now in the vanguard of a full-blown statehood agitation.
KCR quickly got disillusioned with the Congress after sharing power with it post-2004. He went on a rebound to Naidu in 2009.
His movement gathered steam after YSR’s death. It grew bigger feeding on the TDP’s flip-flop on the issue and Home Minister P Chidambaram’s hitherto un-kept 2009-end promise to “initiate the process” for the formation of the Telangana state.
Barring perhaps Kashmir or the North East, mainstream India hasn’t seen a comparable agitation in terms of its reach, depth and magnitude. It’s making the political entity that’s AP appear increasingly unviable after six decades of deceit, drama and duplicity.