Monday, February 17, 2014

“20 Rupee Pepper Spray for a 2 Lakh vote victory”

A pepper sprayed parliament, with an allegedly tabled bill, will now attempt to deliberate on how to tear up one of India’s large states! We have successfully reduced a decision on the division of A.P to something like a last over clobbering in a T-20 match! Trust me, we will get lower. We have that great ability to show that we can fall deeper, just when everyone thought this is as low as it gets. As we wait to define another new low, the question now is why did the division of one of India’s large states become fodder for such atrocious moments?

Calculative and cold businessmen turned MPs, like Lagadapatti Rajagopal, do not ‘gas’ parliament out of emotion. Soon after his pathetic behaviour and almost comical interviews on national television, he called several journalists and suggested that the’ 20 rupee pepper spray act’ would give him a “2 lakh vote victory in Vijayawada”! That was the cold calculation and it is a reflection of the nature of politics the congress party has pursued on the Telengana issue

Pepper spray was just one more act in a long list of absurdities that Congress politicians from Telengana and Seemandhra have enacted. Each one of them claimed to have submitted a resignation, but none of it was ever accepted. This drama ensured that congress lasted a full term in Hyderabad and can now attempt to salvage, as much as possible, from the 42 seats that are on offer. The mere fact that a congress chief minister openly defied the party’s decision, even launched a public revolt and yet remained C.M is proof enough that Kiran Kumar Reddy’s moves have had the approval of his bosses in Delhi.

A former congress leader from Telengana who shifted to the TRS said “The strategy seems to be to table the bill knowing fully well in the last few days it will not be passed and then go in an alliance with the TRS to try and sweep the 17 seats”.  He argues that “If the congress was genuine about Telengana, they could have done it a year ago. The reason they do it now is because they would be routed in the 17 seats if they did not table the bill”.

 If true, that strategy would have a benefit in Seemandhra as well. If the bill is not passed by parliament, then Kiran Kumar Reddy who has been leading the charge against bifurcation, could go to the polls on a plank that he ensured the state was not divided. That would make the party at least relevant in what is increasingly being seen as a Chandrababu Naidu versus Jaganmohan Reddy battle for the 25 seats in Seemandhra. 

Congress’s Nizamabad M.P and a strong supporter of bifurcation Madhu Goud Yaskhi rubbished that analysis. He says “The congress party is deeply committed to a separate Telengana and will ensure that the bill is passed.  If the BJP does not do a U turn then bifurcation will be a reality”. That stand puts the onus on the BJP.

 The BJP has taken a categorical stand in favour of bifurcation, but is under pressure from potential ally Chandrababu Naidu to defeat the bill. In fact a leading businessman in touch with Jaganmohan Reddy told me “Jagan offered to go in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP if they took a stand against Telengana”. But, the party did not want to be seen as shifting sides in the last minute. A senior journalist in Delhi says “The party does not want to let the congress blame them for going against Telengana. But they will not make it easy”. In the end it seems like everyone wants to show they want a Telengana, but it goes against their electoral calculations to make it a reality.

 The other possibility that is being suggested is this. The Congress takes the risk and pushes through with the bill. Kiran Kumar Reddy breaks away and forms his own outfit. They see what they can scrounge in 2014 and then come back together post the elections. I wonder if that could happen because if that was the case then Kiran should have quit by now. He had said ‘the moment the bill is tabled I will quit’ and when asked why he didn’t he said “But the BJP has said the bill is not even tabled”! I believe he has sent a message that he is likely to resign now, I am still waiting for him to do so as I write.

 Far away from parliamentary politics, in the dry confines of Vijayawada, an old friend of mine made an interesting argument. Ram Pulla Reddy told me “People in Vijayawada or Visakhapatnam would actually benefit from a division. Their cities would come under greater focus and everything will not be centered on Hyderabad. The problem is that this whole thing has been portrayed as a betrayal”. He says the narrative left a feeling of “Hyderabad being snatched away and people from Seemandhra have no stake there”. That narrative is a direct result of the jingoistic politics we have seen.

The entire Telengana dispute is over Hyderabad. Geographically, it is in the heart of Telengana and simply cannot be shared. As per the present proposal, the city would serve as a ‘common capital’. Practically, that would mean that Seemandhra is headquartered inside another state! Given the acrimony that has played out, there is a genuine fear amongst those in Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema over how this will work out.

Interesting proposals for a phased division, sharing of Hyderabad for a limited period of time and building another capital city before dividing, have fallen on deaf years. At the moment, it seems the whole exercise has reduced to ‘politics of posturing and dramatics’ that could re write electoral realities.  The final proof of the congress pudding is in its eating. If the bill is not passed then it will further prove that this was all a drama. If, by some miracle, it is passed then it would be the worst time for a state to be divided. Either way A.P will suffer.  My only fear is that ‘Pepper spray’ may not be the last act in this drama for a Telugu vote that is deeply divided on sub regional sentiments!

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