Friday, March 7, 2014

Weekend Politics, why a divided state will add to instability in 2014.


The division of Andhra Pradesh, despite administrative formalities yet to be completed and the state voting as one block, brings about a fundamental difference in Peninsular India. For the first time, since the linguistic division of states in 1956, south India will be a conglomeration of a union territory and five states, not four.

Each of these states have starkly different political realities. They are divided by language and dominated by regional forces or regional faces representing National political parties. The BJP has never had a hold in these states, except Karnataka and the Congress has a mixed bag.

In effect 130 parliamentary seats will be accounted for and the results here will reflect the character and stability of a coalition in Delhi. 

In this context, it is important to remember one simple fact. The more the number of seats a central force in a ruling coalition gets, the more stable the government in Delhi. In effect if regional parties are more powerful in terms of numbers the less stable a coalition. 

So, it is important to understand what is happening in the 130 seats of peninsular India. To do that we need to understand the politics in each of these states. In that effort, I will be putting out piece on each of these states starting over the coming week. starting with erstwhile A.P


The two, yet to be born entities from a united Andhra Pradesh, are distinctly different from each other. Political choices that dominate the electorate in the two sides are different and so are the issues on which they would vote. Even if they vote as one administrative block, they are voting as two states.

In 2004 and 2009 united A.P contributed largely to the Congress’s final tally. The party won 29 of the 42 seats in 2004 and 33 in 2009. This added to stability at the centre but, this time it is a field wide open for regional parties.

Late Chief Minister Y.S.Rajashekar Reddy delivered victories for the Congress in 2004 and 2009. He acted as a strong “regional satrap” in a party that does not traditionally encourage such faces. He held factions within the party with an “authoritarian grip” but, he died in a helicopter crash in 2009 and with him seems to have died the Congress’s Telugu plot.

Soon after YSR Reddy’s death, his son Y.S.Jaganmohan Reddy demanded that he be appointed Chief Minister. The party high command refused and eventually Jagan broke away to form the YSR Congress (YSRCP). Jaganmohan Reddy, represents what has been Congress’s core caste vote base in the state- the Reddy community. He hails from the Rayalseema region where politics acquires a strong feudal character.

The Congress party in an effort to prevent alienation of that core caste base appointed Kirankumar Reddy, who also hails from Rayalseema, as Chief Minister. This could not curb Jagan’s political platform, which was being built on the basis of sympathy for his father’s sudden death.  

He was later arrested on serious allegations of corruption by the CBI. He countered Corruption charges and alleged it was “Vendetta Politics by the Congress”

Jaganmohan’s bastion was the Rayalseema and Coastal Andhra regions of the state. They are together what is called ‘Seemandhra’ and account for 25 Lok Sabha seats. The third region is Telengana which accounts for 17 seats. All three were merged together in 1956 to form India’s first linguistic state. 

Before independence, Telengana was ruled by the erstwhile Nawab of Hyderabad and the rest of Andhra Pradesh was largely administered by British India. Telengana was economically backward compared to coastal Andhra Pradesh and fierce movements for bifurcation and creation of a separate Telengana had erupted in the 1960s and 80s.

The Telengana agitation was re-ignited in 2009 and was led by K.Chandrashekar Rao, popularly called KCR, who launched the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) on the slogan for a separate state. Disturbing protests and a “fast unto death” by K.C.R  saw the Congress buckling under pressure to announce a Telengana in December 2009 but, it faced even greater pressure from its party’s “united Andhra” lobby and decided to backtrack.

Dharma Raju Kakani, a professional manager who hails from Vijayawada in coastal Andhra, says “All of us knew for the last four years that they will announce a Telengana before elections. The way it happened in the end is just not acceptable and left people even more angry”.

It is a sentiment shared across coastal Andhra and Rayalseema where the anti-bifurcation movement was at its peak. The anger and disgust was accentuated by “acrimonious” scenes witnessed in parliament during passage of the bill.

Faced with a Jagan onslaught, the Congress hoped to consolidate its position in the 17 seats of Telengana and went ahead with the bill. In doing so, it has virtually lost all ground in the 25 seats of Seemandhra. In effect, it would be a battle between YSRCP which had taken a strong anti-division stand and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

The TDP had supported division initially but, in the last days leading up to the passage of the bill it took a stand against it. It was a desperate attempt to save face on the ground in Seemandhra where it has traditionally had a strong base amongst the numerically powerful Khamma caste.

Both TDP and YSRCP have hit the election on the bifurcation issue and have called it a “betrayal”. “The main villain is the congress but, number two villain is BJP in the division of A.P” says a Hyderabad based journalist. 

The BJP is a marginal player in the state. They had taken a categorical stand in favour of Telengana which was consistent with the party’s stand on formation of smaller states.
Even in this context, the YSRCP and TDP have been making statements expressing openness to an alliance. Naidu and Jagan have clearly declared they are not “anti-Modi”. 

The TDP has been a traditional Congress rival to the Congress in a united A.P which was bi polar. An alliance with the Congress has not been in its list of possibilities. Jagan’s foundation plank is “betrayal by the Congress” and he cannot go with the party, at least not in this election.
In this scenario, with anti-congress being the platform, the two regional parties have no choice but to be reaching out to Modi. Lok Sabhha M.P from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi says “This is despite the fact that they are aware that minorities still see Modi as a polarizing figure and the BJP supported the division of Andhra Pradesh”.

A backroom manager for Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh says “The story is not over for Seemandhra and we will justify an alliance with BJP, if it works out, by projecting Modi as a central figure who could do justice to the people in terms of allocation of resources”.  Interestingly Modi as the political figure goes beyond BJP as the party which supported the division.

 “We will justify it on the plank that a new state will need the centre’s help and it is important to choose a leader who will be in power in Delhi” said a senior leader.  
But, there is uncertainty over whether the BJP will seal a pre-poll pact or rather wait to see which regional player has greater numbers in a post-poll situation.

The irony is that, to two regional players, Congress is the untouchable and Modi is more acceptable than even the BJP even as a pre-poll ally and this in a state dominated by the Congress in 2009.

Congress's last C.M, Kirankuma Reddy has decided to form his own party and contest, this was expected but, may not be of any significant electoral consequences. 

It also brings to fore the point that the debate is not over Modi’s politics or economics. The “Gujarat Model” is heard but not understood or even questioned. In effect Modi exists as a personality here because the Congress ceases to be an option.  

Owaisi suggests that “with focus on the division and an anti-congress feeling Modi’s politics is not the prime focus. However it will cost parties who ally with him”

Another Congress irony is in Telengana where the party hoped to sweep. They have hit a road block. K.C.R had told this writer in August 2012 that “I will merge the TRS with the Congress the day they announce a Telengana”. Now that the deed is done he has decided “no merger, an alliance if it works out else we will go alone”.

This means there will be a battle between the Congress and the TRS for the 17 seats. The BJP could be delighted at the prospect of potential allies taking away a majority of the 42 seats that in 2009 went to their rival. It is difficult to fathom and has amused analysts that the Congress could create a situation so terrible for itself.

In the ultimate analysis, A.P contributed to stability at the center in 2009, it will not do so in 2014. The fact that the BJP has only a marginal presence will accentuate coalition pressures in Delhi (This is because if they had a presence they would be important to win seats in an assembly election and regional parties always eye power at the state level, making it more difficult for them to walk out of an alliance). 

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