Telangana: Congress Party’s Election Gambit

In a deft move, Congress Party has declared that it is in favour of constituting a Telangana state. Apparently the leader of the ruling coalition expects to outmaneuver the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other political formations and win good number of seats from the region. Perhaps the Congress strategists have decided that this was the only way of arresting the steep decline the party is likely to suffer in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The hype that was created around the decision making process and the announcement by the Congress were all intended to generate as much political mileage as possible for the party. It is almost dressed as though a new state is born; that the congress has ‘given’ a new state. But in fact, what happened was only a political party unable to make up its mind for years finally stating its position one way or the other on the issue. The only difference between the Congress decision and the decisions of other political parties is that now it is the leader of the ruling coalition. In fact, the  9 December 2009 statement by the then Home Minister who claimed that he spoke ‘on behalf of the Government of India’ is much more significant than what the Congress Working Committee said on 30 July 2013.

There has been a vigorous debate in the civil society on the desirability or otherwise of dividing Andhra Pradesh. There is a body of argument that favours division which puts forth economic, political, historical, and language and culture reasons. And there is a robust rebuttal of the separatist arguments and claims by those who champion unity and oppose bifurcation of the state. This debate threw up a range of issues. It interrogated the present model of governance; the model of development pursued in the state and the country; the consequences of refusing to decentralize political decision making power; regional disparities that are real and imagined; jobless growth that some of the economic policies engendered; issues of land use both urban and rural; and not the least, the elites using raw emotions based on caste, sub-region, religion in their pursuit of political power and to buttress their electoral chances.

However, the Congress (as well as other political formations) strangely refuses to engage in this discourse. Instead it looked at the whole issue merely as an occasion for electoral betting: how many seats can be won if bifurcation is favoured and how many seats can be gained if bifurcation is rejected. This was the cold realpolitik that seems to have informed the Congress decision.  And the Congress strategists may be in for an unpleasant surprise this time.

They perhaps calculated that they will be able to win a substantial number of seats from the region by announcing that their party is in favour of division. But the in the 17 seats pie is going to be a tough battle turf with TRS and BJP and TDP trying to show themselves as equally committed to the cause. This leaves the Congress as only one among several claimants and may make the outcome uncertain and the gains small. But what the Congress strategists will have to contend with is a certain rout in the much bigger pie of 25 seats in the coastal and rayalaseema regions. On balance the Congress is probably unwittingly trading off an uncertain and small win for a certain and bigger loss. The party’s desperation to clutch to any straw to see it through the 2014 hustings might really boomerang on it.

There is also a larger question that the Congress has to answer for itself. The grand old party which played a major role in shaping India since the Republic’s infancy will have to explain why it chose to depart from the linguistic state, which is the defining principle of the architecture of the country’s polity. Gandhiji wrote way back in 1930 to Dr Sarvepalli Radhkrishnan endorsing the linguistic framework of reorganizing independent India. Nehru presided over the redrawing of the political map of the country. Indira Gandhi refused to depart from linguistic framework and rode the storms in 1969 and 1972 in Andhra Pradesh itself. The Congress Working Committee as recently as 2011 ‘unanimously’ resolved to go for another States Reorganization Commission to look into several demands for new states across the country. Has the Congress prepared itself consciously to depart from this position and jettison linguistic state? Is it prepared to deal with at least a score of other demands for carving out states? Is it ready to allow pervasive clamour from all over the country, which always may not be peaceful, to consume the country’s political energies for drawing and redrawing state boundaries?

(This was published in Tehelka in its issue dated 10 Aug 2013 http://www.tehelka.com/is-congress-prepared-for-what-will-come-after-telangana/ )

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