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The moment for leadership

The moment for leadership
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Highlights

With the Food Security Bill out of the way, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has to concentrate on implementing her Telangana decision, the second stratagem, after the Bill, which is supposed to help her party in getting near the 200 mark in the forthcoming general election so that it can continue in power for the third consecutive term. Whatever opinion surveys say, the Congress party has its own calculations. It hopes that the Food Bill and the resolution of the Telangana tangle will carry the party to the threshold.

When we are sharing river waters with Pakistan and Bangladesh, it should not be difficult for us to share water with brothers. If there is a will, a way can be found. We cannot go on bickering forever. We have to muster courage to sit, talk and resolve differences. It is the only way forward either for individuals, regions or societies

With the Food Security Bill out of the way, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has to concentrate on implementing her Telangana decision, the second stratagem, after the Bill, which is supposed to help her party in getting near the 200 mark in the forthcoming general election so that it can continue in power for the third consecutive term. Whatever opinion surveys say, the Congress party has its own calculations. It hopes that the Food Bill and the resolution of the Telangana tangle will carry the party to the threshold.

However, the spontaneous protests that have been rocking the 13 districts have presented a huge problem whose intensity Sonia Gandhi did not bargain for. She cannot publicly blame her own advisers who did not tell her that the Congress leaders from Seemandhra had to be consulted and persuaded before taking the final call on Telangana. Had she been told to do a little more homework and also talk to the leaders of all political parties in AP before getting the decision approved by the coordination committee of the UPA-II, it would have been better. Even then, there is no guarantee that the leaders from AP would have helped her to arrive at a decision acceptable to all.

There cannot be any decision acceptable to all since the issue itself is contentious involving political interests and popular apprehensions. If one party has to win, another party should lose. There are no win-win occasions in power politics. The leaders of her own party in AP have been feeding her with information that suits them. The AICC general secretaries in charge of AP affairs have their own interests and angularities. She alone has to take a decision. It is for her to implement or backpedal. Either option would mean trouble in one region or the other. It is truly a tough call.

The duplicity and complicity of our own politicians have brought us to this pass. Can we really blame Sonia Gandhi and burn her effigy or drag the statue of poor Rajiv Gandhi without apportioning guilt to our leaders who have been thriving on falsehood, deception and one-upmanship? Look at the alacrity with which they have shifted their stand. All said and done, it is left to her, as chairperson of the ruling coalition, to resolve the problem made complicated by her own chief ministers and party leaders with extremely generous help from leaders of most other parties in the State.

While the volte-face by the political parties is in line with their unprincipled politics practiced for almost a decade, YS Jaganmohan Reddy has proved to have a greater gambling instinct than Chandrababu Naidu. The moment the CWC made its decision known, the YSRCP decided to abandon Telangana and concentrate on Seemandhra. Naidu cannot do the same since his stakes in Telangana are far higher. But he is under a lot pressure from party leaders in Seemandhra to take advantage of the emotions of the people. Being a senior politician who has been either the Chief Minister or the Opposition leader for two decades, Naidu cannot change his tack that easily.

Though the response in Seemandhra was spontaneous, the YSRCP has managed to take up the leadership role and keep itself at the helm, thanks to YSJ who is fasting in jail and his mother who went to Delhi and appealed to the President and the Prime Minister to keep the State united. She also sat on fast on Wednesday at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Naidu is planning to write a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who made it clear to Vijayamma and the APNGO leaders that the decision of the CWC is irreversible.

The challenge before Sonia Gandhi is to find out ways and means to change, if not reverse, the public discourse in Seemandhra. How to douse the fire is the question that must be bothering her. The Antony Committee may take a couple of days to submit its report. The committee did not help matters much. It was expected to work as a shock absorber. But it was not to be. Even the Congress leaders who met the Committee did not change their stance.

Sonia has promised to appoint a ministerial committee so that non-Congress leaders also could express their opinion. AICC Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is not involved in this matter. He does not take interest in matters in which he was not involved from the beginning. Sonia has to handle it herself. Her success depends on the performance of her aides, particularly Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary in charge of AP, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy and PCC President Botcha Satyanarayana.

Digvijay Singh, who came a cropper in UP where the Congress party failed miserably in Assembly elections last year after an extensive and aggressive campaign by Rahul, cannot afford to lose again. His political future and personal credibility are at stake. His repeated pleas to the Chief Minister and PCC chief to persuade leaders to fall in line with the party decision have not yielded desired results.

They are unable or unwilling to do the command. No MP or MLA would listen to the high and mighty in the party when the chances of his/her own reelection are in jeopardy. With elections less than eight months away, the legislators of all parties are restive. They are in no mood to respect party leadership. We hear Ministers swearing to defeat Telangana resolution in the Assembly if and when it comes up for voting. TDP leader Naidu faces the same kind of dilemma. The vertical division in both the parties, allowed and abetted by top leadership, has complicated matters so much that no light is visible at the end of the long tunnel.

There are at present three options before the Central government: One, put the decision on the backburner once again; two, change the Chief Minister and try to win over leaders in Seemandhra; three, impose President’s rule and adopt the Punjab model. Going back on the decision would mean losing in both the regions. Even if the Congress announces that the decision to bifurcate the State has been put on hold, the people in Seemandhra would not trust the party and things would be back to square one in Telangana. It will be left with two black eyes.

The BJP, which is now sermonizing on addressing the concerns of people in Seemandhra, would not hesitate for a moment to take advantage of the vacuum in Telangana. Changing the Chief Minister has been under consideration ever since Kiran Reddy showed a sort of defiance at the media conference he addressed ten days after the CWC decision. There was no agreement on the replacement. Chiranjeevi is not known for his patience and political tact that are needed to persuade angry MLAs or MPs. Botcha is considered to be good at mingling with MLAs and MPs but lacks in stature, according to an office-bearer of the AICC.

The Congress high command was not able to identify a leader who could steer the ship out of the turbulent sea. Imposing President’s rule is the last option at any time. The democratic credential of the UPA dispensation would be questioned. Many political parties objected when the UPA government recommended suspension of Congress and TDP MPs to facilitate the passing of the Food Security Bill. Dismissing the Congress government and keeping the Assembly in suspended animation would amount to a drastic action which would antagonize the people of Seemandhra more. Sonia does not want to hurt the feelings or interests of the people on either side. She would like to appear to be doing justice to both the sides.

Sonia is understood to have decided to speak to Kiran Reddy directly and ask him to implement Plan-B. He is considered to be the best among the pack to represent the Seemandhra interests. With the show of defiance, his stock among the people of Seemandhra has gone up by several notches. The party high command plans to take advantage of this development and make him the main interlocutor.

The burden of the whole song is the status of Hyderabad, sharing of river waters, job opportunities, besides the concerns of employees and others. Kiran Reddy could prepare a charter of demands and put it before the party leadership. Ministers both at the Centre and in the State, MPs and MLA who wish to remain with the Congress party will have to take the bull by the horns.

They have to try and ebb the tide by speaking in realistic terms and convincing the people about an arrangement which would be honourable and just. The Congress leaders in Telangana have been talking in terms of Hyderabad as common capital and law and order in the cosmopolitan city to be handled by the Union government. When we are sharing river waters with Pakistan and Bangladesh, it should not be difficult for us to share water with brothers. If there is a will, a way can be found. We cannot go on bickering forever. We have to muster courage to sit, talk and resolve differences. It is the only way forward either for individuals, regions or societies.

I feel compelled to repeat what I wrote last week. A small spark is enough to engulf the whole city and lead to a civil war. The reprehensible trends that have been visible at the Secretariat and other government offices where employees from Telangana and Seemandhra are indulging in shouting at each other and scuffling have the potential to create a situation that no sensible person in the State would wish to witness.

For starters, Manmohan Singh could invite Chandrababu Naidu for talks and enlist his cooperation in dousing the fire in Seemandhra. If the Congress and the TDP leaders start leading the people instead of being led by them, as is happening now, the discourse in Seemandhra will certainly change. Let both the parties accept that they are committed to the division of the State. Let there be debate on the charter of demands and constitutional guarantees to the people of Seemandhra. It will then be possible to rein in the YSRCP. Otherwise, it would stand exposed.

The sickening scenes of competitive politics and demonstrations by employees at Secretariat should cease. The politics of self-flagellation and self-infliction should give way to reasonable debate. Common people in both regions are basically good-hearted; they should not become pawns in the games played by political parties for vested interests. Hatred and anger should be replaced by love and a sense of brotherhood. Even if the State were to be divided, both the new States should walk hand-in-hand on the path of progress. The bonds of unity among the Telugus should grow stronger and a window of opportunity to reunite after some years has to be kept open.

Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary politics. Do we have that kind of politicians?

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