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A booby trap all the way?

Highlights

A Booby Trap all the Way? Indian Citizenship, Indian Politics. One feels sorry for Sonia Gandhi. A person, who was reluctant to take Indian citizenship or to step into the treacherous waters of Indian politics after the tragic death of her husband, has been forced to face the toughest challenge one can imagine.

One feels sorry for Sonia Gandhi. A person, who was reluctant to take Indian citizenship or to step into the treacherous waters of Indian politics after the tragic death of her husband, has been forced to face the toughest challenge one can imagine. The Congress president is vilified and hated in one region of Andhra Pradesh and deified and adored in another. She is projected as the only politician at the national level who is interested in the division of the first bilingual State. She would not have bargained for this kind of perilous engagement with deceptive and unprincipled colleagues and opponents when Arjun Singh, the redoubtable, wily Thakur from Madhya Pradesh, persuaded her to wear the hereditary family mantle of the Grand Old Party in 1998.

Take a look at the poor lady’s plight. It was YS Rajasekhara Reddy, former Chief Minister, and Gulam Nabi Azad, AICC general secretary, who persuaded Sonia Gandhi to entertain K Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) in order to demolish Chandrababu Naidu, the TDP chief, who appeared invincible after nine years of stewardship. The Congress president was advised by Digvijay Singh, the wise man from MP, among others, that the tactics of going in for an electoral tie-up with KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) was sound and valid. Sonia’s political advisor Ahmed Patel was non-committal as he had little interest in AP affairs. YSR and others thought, after the bitter disappointment in 1999 polls, that any stick was good enough to beat Naidu with. So they convinced Sonia to accept their suggestion for electoral alliance with the TRS. As part of that, the Congress had to assure the TRS and the people of Telangana that the statehood demand was proper and it would be conceded at an appropriate time. The Congress party manifesto for 2004 elections released by Sonia and prepared by Pranab Mukherjee and others had a mention of the T demand. Abdul Kalam, the then President, had referred to T in his address to the joint session of Parliament in 2004. Sonia herself promised T to the people in her election meetings in Telangana in 2004 as well as 2009. She did all this only at the behest of her senior colleagues in the party. It is a different matter that YSR, after sweeping the polls in 2004, debunked the TRS in his own way although in the aftermath of failure of the government’s talks with the Naxalites, there was pressure from the latter on the TRS ministers to resign. YSR did not want to continue any relationship with the TRS. He argued with Sonia Gandhi before the 2009 polls against a tie-up with the TRS and had his way. He proved his point by retaining power and getting 33 Lok Sabha seats for the Congress, helping it to continue in power at the Centre. He was planning for the funeral of the TRS when he died suddenly in the copter crash in the first week of September2009.
When the Telangana movement peaked as a result of indefinite fast by KCR, Rosaiah, the then Chief Minister, convened an all-party meeting on December 7, 2009, when every party, except the CPM and MIM, egged on the Congress high command to dare and decide. When things were sought to be taken to their logical conclusion with the announcement made by Chidambaram, the then Union Home Minister, on the eve of Sonia’s birthday two days later, on December 9, 2009, informing the nation that the process of creating a separate State of Telangana would begin, hell broke loose. Seemandhra leaders of the Congress and the TDP came out with an opinion which they continue to hold even today.
It was the first rude shock received by Sonia Gandhi. She must have wondered how crafty Indian politicians, especially down in the South, could be. From the announcement by Chidambaram to the media briefing by Digvijay Singh, the AICC general secretary in charge of AP affairs now, on July 30 when he declared that the Congress Working Committee (CWC) had decided to concede the demand for Telangana, much polluted water has flowed in the Musi and the Yamuna. The rigid stand of the Seemandhra and Telangana leaders of the Congress and the TDP remained unchanged. If anything, it got further sharpened and the public discourse degenerated.
YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of YSR, who was released from Chanchalguda jail after 16 months of incarceration and took charge of the YSRCP from his mother and sister, declared that his party stands for united AP. It was a U-turn of sorts. The TDP, the main Opposition party, like the ruling Congress, had a tie-up with the TRS in the 2009 elections. KCR thus succeeded in committing the TDP also to the cause of Telangana. Had Naidu championed integration of AP at that critical moment, history would have been, arguably, different. The TDP has following in both the regions and hence could not change its stand now.
Whatever the tactics adopted by Naidu, he is evidently opposed to the division and would like to go to any length to avoid it. He was able to manage to prevent the Telangana leaders of the TDP from leaving the party, largely because these leaders have nowhere to go. None of them has the resourcefulness, except making provocative speeches, to establish and run a political party as an alternative platform. Devendra Goud who tried has failed and returned to the party-fold like a prodigal son. Naidu lapped up the olive branch offered by Narendra Modi because any straw is good enough for a party that is drifting fast into oblivion. The decision to team up with the BJP may prove critical in Seemandhra for the TDP.
The BJP reiterated its stand in favour of Telangana even after Narendra Modi’s Hyderabad visit. Sushma Swaraj spoke at a Mahabubnagar rally to mark the admission of senior leader Nagam Janardhan Reddy into the BJP and told the gathering that there is no question of the BJP going back on its T stand. But slowly but steadily, the party leadership has been making noises which indicate a tie-up with the TDP and lack of enthusiasm about Telangana. The refrain is why the BJP should celebrate the success of the Congress in creating Telangana. Thanks to Sonia’s advisors, the Congress had given enough room to the TDP and the BJP, to change their tactics, by not reining in the Congress Ministers and leaders in Seemandhra before announcing its decision on T tangle.
Looking at the developments from Sonia’s point of view, there was absolutely no change in the declared policy of all the parties since their volte face on December 10, 2009 till the CWC took the decision. The TDP and the YSRCP had told the Centre that they were not against creation of Telangana. The BJP has been repeating its stand favouring T. The CPI has decided to support the cause of Telangana statehood. Even Pranab Mukherjee, the famous trouble-shooter of the Congress before he was elevated, told Govardhan Reddy and other Telangana protagonists that if Sonia said ‘yes’ he would give a favourable report in a matter of hours. Rosaiah, when he was CM, said Sonia’s decision would be final. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy and almost all the ministers in the Union Cabinet from Seemandhra told her that whatever the decision taken by her would be binding on them and they would honour and implement it without any question. Besides her keenness to keep her promise, Christian morality somewhere in her heart may have pinched her and goaded her to concede the demand for which hundreds of youth have killed themselves. And she took the decision. The leaders in Seemandhra went berserk. Finding fault with her for not consulting Congress leaders is something uncharitable. It would be correct to say that none of the leaders she consulted gave his honest opinion.
This is the price a top leader has to pay when no opposition is brooked and he or she does not entertain a different point of view. Sonia Gandhi may not be a dictator. But her awesome power and the servile attitude of senior leaders would discourage any Congressperson to be forthright and truthful. Leaders tend to say what they imagine the supreme leader likes to hear. Had Sonia known that there was so much of opposition in Seemandhra to the idea of Telangana State, she would perhaps have tried to convince the leaders or get convinced that no decision would be a better decision.
Politically speaking, no decision would not make any sense. Opposition leaders and even a non-politician like Ashok Babu might say that Sonia granted statehood to Telangana keeping the general elections in view and in order to make her son Rahul Gandhi Prime Minister. Whether Rahul would become Prime Minister even if the UPA scores a hat- trick is a moot point. If Sonia had not taken any decision, her party would have gone to dogs in both the regions. If she concedes the Telangana demand, she can hope to save some seats in Telangana. A situation has arisen where it is impossible for any leader or party to satisfy the people of both the regions with any decision. Either this way or that way; not both ways. She opted for Telangana just like YS Jaganmohan Reddy preferred to fight in Seemandhra abandoning Telangana. Naidu was unable to decide since he believes he still has stakes in Telangana. He may ultimately forfeit Telangana to concentrate on Seemandhra. Indecision in this regard would cost him dearly.
That is Naidu’s problem. But what is that Sonia Gandhi could have done to avoid the bitterness that erupted the moment the CWC decision was announced? Is it right to blame only Sonia Gandhi for the consequences of the tactics of bluff and bluster adopted by our own leaders heading most of the political parties at the State level? Most of the members of Sonia’s coterie are very close to Seemandhra MPs and other leaders. Only Chidambaram is particular about the announcement he made four years ago. Ahmed Patel has no personal agenda and would go by his boss’s decision. Gulam Nabi Azad is a politician who can accept favours but can also take political decisions unpalatable to his benefactors. With a majority of her advisors and senior ministers not very keen on the division of the State, it appears as though it is the lone agenda of Sonia Gandhi which her colleagues are implementing half-heartedly.
With a Prime Minister who has no particular opinion on the Telangana question, a Home Minister who is going through the motions mechanically since it was ordained by Madam, an AICC general secretary in charge of AP affairs not very supportive of his chief’s policy, a Defence Minister who has been maintaining indifferent health and an ambivalent stance on the Telangana question, a Chief Minister who is a rebel, and a President of the Republic who is considered to be against division of any State, more so AP, what was it that Sonia Gandhi was expected to do? Even TRS leaders and others who fought all these years for separate statehood are not very helpful since they think it is for Sonia Gandhi to deliver Telangana for the sake of her own party. It is her botheration now. Her own party leaders made her walk into the trap. Her friends and foes together made it difficult for her to get out of it.
She has been periodically cautioning the interlocutors about the timeline. The division has to take place before the general election in 2014.
Otherwise, it would be worse than no decision. The Congress would lose the faith of Telangana people and the people in Seemandhra would never trust the party in near future.
Sonia Gandhi may finally force her way and get the Bill passed in the winter session of Parliament. But she was forced to struggle to do that. If you understand what Sonia is up against, you would tend to sympathize with her.
The BJP reiterated its stand in favour of Telangana even after Narendra Modi’s Hyderabad visit. Sushma Swaraj spoke at a Mahabubnagar rally to mark the admission of senior leader Nagam Janardhan Reddy into the BJP and told the gathering that there is no question of the BJP going back on its T stand. But slowly but steadily, the party leadership has been making noises which indicate a tie-up with the TDP and lack of enthusiasm about Telangana.
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