Telangana by- elections: No referendum on separate state మే 5, 2008Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Articles, In News, Telangana.
Tags: elections, politics
Politics of separation
Amarnath K. Menon
For the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) it is virtually a referendum on carving a separate state out of Andhra Pradesh. With by-elections to 18 Assembly constituencies and four Lok Sabha seats scheduled for May 29, retaining all the seats is a Herculean task for the party.
TRS legislators resigned en masse recently to protest the UPA Government’s failure to award separate statehood to Telangana, vacating 16 Assembly and four Lok Sabha seats.
Having decided to field all of them again, TRS can only hope that the Telangana sentiment in favour of a separate state will muster enough votes. The ruling Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are poised to retain the other two constituencies, in which the death of party incumbents has forced by-elections.
TRS supremo K. Chandrasekhara Rao, however, is upbeat. “Rivals will forfeit their deposits. The people of the region have been betrayed and know that their future will be bright only in a separate Telangana state,” says Rao, who is travelling extensively through all the 42 constituencies in the hope of scoring a victory.
But the gimmicks he’s resorting to—having a bath in the open in a village, making tea at a wayside stall and staying in a tribal hamlet on the eve of Ugadi, the Telugu new year’s day, with a camera trained on him throughout—give him away.
TRS is on slippery ground, as anti-incumbency is likely to hurt the party’s prospects badly in six to eight of the 16 constituencies that it is trying to retain.
For the Congress and Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, it is a question of prestige. Reddy, who cannot afford to let the Telangana sentiment override his slogan of development, launched the Rs 2-a-kilo rice scheme on April 9, ahead of the announcement of the poll schedule.
Apprehensive about how his party will fare, Reddy has roped in ministers and influential MLAs to oversee the campaign in all constituencies, cautioning them that if they don’t put up a good show, they could lose out on party tickets for the 2009 Assembly elections.
It is easy to see where this worry stems from. In the last two decades— except in two constituencies, Mydaram and Mushirabad—the Congress has never won any of the 16 Assembly constituencies for two consecutive terms.
Its tally dropped to just two in 1994 from seven in 1989 and showed no improvement in 1999. The party has had a poor record since it handed over the constituencies in the region to TRS to contest as part of the 2004 poll pact between them.
With the Congress learning from past experience that it is better to rely on a strong leader than to shuffle chief ministers, the by-elections, coming less than a year ahead of the general elections, are an acid test for Reddy too.
Even as several political heavyweights have declined to contest against TRS on Congress tickets, fearing that they would be perceived as being anti-Telangana, Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee President D. Srinivas argues that the by-elections cannot be seen as a referendum.
“Our party leaders were the first to ask for a separate Telangana. The question of a referendum would crop up only if we said no to the idea, and we never did,” says Srinivas. But Congress as well as TDP cadres in the region are likely to vote for TRS candidates in large numbers, in support of the Telangana sentiment. BJP, too, is in favour of a separate state.
TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu has meanwhile taken advantage of the by-elections to join hands with CPI(M) to make it a tough triangular contest in most constituencies. The irony is that though TDP was anti-Telangana, it had done well in these constituencies before the advent of TRS.
No sooner was the poll schedule announced than a carefully ambiguous Naidu declared, for the first time, that his party is not against the formation of Telangana and that the issue will be discussed by a five-man committee of the party before taking a final stand.
“There are conflicting demands, with sections in Telangana and coastal Andhra Pradesh pitching for separate states and others opposing the idea. The best way is to discuss the issue thoroughly and then arrive at a decision,” says Naidu.
Rao believes that Naidu is not serious about the division of Andhra Pradesh. “If he is sincere, let his party write to the Cabinet Subcommittee headed by Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, withdrawing its letter supporting a unified state of Andhra Pradesh,” he says.
Clearly, Naidu, whose communist allies are against a division, is keeping his options open in a bid to regain lost ground in the region.
All this makes it a now-or-never situation for TRS if it is to carry its separatist campaign forward. An acerbic Rao accuses the Congress and TDP of conspiring to defeat his party nominees in four Assembly constituencies and says that they have joined hands only to claim later, once the results are announced, that there is no Telangana sentiment in the region.
“There is no difference between the two parties. Both the Congress and TDP regimes killed Naxalites in encounters, failed to stop farmer suicides, sold Wakf properties and diverted funds meant for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Their flags may be different but their agenda is the same,” says Rao.
Unfazed, Reddy believes voters will not be carried away by the Telangana factor alone. “There is a strong sentiment for a new state, but the overriding factor will be development. Since Independence, no government in the country has done as much on the development front as ours,” he claims.
As the parties gear up for the battle, the grim prospect of violence is surfacing. Maoists, known to step up militancy at election time, might make polling a taxing affair for the state administration. And with Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi threatening to jump into the fray in time for the general elections, things can only get more theatrical.
source: India Today, May 1, 2008