Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, December 14, 2009

WE HAVE seen political somersaults before but what was on offer last week simply took the breath away. Late on Wednesday, Union home minister P. Chidambaram announces that steps would soon be initiated for the creation of the new state. When Andhra MLAs and MPs began to resign en masse and all hell broke loose, the prime minister tells a delegation of protesting MPs from his own party that “ nothing will be done in haste”. The midnight announcement of the creation of Telangana was, if anything, an act of haste. Andhra Pradesh today is among India’s fastest growing states and the triple cities of Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Cyberabad , a showcase capital. It has culture, history, wealth and now thanks to its software prowess, global presence. It has many rich and the mighty, tobacco tycoons and the builders mafia, the mining barons and the new cyber gurus. The tussle over Telangana boils down to costly real estate and huge investments. About 200- odd Reddys have investments worth a few hundred thousand crores and want nothing to do with the new state of Telangana.

That would perhaps explain why Home Secretary G. K. Pillai was forced to issue a clarification that the issue of the capital of Telangana would be settled by the central government. These well- entrenched rulers of Hyderabad cannot afford to lose it. For they see in K. Chandrasekhara Rao a southern version of Raj Thackeray who may hound them out. So they all ganged up and forced the PMO to retract.
Until about a fortnight ago, Rao, better known as KCR, was seen as a spent force in politics. The outright rejection of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti ( TRS) in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in May was proof that his future as a politician was behind him. All it took was one long huddle between Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, law minister Verappa Moily and Chidambaram to resurrect him. If only they had played by the book. Constitutionally, it is the prerogative of Parliament to bifurcate states, establish new states and redraw existing state boundaries. What this means is that the government could have simply moved a resolution in Parliament, which after passage, would have been referred by the President to the affected state for its opinion. If the UPA government was serious about statehood for Telangana — it was part of the Common Minimum Programme in 2004 when the Congress wooed the TRS into the UPA — it could have simply moved such a resolution.

With the BJP also backing statehood, the Bill would have sailed through comfortably. The President could then have referred the Bill to the Andhra Pradesh KCR is winner legislature and assigned it a specified period for reverting with its views. It’s up to the President to fix the time frame: a year, two even four. That’s called buying time, a tactic that’s more important in politics than in any other sphere of life.

When Rao began his fast- untodeath, the Centre took it lightly, assuming that a man who was overwhelmingly rejected by his people just seven months ago would be no threat at all. But as Rao’s health deteriorated, the Congress clearly panicked. Chidambaram’s announcement about the creation of Telangana indicates one of two things: ( 1) the Congress high command was unaware of the sentiments of the state unit; ( 2) the party was playing a double game aimed at deceiving Rao to break his fast.

It’s my hunch that having got Rao to break his fast, the Congress will now brazen it out, knowing that if he attempts another fast- unto- death, they will book him for attempted suicide and lock him in jail.

But such deceit can boomerang. The Union home ministry admits there are already demands before it for the creation of nine new states: Vidarbha, Bundelkhand, Telangana, Vindhya Pradesh, Mahakaushal, Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh and Mithilanchal.

There is nothing to stop agitations in Magadh, Seemanchal , Udayachal, Rohilkhand, Malwa, Mewar and Saurashtra. Strangely for a chief minister, Mayawati has already stated that she will be happier ruling a much smaller state.

Studies conducted by various organisations — including India Today magazine’s annual research on the State Of The States — have shown that smaller states are more viable and better governed. Whatever the outcome of the ongoing agitation, it would have done the country a lot of good if it leads to the creation of new and smaller states. Then power will be shared not by the few who hold on to it but by the many who have so far had no stake in it.

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