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Post elections, there are many challenges awaiting Telangana and Seemandhra

Thursday, 22 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

There was much theatrics on display in and outside Parliament when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2014, to bifurcate the state into two units, Seemandhra and Telangana, was debated in both Houses, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. To be fair, every party attempted to upstage the other, although the means adopted varied. It did not escape anyone that much of this noise and fury was staged as foreplay for the elections two months later. Once Parliament passed the Bill on February 18, 2014, its opponents meekly accepted the results and sought to carve out their political place in the new units through the electoral arena. Surprisingly, none of the opponents of the Act sought to scrap or revamp the Act if they came to power. The camaraderie that existed between the ruling Congress Party (INC) and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), that spearheaded the movement for a separate Telangana state, during the various stages of mooting the Bill and passing of the Act, soon dissipated, and they went their separate ways in the hustings.

The Congress dominance of Andhra Pradesh was converted effectively into a bi-party system with the rise of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) during the 1980s in the state. The recent elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies of both the states have brought in new players which will have much bearing on the future of these two fledgling units. In Seemandhra, the alliance of TDP and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has triumphed. While TDP was opposed to the bifurcation of the Andhra Pradesh, BJP was in favour of it. The closest rival to the TDP is the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), but the percentage of votes that they have secured is very close (TDP: 28.2% and 32.6% for the Lok Sabha and state assembly, and YSRCP 28.1% and 28.1% for the Lok Sabha and state assembly, respectively). The Congress has no elected representative in the assembly or the Lok Sabha. In Telangana, the TRS has bagged 63 seats out of 119, while the Congress, TDP and BJP have secured 21, 15 and 5 seats respectively.

The region now has a five-party system, with the TDP-BJP alliance having an upper hand, particularly on account of the massive victory of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, while the TRS is comfortably ensconced in Telangana. The spurning of an alliance with the Congress, and making enough statements that it was not indisposed to work with the BJP before the hustings, may provide some respite for the TRS with the central dispensation too for the time being. In other words, political transition in the successor states will be smooth, without major hiccups, on the appointed day of June 2, 2014.

But tensions between and within these two units are likely to emerge soon from the differing stances of the parties and from the logic of the electoral outcome. Three zones of such conflicts are noteworthy:

1. The political orientation of the parties: The TRS manifesto stresses a great deal on agriculture, irrigation and employment-generation. Invariably, access to water and irrigation is a priority before it that may not be in tune with TDP or YSRCP. The Act has set up Management Boards for Krishna and Godavari Rivers to ensure that the decisions of the concerned tribunals be carried out, and technical advice be offered for the optimal use of their waters. There is also the highly contested Polavaram Project, which apart from affecting interstate concerns, has much bearing on the extent of water the hinterland of Telangana can tap from the River Godavari. If the TDP-BJP dispensation is seen as favouring Seemandhra then it is likely to lead to a mass outburst in Telangana, with the expectations stroked for carving out the state remaining still fresh in public memory. If the water flow to Seemanandhra for everyday use, the existing extensive irrigation network, and the ambitious plans of industrialization are affected, Jaganmohan Reddy is likely to cry hoarse. The Telangana movement has created a lot of awareness, even militancy, at the grassroots, and if the TRS promise on land, water and irrigation is not implemented then the popular base of TRS will erode. The TDP base in Telangana is primarily confined to areas where there is a huge settlement of people from Seemandhra. Any attempt by TRS to ease out this population or affect their sources of employment in the name of the people of Telangana is likely to be strongly resisted, by TDP. But unfortunately TRS has to primarily concentrate on creating new employment for a huge mass of unemployed youth who were the backbone of the Telangana agitation. Yet indicators suggest that much of the capital now centred around Hyderabad particularly in pharmaceuticals and the manufacturing sector is likely to favour Seemandhra over Telangana. TRS has also promised 12% reservation to Muslims, which is unlikely to be endorsed by the Centre.

2. Issues in contention in the reorganisation: An important issue of contention between Seemandhra and Telangana has been the status of Hyderabad. The governor has been conferred special powers to handle conflicts arising from this situation for the next 10 years. But as an appointee of the Central Government, the Governor is susceptible to central influence, which may reinforce tensions among competing interests. What is going to be the distinct identity of Telangana? There are umpteen voices speaking for it. TDP has already spoken of the shared bond of Telugu people. The blending of many cultures that the Telangana movement celebrated may not go very well with such an assertion.

3. Regrouping of political forces: TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu's idea of development has tended to favour big, and technically savvy industry. While he might be able to attract steel, pharmaceutical, construction and to an extent the IT industry to Seemandhra it may not benefit a large section of the subalterns who have rallied behind YSRCP, much. It is quite possible for the YSR Congress and the Congress party to come together, and thereby not merely challenge the advantage the TDP-BJP axis enjoy but also push the TRS to the margins. While there is reason to celebrate the prospects of stable governments in these two states to start with, there are ominous signs that the celebratory mood may not last long.

The author teaches Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University

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