Two protests fasts, one in Hyderabad and the other in New Delhi, and a rapidly degenerating spiral of violence in Andhra Pradesh’s Seemandhra region effectively sum up just how far the UPA government still has to go in the face of political headwinds generated by its decision to bifurcate the state. The attacks by protestors on the residences of Congress MPs and MLAs are, while deplorable, not unexpected – but the protests have metastasised into a general disruption of life affecting everything from power generation to essential transport and government services.
The problem, from the Congress’s perspective, is that hunkering down and riding out these protests is looking increasingly unprofitable with YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy — in particular — and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu expanding their manoeuvring space.
There is a healthy amount of political cynicism on display by both the YSR Congress and the TDP, of course. Until the UPA government openly declared its decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh in late July, the former had been careful to maintain an ambivalent stance, while the latter had openly backed the Telangana statehood demand. But post the announcement, and with the united Andhra campaign working up a head of steam, the political calculations were clear enough: anti-Congress sentiments were running high in Seemandhra’s 13 districts, and with 25 of 42 Lok Sabha seats and 175 of 294 assembly seats, it was a constituency worth courting. In Jaganmohan’s case, it would add to the momentum he already had; for Naidu, any advantage he could tease out from a chaotic situation where the state’s own Congress leadership was at odds with Delhi would be an improvement over his marginalisation of the past decade. But none of this detracts from the basic fact that both men are, to a large extent, correct in the criticisms they have levelled against the Congress.
There is an economic and governance argument to be made for smaller states in general and the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in particular. The Congress has not made it adequately. Instead, its stand so far has smacked of an opportunism that puts Jaganmohan’s and Naidu’s in the shade, most notably with its bait-and-switch in 2009 when it committed to the formation of Telangana state only to back off. Its current decision is not a considered policy decision; it is a matter of simple electoral mathematics. In 2009, the state gave the Congress 33 out of 42 Lok Sabha MPs.
As matters stood until July, the party could not hope to win anywhere near that number. Former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s death, his son Jaganmohan’s rebellion and the fallout from the Congress’s reversal on Telangana had ensured that. With Telangana accounting for 17 Lok Sabha seats, going for the bifurcation now allows the party to mitigate its losses at least.
This is an exceedingly dangerous game to play. If the Congress had gone ahead with its decision in 2009, there would have been adequate time to involve all stakeholders and work out an acceptable process. The NDA government showed the viability of this process when it created Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand during its stint in Delhi. With elections coming up next year, the Congress has raised the political stakes to the extent where turmoil is both inevitable and profitable to some of the players in the state. And it has left itself with little time to put out the fires in Seemandhra.