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Telangana Bill passed; BJP extracts last drop of juice from UPA

Friday, 21 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Saffron party helps pass Bill in Rajya House after PM announces special category status and privileges for Seemandhra.
Telangana MPs celebrate with Jairam Ramesh after the Rajya Sabha passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2014, outside the Parliament on ThursdayARIJIT SENDNA

The Rajya Sabha passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2014 on Thursday, clearing the final hurdle for the Indian union to gets its 29th state, Telangana. The bill was passed only after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a "Special Category Status" for Seemandhra for five years, which he hoped would put the state's finances "on a firmer footing".

Singh's announcement was part of a backstage jig between the Congress-led UPA government and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which until Wednesday had been insisting on amendments to address Seemandhra's concerns and constitutional amendment on powers of a common governor to be the custodian of law and order. This was a day after it had supported passage of the bill on Telangana creation amid din in the Lok Sabha.

But on Thursday, the BJP softened its stance, worried that it would have to take the blame if there was a last-minute hurdle in the bill's passage in case of an amendment being returned to the Lok Sabha at the fag end of the session. The budget session of Parliament ends on Friday, when 16 suspended Seemandhra MPS will return to the Lok Sabha. Even if one of its amendments were to be voted on in the Rajya Sabha, the bill would have to be sent back to the lower House for approval.

Union ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde, Jairam Ramesh and Kamal Nath had a meeting with BJP leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu. The government's side conveyed that it was difficult for it to accept its demand for amendments. The BJP wanted a specific figure to be mentioned in the Seemandhra package, but the government rejected this too.

Weighing its options, the BJP finally agreed not to persist with amendments on the condition that Naidu was given a chance to speak in the Rajya Sabha to address Seemandhra's concerns and that the Prime Minister announce a package for the region.

After the multiple adjournments throughout the day, Naidu finally opened the debate in the evening, appealing for calm as he spoke amid the din of sloganeering, seeking a package for Seemandhra in the wake of Telangana's formation.

Later, speaking on the floor of the House, Singh announced the special package. His six-point development package included granting special category status, including tax incentives, to Seemandhra. Singh also assured that allocations would be made in the Union Budget for the successor state of Seemandhra before the 14th Finance Commission determines the tax share of the new state. The prime minister also promised a special package for the backward areas comprising northern coastal and Rayalaseema districts in the new state of Seemandhra.

"This development package will be on the lines of the K-B-K (Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi) Special Plan in Odisha and the Bundelkhand special package in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh," he said.

A BJP leader said the party never intended to block the bill but while it backed Telangana's creation, it wanted justice for Seemandhra. BJP strategists are hoping that the party's stance in the Parliament will help it gain politically in the Lok Sabha election once the heat over Telangana dies down and parties get into poll mode.

On Wednesday, a series of backroom negotiations between the government, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at one point, ended in a stalemate with the BJP sticking to its demand for the amendments. The bill could not be taken up in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

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