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Telengana Once Again

oalition politics is all about maintaining an even keel in any storm; and the ruling NDA alliance, rapidly gaining experience in survival tactics, will have to face another storm brewing in the south. Although Chandrababu Naidu described the threeday mahanadu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) as a demonstration of the perfect and democratic functioning within the party, the statement does not sit well with other developments. And one of the contentious but unacknowledged issues that troubled the meeting was the revival of the demand for a separate Telengana. The three-day mahanadu of the TDP held in Visakhapatnam had ostensibly a heavy agenda the slow pace of reforms and centre-state relations and the coming, long-postponed panchayat elections necessitated by the postponement of the passing of the 87th constitutional amendment. But priorities were clearly overturned when the dissident TDP leader K Chandrasekhar Rao quit the party as well as his post of deputy speaker of the state assembly last month to launch Telengana Rastra Samithi (TRS) to spearhead the separate Telengana movement. The TRS had held a massive rally only weeks before the TDP meet and Naidu was forced to take this new turn into reckoning. Although he refused to make a comment on the separate Telengana issue immediately after the meet, nor to allow the meetings agenda to be derailed, he could not possibly ignore the development. Quite apart from resolving to speed up developmental work in the region, Naidu also sought to strengthen the administrative structure of the party in significant ways. For one, the new executive committee has been expanded to 48 members and the new politburo reconstituted, ostensibly the result of a brainstorming session, and expanded to 12 members from the current nine. It reflects Naidus anticipation of the need for a loyal policy-making group around him on whom he can depend in the coming months. While loyalists like Ashok Gajapathi Raju, Yerram Naidu, Devender Goud, Lal Jan Basha and Vadde Sobhanadreeshwara Rao, have been retained, people like Ch Sugunakumari, K Sivananda Reddy, R Prakash Reddy and N Anjaneyulu, who owe their political careers entirely to Naidu, have been inducted. The inclusion of former union minister and TDP deputy floor leader S Venugopalachary, who hails from Adilabad in Telengana, points to Naidus move anticipating a quickening of the pace of the Telengana movement. Five members of the politburo and 15 of the executive now come from Telengana, while nine are from Rayalaseema another reemerging hotspot. Interestingly, Rajeswaramma, Nellore MP, is the treasurer with a general secretary, a vice-president and five secretaries hailing from Telengana. Naidu is expected to also name Telengana representatives as heads of the partys frontal organisations. This way he not only prevents any dissidence over the issue but also allows the party to claim that the region is important enough to have a leader from that region in its highest policymaking bodies. However, important leaders with considerable party experience, such as A Chandulal, K Rajmohan Reddy, Manik Reddy and Y Narayanswamy have been left out of the politburo. Naidu, has pointedly said that there was no room for

discontentment in the rank and file of the party as the services of all party leaders, including those who did not find place in the executive or politburo, would be utilised to strengthen the party in its goal of achieving swaranandhra pradesh. Commentators inside and outside the party have pointed out that in filling the decision-making bodies with loyalists, the TDP chief may be giving short shrift to party administration. The new faces, many of them first timers, have little knowledge of party affairs; nor are they the sort of people who graced the seats in NTRs time they have no mass base, nor are they intellectuals or thinkers. Moreover, most also hold offices in different programme committees which means, point out commentators, overall policy-making will be virtually in the hands of one man, the chief minister and the president of the party. Not surprisingly, Congress MLAs from Telengana are straining at the leash waiting for a formal go ahead from the party president to support the TRS. Even without it, DCC chief Jagadeeswar Reddy has already stated that all 41 Congress MLAs from the region will support the public meetings being organised on June 1 in Mahabubnagar and on June 4 the Telengana Congress Legislators Forum is itself organising such a meeting at Wanaparthy. Meanwhile the state BJP finds itself in a quandary. The party had passed a resolution in 1998 in Kakinada supporting all movements for separate statehood including Telengana. However, as Naidu pointed out, in neither the 1999 election nor the agenda of the NDA has this been reiterated. BJP MLAs from the region have nevertheless independently pledged support to the TRS. A recent meeting of the state party turned stormy with members walking out in protest against the ruling that the party should await the decision of the central leadership on the issue before announcing its position. Subsequently, yielding to pressure from within, the state BJP chief has agreed to send a special delegation to persuade Delhi to accede to the demands of its Telengana members to support the movement or face desertion. And this in turn is likely to put some further strain on the TDPBJP alliance. Even more importantly, this is likely to become a major issue in the panchayat election now scheduled to be held in the first week of July. There is no doubting that the Telengana region is underdeveloped and has suffered long neglect. And Naidu is attempting to bridge those years in a hurry by pushing a number of projects and programmes that have long been stalled. Naidu has promised that the Sriramsagar project would be completed to irrigate about 9.25 lakh acres and stabilise another 6.25 lakh acres. The Madhav Reddy Reservoir is also being completed rapidly so as to be put into operation by July. Other sectors like health services, education and environment are being funded on an emergency basis to offer visible results. However, neither this nor his argument that the neglect predates his government is likely to make a difference in the immediate future, not especially when the TRS is projecting statehood as a prerequisite for development. If not because of likely pressure from the BJP leadership, in his own interest Naidu may have to review his stand on Telengana. EPW


Economic and Political Weekly June 2, 2001