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BURNING ISSUE

T-time in Andhra?

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BURNING ISSUE: The government has already backtracked once on the Telangana issue. (Below left) Baladeer Ghadar, right, at a pro-Telangana meet

With the home minister promising a decision on Telangana by January, life is virtually on hold in the state.

The story doing the rounds is that President Pranab Mukherjee, during a recent sojourn to Hyderabad, was asked by some old associates whether Telangana would become a reality. He said, "The Congress party is too weak to take a decision on this matter. Unless push comes to shove, there will be no decision. "

One does not know whether this story is actually true but it represents a very prescient reading of the situation. When it comes to Telangana, the UPA government is running with the hare and hunting with the hound - sometimes hinting that a brand new state is around the corner, and at other times, posing that there is no question of bifurcating Andhra Pradesh.

Pending a decision on this contentious issue, life is virtually on hold in Andhra Pradesh. No new investments are coming to the region and though nobody is shutting shop, expansions are being planned in places like Bangalore, Chennai and even Bhubaneswar.

But now, things could be changing. Faced with the prospect of a political extinction in Andhra Pradesh, indications are that Centre might actually take a decision on the issue. On December 28, after meeting the representatives of all political parties, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde had announced that a final decision would come 'in a month'.

"The expectation is high that a separate Telangana will be announced by the central government on January 28. If it does not happen, there will be massive disappointment and a spate of suicides will be sparked off, I fear, " says the revolutionary poet, Ghadar.

Other T protagonists say that there is a lull in the movement right now in anticipation of Telangana. But Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the political party in the forefront of the struggle, is not willing to comment. "We have been told they are considering something. Let's wait, " says K T Rama Rao, a TRS legislator. Rama Rao is the son of TRS president K Chandrasekhara Rao, who had parked himself in Delhi for a month last year with an offer to merge his party with the Congress in exchange for Telangana. Some reports suggested that the talks broke down because Rao wanted control over the Congress party in the region as part of the merger treaty.

Rattled by this unusual quietude in recent weeks, those who are against the division of Andhra Pradesh believe that the Centre has probably secretly assured the T protagonists, led by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), that a separate state is around the corner. Early this week, five cabinet ministers of the Andhra Pradesh government left for New Delhi after 'hearing rumours' that a separate state was imminent. They were against it and said they would resign to stop the Centre from creating Telangana.

After meeting bigwigs in Delhi, one minister held a press conference saying that though nobody from the high command had said there would be a separate state, they believed the Centre was working towards it. He added: "There will be a violent backlash. There are bound to be agitations if Telangana is granted. "

On their return, the ministers summoned an in-camera meeting of other ministers and MLAs belonging to their region and dropped a bombshell. They said that political bigwigs had told them that Telangana was a 'fait accompli' and that this was to checkmate the growing political strength of Jagan Mohan Reddy which is fast breaking up the Congress party.

When the ministers said that this would lead to a severe backlash, the Congress seniors told them that they were prepared for this because there was no other option to salvage their political fortunes. Dividing up the state would mean that the Congress could win elections in 2014 in Telangana even if it lost Andhra and Rayalaseema. On the other hand, not granting Telangana would lead to the Congress's defeat both in Telangana and other regions, they argued. The ministers countered that all the MLAs from Andhra and Rayalaseema would resign immediately if Telangana was announced and that the state government in Andhra Pradesh would immediately fall, but the high command was unfazed.

When leaders of the Telangana unit of the Congress party heard about this in-camera briefing, they did not seem enthused. "God alone knows what they were told. Maybe they are planting such stories to agitate people in their region, prompting them to create disturbances. This may be to force the hands of the government to not give Telangana, " says a Congress MP from the region.

With the government having gone back once on Telangana - it had announced on December 9, 2009 that the state would be created and then backtracked two weeks later after legislators from Andhra and Rayalaseema began resigning - the votaries of the new state are unwilling to believe that Telangana is a fait accompli before it is actually created.

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