Home Minister P Chidambaram’s assent to the formation of a Telangana state in December 2009 showed the Congress party as “weak and feeble.. easily bullied and intimidated by threats,” the then US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer wrote to Washington on the next day.
The Congress Party came was being portrayed as “weak and spineless, caving at the first signs of trouble at the hands of a politically desperate has-been regional politician,” Roemer pointed out, adding prophetically that it may already be regretting the announcement. The Congress, he pointed out, may decide to go slow on the creation process.
However, Roemer saw Chidambaram’s statement that the Government will start the process of Telangana formation as a firm commitment. So sure was Roemer that the commitment was unbreakable, that, in his update on the issue, he did not even mention the possibility that the central government may back-track over the issue.
Though he was not very convinced about the way the Congress Party tackled the issue, he nevertheless titled his update: “Telangana: a new state is born.”
“The announcement [by Chidambaram on December 9] comes following intense pressure on the government due to a hunger strike undertaken by K. Chandrasekhar Rao, a member of parliament and president of the regional party Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS).
“Rao’s fast had entered its 11th day and his health had deteriorated considerably. In support of Rao’s fast, students of the state’s largest university had decided to go on a strike and take to the streets on December 10.
“Street demonstrations in Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana region have been occurring over the last few days. Several self immolations by Telangana supporters have also taken place. The December 10 [next day] demonstration in Hyderabad promised to be a particularly large, impassioned and unpredictable one that forced the GOI to cave to Rao’s demands,” he noted.
Despite all this, Roemer pointed out, there were many reasons for the Congress to resist the demands of Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS, which, as he pointed out, had just six members in the state Assembly and only two in the Parliament.
“There are many other statehood demands simmering in India. These demands are likely to get a fresh impetus from the overnight success of the Telangana movement. Within hours of the GOI’s Telangana decision, the Darjeeling -based Gorkha movement has called for a 96-hour Darjeeling closure and a fast unto death by its some of it members to press its demand that a separate Gorkha state be carved out of West Bengal.
“Similar demands could come from the Vidharba region of Maharashtra; the Bundelkhand and the Poorvanchal regions of Uttar Pradesh; and more obscure nascent statehood movements in other parts of the country,” he pointed out.
“..the Congress Party appears to have opened a can of worms.. It has created a split within the Andhra Pradesh unit of its own party; and it appears to come across as weak and feeble, a party that can be easily bullied and intimidated by threats just six month after winning a decisive electoral mandate,” Roemer, a former US House of Representatives said.
Two days later, Roemer also pointed to the political fall-out and the beginnings of an about-turn by the Congress since the fast and agitation were now broken.
“To counter the opposition’s allegation that Congress was forced into hurrying a rash decision, Indian Law Minister Veerappa Moily – who is also All India Congress Committee General Secretary in-charge of Andhra Pradesh – stalled, telling media that “Congress takes the right decision at the right time.”
“Some commentators observed that Moily’s statement is an indication of Congress’ intention to push the issue to the backburner now that the immediate crisis has been diffused.
“This perception was first bolstered by CM Rosaiah’s statement on “the need for consensus” over what is expected to be a contentious issue and then solidified by Finance Minister (FM) Pranab Mukherjee’s statement that “any forward movement on the issue is contingent upon a pro-Telangana resolution [being] adopted by the AP assembly by consensus. No assembly resolution – no Telangana,” he pointed out two days later.
He pointed out that the Congress was not the only party to fear the backlash. “TDP Leader N. Chandrababu Naidu stepped back from his promise to back Telangana statehood only a day after stating that his party would not oppose a resolution. He was seemingly stunned by the mass resignation of TDP MLAs from Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra – the heartland of the party’s vote bank and a major source of the party’s financial support.
“Needing to appease party members from these two regions, Naidu quickly charged Congress leader Sonia Gandhi of acting with “unnecessary and undue haste” and denounced the “unilateral” decision on Telangana,” he pointed out.
He also pointed to the economic reason why many students in the coastal and southern regions of Andhra Pradesh opposed the formation of Telangana.
” A key issue for many of these students is guaranteed access to the opportunities represented by the vibrant job market in Hyderabad’s Information Technology (IT), biotechnology, and pharmaceutical industries. With almost 1000 MBA and MCA colleges and over 500 engineering colleges in the state, AP produces more engineers than any other state in India.
“The students fear that if the state is split, those coming from other regions in search of jobs will be unwelcome in a Telangana-controlled Hyderabad,” he noted.
In another cable two weeks later, he noted that Congress party may be banking on people “forgetting about” Telangana.
“Congress has painted itself into a corner. The party would like nothing better than a return to the dominant position they enjoyed under recently deceased AP Chief Minister YSR Reddy.
“However, with no easy way to put the statehood genie back in the bottle, the leadership will play for time and hope that people tire of the disruptions to their daily lives before unequivocal movement towards statehood is required – a risky strategy given the escalating rhetoric, protests, and violence of the last few weeks,” he pointed out.
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