Telangana Tangle & A Suicidal BJP
If anything, the fracas over Telangana in Parliament has revealed the suicidal tendency of the BJP, the party that is otherwise overconfident of forming the next government at the Centre. There is something seriously wrong with the decisions that the BJP takes in Parliament on important issues concerning the country. It is obvious that there is a serious communication gap between the leaders who articulate BJP’s positions inside the Parliament and those who speak outside.
If one goes by the organisational position of the BJP on Telangana, its components are as follows:
(i) The BJP supports the creation of Telangana as a new state as it
always favoured smaller states. In fact, the BJP, unlike the Congress, has been one of the oldest advocates of Telangana as a separate state.
(ii) The BJP takes great credit in the fact that it was under the NDA regime that the BJP and its leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani displayed great political wisdom and statesmanship in achieving political consensus during the formation of three new states—Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal (now Uttarakhand) and Jharkhand. As the ruling party, the BJP brought various aggrieved parties on board and the new states were formed without any rancor. Even Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was threatening to commit suicide upon the formation of Jharkhand, got pacified.
(iii) The BJP will ensure that while Telangana becomes a new state, the Seemandhra region of the undivided Andhra Pradesh gets justice in the process, be it the central assistance in the creation of a new capital and other establishments or division of natural resources, particularly the river waters. The BJP therefore favours a method that will lead to win-win situation for both Telangana and Seemandhra.
Keeping this in mind BJP President Rajnath Singh had assured that the party would support the government provided there were enough provisions in the proposed Telangana Bill that will assuage the hurt feelings of the people in Seemandhra. He had also expressed the hope that there should be a proper debate in the Parliament while passing the Bill and for that the suspension of the MPs from the Seemandhra region should be revoked.
However, surprisingly, the BJP meekly surrendered to the Congress in the Lok Sabha on February 18 and provided it full support in getting the Bill passed, the manner of which must have shamed the makers of our Constitution. The Bill was passed in a voice-vote to lend it the character of the unanimity by the Speaker, who, regrettably behaved as being a Congress member rather than the occupant of a non-partisan office. Worse, the direct telecast of the proceedings was blacked out, something that might not have been possible without the connivance of the officials accountable to the Speaker.
What was the reason for BJP’s sudden U-turn and unconditional support to the Congress in the Lok Sabha? Let us see what explanation the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj gave. To quote a media report, she said, “We realised that the Congress was looking for an excuse to pin the blame on us for stalling the Bill. We sensed the game and spoilt it by supporting the Bill. I agree that there were flaws in the Bill, the constitutional amendment that gives the Governor the charge for law and order… the government had assured the opposition that the concerns expressed by Seemandhra leaders will be addressed. In any case, our party is forming the next government. We will ensure that people of Seemandhra get justice.”
Now, the pertinent question here is whose decision was it to support the government. The decision was not a collective one. And that was the reason why the next day in the BJP’s parliamentary meeting, many questioned the party’s support to the government in the Lok Sabha. One is told that the party veteran L K Advani was against the BJP supporting the passage of the Telangana Bill in the Lok Sabha amid pandemonium. And that was the reason why the BJP went for some sort of damage-control by moving amendments in the Rajya Sabha. At the time of writing, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned and the Bill had not come up for discussion.
That brings me to the essential point: Why has the BJP been in such a great hurry to pass the Telangana Bill in the very last session of the present Lok Sabha? Who gains the most if the Telangana Bill is passed? It does not require the brain of a Nobel laureate to guess that with the creation of Telangana, the Congress and its partner Telangana Rajya Samiti (TRS) will sweep the polls in the new state and the BJP will draw a blank. And the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh with BJP support will mean that its potential allies in Seemanndhra, be it Chandrababu Naidu or Jaggan Reddy, will think thousand times before lending the party their support.
On the other hand, prolonging the bifurcation would have helped significantly the BJP electorally. Given its record in the peaceful creations of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, it would have got support both from Telangana and Seemandhra by saying that under a BJP-led government there can be a smooth bifurcation, rendering justice to the both. In the process, the Congress would have come a cropper in both the regions. In other words, the passage of the Telangana Bill in a great hurry now means that the Congress will win handsomely in Telangana and fare disastrously in Seemandhra; for the BJP it will be a virtual political suicide in both the regions.
One would like to know what Narendra Modi’s view is on the subject. I do not remember of him saying anything substantial on this. Since he is the prime ministerial candidate of a party, which once called itself to be a party with difference, it would have been much better if the BJP had started a national debate on the issue of creation of smaller states and promised to set up another State Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to deal with the issue. As it is, many new states were formed on the basis of recommendations by the SRC set up in 1955. Formed in the wake of agitation for the creation, ironically, of a Telugu language-speaking Andhra Pradesh by breaking up Madras province—where Tamil was the other major
language—the commission devised in 1956 the highly dubious criterion of linguistic commonality as the basis for new states.
Obviously, that formula is not working. Now we have the same language-speaking people fighting for separate statehood. This, in turn, raises the question as to what should have been or what should be the rational criteria for statehood in India. Many experts believe that more than language or ethic affinity, “better governance” should be the key. India needs more decentralisation of power for the public good. That would be possible if it had around 50 smaller states with populations of less than 50 million—25 million being a more favoured number—and geographical expanses of less than 35,000 square kilometers.
It may be noted that B R Ambedkar, who was the chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, was not in favour of the creation of the states on linguistic basis. Ambedkar pointed out, “The commission (SRC) evidently thinks that the size of a state is a matter of no consequence and that the equality in the size of the status constituting a federation is a matter of no moment. This is the first and the most terrible error cost which the commission has committed. If not rectified in time, it will indeed be a great deal.”
Ambedkar’s opposition to the SRC’s recommendations stemmed from the imbalance of political power in the country—the large states in the north and balkanisation of the south would pit the two regions of the country against each other. The solution he offered used the size of the state and administrative effectiveness for making smaller states in the north: dividing the three large states—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh and using the rule that ‘a population of approximately two crores which should be regarded as the standard size of population for a state to administer effectively’.
As Ambedkar clarified, “One language one state should be the rule, but people with the same language can divide themselves into many states—this promotes more uniform balance of power within the country, satisfies social needs and most importantly, creates units that can be administered with ease, leading to better growth performance for the nation.” In fact, he went into greater detail analysing his home state Maharashtra with an area spanning 1.74 lakh square miles—it “is a vast area and it is impossible to have efficient administration by a single state”. According to his analysis, economic, industrial,
educational and social inequalities in the regions of Maharashtra make for a clear division of the state into four parts—Bombay, Western (Konkan), Central (Marathwada) and Eastern (Vidarbha).Be that as it may, by favouring the formation of a second SRC, the BJP would have attracted more supporters all over the country, including Telangana. But then BJP has stopped being a party with difference. It is now a party with differences. It remains to be seen if the likes of Modi and Rajnath Singh will rectify the situation.
By Prakash Nanda