The ruling BRS in Telangana has reason to feel that the Congress is trying to steal its thunder by appropriating the Telangana sentiment. The otherwise freebie-driven manifesto the Congress released on Friday, 17 November, is spearheaded by its focus on the Telangana martyrs.
On the eve of the release, the party fielded former Union Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram to apologise to the people of Telangana for the deaths of youth during the long struggle.
Why was Chidambaram fielded at this stage? After all, till recently, he was part of the dissident G-23 Group in the Congress and is being rehabilitated only now for various reasons.
Chidambaram’s link to Telangana announcement
It was Chidambaram who had, as Union Home Minister, on 9 December, 2009, uttered the words that would change the Telangana people’s fates forever.
That night, Chidambaram said: “The process of forming Telangana will be initiated. An appropriate resolution will be moved in the Assembly…. We are concerned about the health of Shri K Chandrashekar Rao; we request him to withdraw his fast immediately. We also appeal to all concerned, especially students, to withdraw their agitation.”
The people of Telangana region of united Andhra Pradesh wanted to hear that. Wild celebrations followed even as the leaders of the Samaikhyandhra (pro-united Andhra Pradesh) went into an unhappy huddle.
Telangana turmoil, Centre under pressure
What led to the statement? Andhra Pradesh was in turmoil after the sudden death of Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash in the Nallamala forest area on 2 September, 2009.
K Rosiah became chief minister the next day. The state was surcharged with pro-Telangana agitations.
Chandrashekar Rao, or KCR, decided it was the right time to escalate the agitation and went on a hunger strike on 29 November in Khammam jail, where he was detained.
The Osmania University campus in Hyderabad became the centre of the agitation.
KCR refused to give up the strike. The situation in Hyderabad was tense.
The Congress high command called for an all-party meeting in Hyderabad. The major political parties, excluding the CPI(M), backed the proposal for a separate Telangana.
Based on this majority political consent, the Union government took a decision. And Chidambaram’s statement followed.
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KCR ended his fast in the NIMS Hospital, where he had since been shifted.
The Telangana Joint Action Committee chief, M Kodandaram, said KCR’s fast and growing protests forced the Union government’s hand.
The Congress saw it as a “gift” from Sonia Gandhi, whose birthday was 9 December.
And Congress today wants to reap electoral benefits for what happened on 9 December, 2009.
In its election manifesto for Telangana, released on Friday, 17 November, the state Congress said it led with several promises aimed at the Telangana movement.
Manifesto leads with martyrs
The manifesto said: “Martyrs of the first and last phase of the Telangana movement will be identified, officially recognised, and a government job given to one person from their family. A monthly honorary pension of ₹25,000 will also be given to the mother/father/wife of the martyrs.”
It promised to withdraw “all cases filed against youth who participated in the agitation”, and on 2 June, they will be given an official government ID card as Telangana Movement Fighters”.
The movement’s fighters have also been promised a plot of 250 sq yards each to build their homes, apart from the honorary pension.
If the Congress thought presenting Chidambaram to the people of Telangana and making him tender an apology would do the trick, the ruling BRS had other ideas.
BRS counter to apology
It was quick to counter Chidambaram’s apology. On Thursday, 16 November, party working president KT Rama Rao pooh-poohed his apology.
He said: “Too late and too little, Chidambaram Ji. Your party is solely responsible for taking the lives of hundreds of Telangana youngsters from 1952 to 2014. No matter how hard you try now, the people of Telangana will always remember the brutalities Congress perpetrated on us.”
Chief Minister KCR is trying to rake up the Telangana sentiment in his campaigning. It paid the party hefty electoral dividends in 2014 and 2018.
There is a feeling that the people are a bit slower than in previous elections in reacting positively to the recollection of the agitation. The party now senses it may have the necessary ammunition in Chidambaram’s statement.
The question is, has the Telangana sentiment reached centrestage in this Assembly election?