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Token ‘defeat’ for statehood bill

Telugu Desam leaders celebrate the rejection of the draft statehood bill on Thursday. (PTI)

Hyderabad, Jan. 30: The Andhra Pradesh Assembly today rejected the draft statehood bill in an expected outcome that cannot legally stall the creation of a Telangana state but is an embarrassment for the Congress central leadership.

A voice vote in a chaotic House passed a “government resolution” moved by Congress chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy that asked the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 2013 be rejected and sent back to the President.

In a scene that would make the Congress squirm, its “rebel chief minister” emerged jubilantly from the House chanting “Jai Samaikyandhra” (victory to united Andhra).

But senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh stressed that Article 3 of the Constitution gives Parliament sole power to carve out new states. The opinion of the Assembly concerned has to be taken, but it’s a formality.

“The Andhra Pradesh House has done its job of opinion-gathering. The vote on the chief minister’s resolution will have no impact on the bill,” Digvijaya said in Delhi.

“The formation of a Telangana state has crossed a major milestone. We will now take the process forward in the group of ministers and Parliament and ensure the formation of Telangana as scheduled.”

However, the bill’s opponents are hoping the BJP and the Samajwadi Party would cite today’s outcome to seek amendments to the bill when it comes up in Parliament, thus delaying the statehood process.

The BJP is pro-statehood but wants to guard its interests in Seemandhra (Rayalasema and coastal Andhra), while the Samajwadis, who have little stake in the region, are against bifurcation on principle.

President Pranab Mukherjee had sent the bill to the Assembly on December 12, and the debate on it began on December 16.

The bill was always going to be rejected — the exercise took just nine minutes today after over six weeks of debate -— because the House of 294 has 175 members from Seemandhra and only 119 from Telangana.

Eye on Delhi

The action now shifts to Delhi. Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao said nothing could stop statehood for Telangana.

“I have been informed of the dates on which the Telangana bill would be passed in Parliament,” he said.

Rao said he would camp in Delhi to drum up support for the bill and “come back to a Hyderabad that is part of a Telangana state”.

But Union ministers, MPs and MLAs from Seemandhra are also planning a similar campaign. Several Andhra-based NGOs and the agitating state government employees from Seemandhra too plan to take their battle to Delhi during the next Parliament session.

Seemandhra Congress MP Undavalli Arun Kumar said a no-confidence motion would be moved against the Centre to prevent the Lok Sabha from taking up the statehood bill.

However, an earlier plan to move a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on the same ground had been aborted because of a lack of numbers.

House drama

Earlier, the Assembly, which had just paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, resembled a battlefield.

Seemandhra members from the Telugu Desam, Congress and the YSR Congress formed a wall around Speaker Nadendla Manohar’s podium to prevent Telangana members from disrupting proceedings.

A member from the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which spearheaded the statehood movement, climbed atop the table of the legislative secretary and tried to jump at the Speaker but was dragged down by the marshals.

The Speaker adjourned the Assembly sine die after the voice vote on the chief minister’s resolution, saying it was no longer necessary to vote on the 10-odd “non-official” resolutions moved by other opponents of the state’s division.

He said “86 MLAs have spoken and nearly 9,074 amendments suggested”, and that the process of opinion-gathering, as advised by the President, was now complete.

“All the documents tabled in the House, amendments, written affidavits and the text, audio and video copies of the speeches by MLAs will also be sent to the President,” Manohar said.

State endowment minister C. Ramachandraiah had moved a similar anti-statehood resolution in the legislative council — which was not a constitutional requirement —in an expression of solidarity. This too was passed today.

Popular mood

Crackers were burst and sweets distributed in major Seemandhra towns and special prayers held in temples, mosques and churches. “Half the battle is won,” claimed Vijayawada Congress MP Lagadapati Rajgopal.

But at Hyderabad’s Osmania University, students shouted slogans against the chief minister and tried to march to the Assembly before being thwarted by police. Cops and paramilitary forces guarded the Assembly and key installations anticipating unrest.

Shops, offices, schools and colleges were shut across Seemandhra today, with protesters stopping state-owned buses and private vehicles.

By getting the bill rejected in defiance of his party leadership, Kiran Reddy may have emerged taller in Seemandhra. But Telangana Congress leader and state panchayati raj minister K. Janareddy and deputy chief minister Damodar Rajnarasimha dismissed the House decision as a “gimmick”.