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Quibble after headway on Telangana bill

New Delhi, Feb. 10: The Centre has secured the conditional support of the BJP for the Telangana bill but eleventh-hour questions within the government on the nature of the legislation appear to have forced it to reconsider plans to table the document in Parliament tomorrow.

A debate on whether the bill, which seeks to carve a new state out of Andhra Pradeh, has financial implications is at the crux of the uncertainty.

If the government concludes it will have a financial bearing, the legislation will be introduced in the Lok Sabha first and then in the Rajya Sabha. If a decision is not taken by tomorrow morning, the bill is unlikely to be tabled before Wednesday.

President Pranab Mukherjee green-flagged the draft today. Until the doubts about the financial implications cropped up, the government had more or less decided to table it on Tuesday. A decision was also taken not to allow visitors into the Rajya Sabha when the bill is brought in to minimise chances of disruption.

Unlike in the Rajya Sabha where the government has readied a back-up plan, the process might be more arduous in the Lok Sabha where the battle lines between the pro-and-anti-Telangana votaries, across party lines, are firmly drawn.

The BJP has come on board and signalled its intent to facilitate the bill’s passage with conditions that the government has agreed, to “consider”, sources said.

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath called on Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley this morning and discussed the modalities of the legislative exercise.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also invited Jaitley, L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh to dinner on February 12. However, BJP sources said the occasion had less to do with legislative agenda and more to do with the courtesies extended to the principal Opposition party in the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha. “It’s a kind of farewell dinner,” a source said.

Between them, the Congress and the BJP have enough strength in the upper House to pass the bill, although the BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, placed its opposition on record.

The BJP’s caveats were the Telangana bill was “too serious” to be introduced, let alone passed, amid pandemonium.

It also insisted that the government must not deploy force to throw out the dissenters who include members of the Congress. The opponents from the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party had obstructed proceedings in Parliament last week and forced repeated adjournments.

Since the BJP is against deploying marshals to evict “errant” MPs, the only option before the Rajya Sabha’s presiding officer is to name the members and bar their entry into the House after one adjournment.

Among the clauses the BJP objected to were making Hyderabad the common capital of Telangana and Seemandhra and vesting the enforcement of law and order with the governor without converting Hyderabad into a Union territory.

“If Hyderabad is not made a Union territory, how can the jurisdiction of one state where the capital is located (Telangana in this case) extend over another state (Seemandhra)?” a leader asked.

The BJP demanded a “justice package” for Seemandhra that called for a huge financial compensation and the region’s due share from the common resources it shared with Telangana.

The BJP’s decision to back the bill was powered by pressure from its Telangana members who contended that the party must support it without weighing in political gains and losses.

“We are 100 per cent committed to the passage of the bill because it is a question of honouring an old commitment we stuck to and keeping our credibility intact.

“I will go to the extent of saying, with or without amendments, we should support the bill because we do not want to take the blame for allowing it to be defeated on the floor of the House,” said G. Kishan Reddy, the Andhra BJP president and Amberpet MLA.

Initially, a section in the BJP had said that rather than “allowing” the UPA to pass the bill and “walking away with the credit”, the BJP should await its turn to come to power at the Centre and preside over Telangana’s birth.

The argument was not favoured by a majority in the BJP that felt the party should not be seen as reneging on a “commitment” made back in 1997 in the prelude to the Lok Sabha polls.