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Centre warms up for final Telangana push

New Delhi, Feb. 17: The government is gearing to push through the Telangana bill tomorrow, hoping that the suspension of the 16 “rogue” MPs in the battle’s front line would eliminate or minimise a replay of Thursday’s pepper-sprayed mayhem.

Sources said the UPA was counting on the BJP’s oft-repeated commitment to seeing a Telangana state carved out of Andhra Pradesh, although party representatives from the coastal and Rayalaseema regions appeared uncomfortable with the prospect of explaining why they had endorsed the division.

Another leader feeling the jitters was N. Chandrababu Naidu. The Telugu Desam Party chief, who is courting the BJP as a potential ally in Andhra, is said to be seriously weighing the political cost of a prospective team-up.

Desam sources said Naidu had pleaded with the BJP’s decision-makers to stall the bill’s passage. They said he implored the leaders to wait for tempers to “cool” on either side of the Andhra divide, use the issue electorally to “make gains” in both Telangana and Seemandhra, and think of carving out the new state only after a new government is installed in Delhi.

But the BJP — which exists only peripherally in Telangana — rejected Naidu’s proposal, saying it was bound to a “commitment” made way back in 1997.

Sources in the Lok Sabha secretariat said the government had decided on bringing up the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill after the interim budget is adopted tomorrow. “There will be an offer of a discussion, bringing amendments and putting them to vote, if possible. But if there is pandemonium, the government has decided to overcome it and pass the bill in the din. There is no looking back,” a source said.

On February 13, an MP from Andhra had pulled out a can of pepper spray just before the bill was tabled. Witnesses said he released the contents of the can and continued to do so even as some fellow members grappled with him. Sixteen MPs were suspended.

Late this evening, central minister Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra, and general secretary and newly elected Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh — once the Congress’s Andhra minder — sat with Rahul Gandhi and Seemandhra ministers.

The Seemandhra ministers, who still insisted they should be allowed to protest in the well of the House, were reportedly given a talking to and told it was “highly improper” to attend official receptions and hold government files and “embarrass” the government at the same time.

Ramesh, deployed as an interlocutor to negotiate with the BJP, held meetings with L.K. Advani, Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and Rajya Sabha MP M. Venkaiah Naidu, who is from Andhra.

Naidu and Sonia Gandhi had a brief tête-à-tête in Parliament when they crossed paths. Sonia stopped Naidu and reportedly said the BJP was “going back” on its “promise” to support the bill. Naidu’s counter was the Congress was “going back” because its ranks were “badly divided”.

Advani and Sushma asked Ramesh and home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in the course of a meeting what fiscal compensatory package the Centre had in mind for the non-Telangana regions. Sources said they offered a ballpark estimate and demanded that the government recompense Seemandhra with this amount for the loss it would suffer on account of “forfeiting” Hyderabad to Telangana.

Sources said after an initial no, Shinde and Ramesh said the government could consider rolling out compensation in phases.

The political assessment across parties was that while Sonia and Rahul were determined to get the bill through in this last session of Parliament before the elections, the BJP was opting for a “line of least resistance” because of its old commitment.

In Andhra, state Congress chief Botsa Satyanarayana hosted a meeting of Seemandhra MLAs, MPs and MLCs as the high command moved to set its house in order.

As the government waited with fingers crossed, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, Seemandhra’s most prominent player now, began massing up activists to demonstrate against Andhra’s bifurcation.

Police said eight trainloads of protesters arrived in Delhi today. While the YSR Congress leader spearheaded the protests at Jantar Mantar, some of his supporters gathered at the Ramlila Ground. Jagan was briefly detained by police when he marched towards Parliament.

Kiran Kumar Reddy

Andhra chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy will resign if the Telangana bill is taken up for debate in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, reports said. Several Andhra channels and online papers have claimed that Monday was Reddy’s last day in office. The chief minister, who has not been coming to the secretariat for the past 50 days, has directed his office to return all files to the chief secretary without going through them. Till last week, he used to clear files at an undisclosed location every weekend