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Scramble to lift BJP’s Telangana hurdle

New Delhi, Feb. 19: The BJP has placed a hurdle in the way of the Telangana bill in the Rajya Sabha, forcing the government to work for a settlement before Parliament convenes tomorrow.

Sources said the principal Opposition party had tried to cut losses from a perception that had taken hold in Andhra Pradesh that it “caved in” far too easily before the Congress in pushing the bill through in the Lok Sabha without as much as moving a single amendment.

The BJP today insisted on several amendments to the bill, including tweaking the Constitution to legislate the special powers the governor will have as long as Hyderabad is the shared capital of Telangana and Seemandhra. The governor will be empowered to adjudicate over law and order in both states.

The Centre rejected the amendment proposal outright, arguing that with just two days to go before the session ends, it was not possible to take the amendment back to the Lok Sabha and ensure the House is in order before it is voted upon and passed. The BJP suggested passing the amendment in the Rajya Sabha first.

In a meeting BJP leaders Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and others held with the Prime Minister, it was pointed out that the provision for special powers to the governor was merely “transitional”. Union ministers Sushil Shinde and Kamal Nath and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel also attended the meeting.

However, the contention did not cut ice with the BJP. The leaders said the bill, in its entirety, might be legally tenable, but the provision could be challenged as violating Article 163 of the Constitution.

Article 163 states that in exercising his functions, the governor shall be aided and advised by a council of ministers, aided by the chief minister.

A source said: “Will he (the governor) consult the Telangana chief minister on a law-and-order matter concerning Seemandhra? One chief minister cannot be subordinated to another.”

The BJP also demanded a special central outlay of Rs 10,000 crore for Seemandhra in the year of its birth, after which the finance commission could determine the quantum of allocation.

In a late-evening meeting Jairam Ramesh held with Jaitley, Sushma and Venkaiah Naidu, the Union minister agreed to send the government’s formulation — separate from the bill — to the leaders. However, he had not sent it till late tonight. Sources said it was unlikely he would do so now.

Sonia’s request to the Prime Minister to grant Seemandhra special category status — like Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh — did not impress the BJP. It said a special status did not mean anything unless the specifics of a consolidated package for coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema were spelt out.

Naidu said a special fiscal grant to Seemandhra should be specified in a supplementary budget or incorporated in the Telangana bill — a demand the government would not accede to.

A statement from Jaitley late tonight said: “The BJP stands committed to the twin principle of creation of Telangana and justice for Seemandhra. Our effort in this regard shall continue tomorrow.

“The entire Opposition has insisted that the debate can take place only and only when the proceedings of the House are live telecast. People have a right to know what their representatives are speaking.”

Since the government was working hard for an “out of court” settlement with the BJP, according to parliamentary sources, Shinde will offer to make a statement on “justice for Seemandhra”.

If the BJP can be turned around, the bill will go through the Rajya Sabha. If not, the government will have to find the numbers from elsewhere.

In case there is no deal and a constitutional amendment is brought in, voted upon — the BJP has issued a whip to its MPs to be present tomorrow — and passed, the Telangana bill has to be treated as a new bill.

The “new” bill will have to be tabled in the Lok Sabha, voted upon after a discussion and a possible division and then passed. The bill that the Lok Sabha passed yesterday will lapse. The window for this is thin.

If the bill passed by the Lok Sabha is voted out in the Rajya Sabha, the government will not go since it is not a money bill.

But a new Telangana bill will have to be brought after due procedures such as vetting by concerned ministries and cabinet ratification. The new government will then have to take it up.

At the heart of the BJP-Congress face-off lies a polemical issue: in the political sweepstakes Andhra offers by way of 42 Lok Sabha seats, claiming proprietorship over the Telangana bill is an imperative for both parties.

The BJP had yesterday concluded that it had fallen between two stools. Its Telangana endorsement, sources said, might not pay off electorally because the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the Congress would be the major claimants. At the same time, it would lose the flicker of hope it had of getting a footprint in Seemandhra.

Apart from the Telugu Desam that was crestfallen by the BJP’s backing of the bill, the party’s own ranks in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema have demanded to know what had “forced” the Lok Sabha camaraderie with the Congress.

In the line of fire was Sushma. Since her speech was not shown live on Lok Sabha TV, there were rumours aplenty. None bothered to check the Lok Sabha proceedings put up verbatim on the designated website.

Particularly loud was the buzz about Sushma’s line that if “Soniaamma is enshrined” as the author of the new state, she, the “chinamma” (little mother), should also be remembered for honouring her party’s pledge to Telangana. Although Sushma mentioned that Seemandhra deserved justice, many in the BJP felt she ought to have pressed for amendments.

There were reports that Sushma’s effigies were gutted in Seemandhra when news spread that she had claimed the BJP was the only party whose workers and leaders from Telangana and Seemandhra were on the same page over the new state.

The BJP’s vibrant Twitterati dissed Sushma for always wanting to “cosy up” to Sonia and the Congress.