The Telegraph
Friday , February 7 , 2014
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Cong gets set to act tough on Telangana bill

New Delhi, Feb. 6: The Congress leadership today geared for tough action to get the Telangana bill passed early next week, with disruption by Andhra MPs having already cost two days of the brief parliamentary session.

Sources said the party was considering the removal of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy.

Reddy’s dogged opposition has prevented the Centre from fulfilling its promise on Telangana, which is part of a Congress strategy to salvage some political space in a state that provided it with the cutting edge in the last two Lok Sabha elections. Sources said Reddy’s ouster was a foregone conclusion.

The Congress core committee will meet tomorrow around 6.30pm to finalise its course of action. The cabinet is expected to clear the statehood bill at a meeting at 4.30pm, setting the stage for its consideration by Parliament.

The Group of Ministers (GoM) on the bill met today and decided to make a few changes, which were not made public. Sources said the GoM seriously considered the Andhra leaders’ demand for declaring Hyderabad a Union territory.

The Telangana leaders, however, reacted angrily to the proposal, arguing that the people of the new state would feel betrayed and that the Congress would gain little politically by taking this “suicidal step”.

One senior Congress MP said: “By making Hyderabad a Union territory instead of a joint capital for some years, the Congress will shut its shop in both states.”

The cabinet could revisit this subject tomorrow. The bill will include a huge financial package for the Seemandhra region, in addition to major educational institutions.

The GoM also examined a demand to incorporate the Bhadrachalam subdivision of Khammam district into residuary Andhra. The Andhra MPs had demanded the shifting of 137 Bhadrachalam villages to Seemandhra.

But such concessions, if made, are unlikely to impress the Andhra MPs who are against the state’s division. The bill can be passed in Parliament only by removing these MPs from both Houses.

The party has delayed the decision by a few days as a precautionary measure for the Rajya Sabha elections in the state, which will be held tomorrow.

Congress MLA Adala Prabhakar Reddy had joined the fray as a rebel and sought votes on the “United Andhra” plank, casting a shadow of uncertainty on the fate of the three official Congress candidates. Although he withdrew from the contest tonight, the Congress didn’t want to take chances and will wait for the elections to end.

Asked why the Congress had not acted against the Andhra chief minister and the defiant MPs and MLAs, senior party leaders argued that the high command understood their dilemma as the people they represented were opposed to the bifurcation.

One leader said: “It is such an emotive issue, and the whole of Andhra is opposed to the division. When two children fight in a family, the parents don’t throw one of them out of the home. If we act against the defiant leaders, every single party worker will have to be sacked. We have to show patience and try to find a way out with minimum damage.”

The removal of the chief minister, however, appears an imperative as he has refused to facilitate the state’s division. The agitating MPs too will have to be suspended temporarily to ensure smooth functioning of the House.

However, the BJP has opposed any such action, apparently with the intention of blocking the bill’s passage.

After the loss of two days, nobody expects any business to be accomplished even tomorrow but the government is looking for a window next week.

The session ends on February 21 and the interim rail budget as well as the vote-on-account will have to be passed as part of a constitutional obligation.

The six anti-corruption bills that Rahul Gandhi is pushing will be an additional challenge and are unlikely to be passed.