In the recently held by-elections in Telangana region, TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi), a political outfit that came into existence on the sole slogan of bringing statehood to the region of Telangana, lost many seats in both Assembly and Parliament thus causing a ‘setback’ to the Telangana Movement.
To being with, these elections were unnecessary. In India, it has become a fashion to resign from the MP or MLA posts citing some seemingly-pertinent-but-actually-irrelevant ‘cause’ thereby forcing a by-election onto the voters. And you would assume that the leader who has resigned would not contest these elections especially when the ‘cause’ is still unaddressed. But that’s not what happens in Indian politics. In fact, the leader who has resigned would actually compete in the elections though nothing has changed in the interim period. Nobody bothers to ask why he had resigned in the first place.
This particular practice is not limited to petty leaders. Even the high-ranking and most powerful people, like Sonia Gandhi, resort to such unnecessary practices.
Reason for by-elections
In the last Assembly and Parliament elections, TRS contested on a single point agenda - bringing statehood to the region. Most other political party leaders of the region had rejected such an idea (except Congress) mostly due to pressure from higher up leaders who were not convinced it was a viable idea. Congress tied up with TRS promising the people a new state called Telangana.
In those elections, TRS won a clear mandate winning 26 seats in the State Assembly and 5 seats in the Parliament. Many of its leaders, comprising some ragtag group of rejects, won with margins as high as 2 lakh votes. Congress won its share of seats too.
But once Congress got into power at Center and State, it did a volte face, and completely ignored the promise they made to the people of Telangana prior to the elections. They stalled all discussions on creation of a new state.
TRS, which had no other agenda other than seeking statehood to the region, attempted all kinds of political tricks while bargaining with Congress’ high command. All those attempts failed. In the end, TRS leader K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) took a brash decision to resign en masse. He believed that the support for his party was so much that he would win the seats that he has already won, with a majority that he has already enjoyed. An observer would find no reason for such elections, but KCR, who was forced into a corner since he could not achieve the only point his party vouched for, was overconfident and had different expectations.
In the by-elections held recently in those areas where TRS leaders resigned, TRS won only 7 out of 18 seats in the Assembly and only 2 out of 4 in the Parliament. So, in effect, it lost its ground by a huge margin by going to the polls. In effect, it is a rejection of KCR and his politics.
Many pundits and naysayers have concluded that these results are a clear indication of dissolution or dilution of Telangana ‘sentiment’. The very same sentiment that gave TRS and Congress combine an overwhelming mandate in the last elections seems to have waned and lost wind. These experts opine, now that TRS has lost many seats, there is no need to discuss Telangana issue anymore; there is no need to create a Telangana. The Telangana cause is dead, they pronounced.
Before I start giving my opinion on the outcome of these elections, let me assert one thing.
Telangana is not TRS
I have always maintained that Telangana is not TRS; and TRS is not Telangana. Just the way pre-Independent India was not Indian National Congress, Telangana is not TRS. To write off the aspirations of pre-Independent Indians to self-rule calling it a ‘political issue’ would not do justice to its people. In the same way, to write off the demand of millions of Telangana people to create a state for themselves as political gimmick would be a direct repudiation of their aspirations.
TRS is just a political outfit that came into existence to cash in on what is described as ‘Telangana sentiment’. For some time TRS has started to behave as if it had the monopoly on this ‘Telangana sentiment’.
So what is Telangana sentiment?
It is an opinion of the majority of the people living in Telangana region to have a separate Telangana state breaking away from Andhra Pradesh. This ‘sentiment’ exists since the time of creation of Andhra Pradesh itself right after Indian Independence. This sentiment has resulted in three major movements so far and has affected the psyche of this region, including its politics. Sometimes it became so prominent that it has become a violent protest or a backbone of political agenda, but most of the time, it was a passive one – something that is discussed during post-dinner conversations.
No matter how the political outcomes are interpreted by pundits and detractors, Telangana sentiment continues to thrive and only become stronger with each generation. The outcome of such a sentiment is an eventuality – which cannot be escaped but only delayed. And that outcome is creation of a new state called Telangana.
Why did TRS lose?
I am not ready to concede that the rejection of TRS is same as rejection of Telangana sentiment.
TRS is just any other political party with vested interests. And since they won the last elections, many TRS leaders have behaved in such arrogant manner that they have distanced themselves from the very people who voted them to power. In the recent past, many TRS leaders rebelled against its high command and left the party while some were kicked out. Out of 26 MLAs, 10 have aligned themselves with Congress Party rejecting KCR. Out of 5 MPs, 1 started a new outfit.
Some of the leaders got involved in passport scandals- they were caught trafficking humans to other nations using their diplomatic immunities. Some of them were embroiled in corruption scandals. Most of them were more interested in political maneuvers completely neglecting their duties. In fact, many things were grossly wrong with TRS other than its single point focus on Telangana cause.
While TRS was distancing itself from its people, most other political parties started to support Telangana cause and started to chant the same slogans. Many of the local leaders of other political parties deviated from the position of their high command, more in tune with realities on the ground, and started to promise a new state. TRS leaders, instead of embracing such political party leaders, started attacking them virulently, fearing that these parties would take away their stance. They didn’t want to share the mantle of Telangana cause with any other party. It’s like saying – It is our monopoly and we will not partner with anyone.
In these by-elections, many leaders from other political parties have chanted ‘Jai Telangana’, promised to bring statehood to Telangana and thus won the elections. Many leaders from TDP and Congress have supported the cause of Telangana and have gone on record saying they would fight for a separate state.
By doing so, they ensured that the cause of Telangana does not belong to just TRS but all political parties of the region. It’s a reality that has become a cause for all the leaders, not just TRS. It’s clear that no leader from Telangana can come to power by rejecting the cause. The only choice they have is to embrace it. The sentiment is so palpable you cannot escape it.
In these by-elections the people of Telangana had more than one choice to get their statehood. And those choices were TDP and Congress.
Should we be disappointed?
Though many detractors would like to see these results as rejection of Telangana cause, one cannot escape the reality- that the sentiment has only widened to embrace more political parties. The mantle of Telangana is not with TRS alone but with all political leaders of this region.
Though it is a minor setback, since many detractors would like to interpret this as drubbing of the cause, it is healthier for Telangana in the long run. An overwhelming majority with TRS would not have been good for future of Telangana. It is a party fraught with many ills.
India and referendums
India does not have a provision for holding referendum to decide the fates of its people. In absence of such referendums, people have to choose political parties and their agendas. Sometimes those political parties betray its people thereby completely disappointing its voters.
In 1971, following Telangana agitation of 1969, a political outfit came into existence to cash in on that sentiment. That political party, called Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS) won 10 out of 11 Parliament seats riding the popular mood for a separate state. The leader of that party, Chenna Reddy, instead of fighting for statehood, joined Congress Party and became the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
So, it’s not the first time that people of Telangana are betrayed by their own leaders. Yet, they do not give up hope. Telangana people have been waiting for over 50 years now for someone to deliver on their promises.
When do we get Telangana?
There is a very good chance that the leaders of other political parties who have championed the cause of Telangana in these elections would do another volte face citing pressure from high command. There is a good chance that the people of Telangana would once again be betrayed by its own leaders.
TRS, whom they had put all their bets on, did not deliver on the promise last time. Now, the divided mandate would do no good either.
The way the reasons for Indian Independence of 1947 came from unfolding of events elsewhere on the planet, the reasons for granting Telangana would come from New Delhi for reasons that would have no bearing on the aspirations of its people. It would be a political decision based in a larger game.
The way we all woke up to see new states like Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand that came into existence without a bang, we would one day wake up to see Telangana created – without a bang. Till then, we will have to put with the detractors and naysayers.