In its game of nerves with the BJP, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government played a dangerous game of brinkmanship — and finally succeeded on Tuesday in pushing through the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill in the Lok Sabha. The slogan-shouting MPs and the steady exchange of hostilities across the house for 85 minutes did not deter the BJP MPs from standing up repeatedly to clear the historic Bill.
All through the last fortnight, as the BJP set conditions for its support for the Bill that included a calm House, no suspensions of MPs, a special package for Seemandhra, and the Telugu Desam Party, the YSR Congress and the Congress’s own leaders opposed to the creation of Telangana kept the pressure up, the Congress did not once lose its nerve.
If the Congress’s success in pushing through the Bill has improved its prospects in Telangana, and increased the likelihood of its coming to an electoral arrangement with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the BJP’s unequivocal support for the legislation has adversely affected its chances of a tie-up with the TDP, which is on the comeback trail at least in Seemandhra.
While the Congress’s Telangana MPs appear to think that the TRS will now be compelled to have an electoral alliance, and that the two together can win at least 14 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats there, the party’s central leaders are not so sanguine. A senior party leader told The Hindu that the TRS would drive a hard bargain — there are at least six seats where the large number of settlers from Seemandhra could go against the two parties. The TRS on its part has asked for eight seats though it won just two in 2009, and the Congress 12. TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao is likely to reveal his plans after the Bill is cleared in the Rajya Sabha.
In the Seemandhra region, of the Congress’ 21 MPs, the six who moved a no-confidence motion against the government have already been expelled; many of the remaining 15 are now looking for fresh pastures. The Congress’s prospects here are negligible, say party sources, and the TDP and the YSR Congress could win the bulk of the seats. If the YSR Congress had started with an advantage in Seemandhra, Jagan Mohan Reddy has paid for his silence on the Congress after he got bail last year shortly after the Congress Working Committee announced it was in favour of Telangana.
The TDP used this against him, saying it meant he had a secret understanding with the Congress. That is why the last few days have seen Mr. Reddy attacking Congress president Sonia Gandhi frontally, even referring to her Italian origins, and hinting he could even go with the BJP — something now ruled out after the latter voted for the Telangana bill. And if Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy quits the Congress on Wednesday as he has promised and forms a new party, he could pick up a few seats as well.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s support to Telangana has upset the TDP. TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, who had flown on Sunday to Chandigarh to meet the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, looked crestfallen on Tuesday. Sitting in his parliamentary office here, he said, “I will go back to Hyderabad and discuss with my party, my people.”
Asked whether he still intended to tie-up with the BJP, he said, “This is not the time to speak of alliances.” But party sources said it would be difficult now for the TDP to explain an arrangement with the BJP in the Seemandhra region. Indeed, the TDP’s old ally, the CPI(M), was seen making overtures to it on Tuesday as its MPs, from West Bengal and Kerala, stood in the well all through the discussion and din with placards opposing the division of Andhra Pradesh.