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HYDERABAD: Sonia Gandhi has a problem these days. A majority of her party men who have anything to do with Andhra Pradesh have been telling her for t he last four years that she should go ahead and set the ball rolling for a separate Telangana state. But her most trusted lieutenant in the state, chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, is stridently opposed to the move.
YSR is today the tallest Congress leader in the state that once had stalwarts like P V Narasimha Rao. YSR, as he is popularly known, is fanatically loyal to Sonia. Moreover, YSR is enterprising and a major source of resources for the Congress nationally. This means that the Congress president cannot brush aside his advice, especially at a time when the party is seemingly on the retreat in many parts of the country.
Yet the resident of 10 Janpath is now under more pressure than ever to act. The party's main rival in the state, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which was vociferously opposed to the idea of a Telangana state has taken a 180-degree turn and is ready for a separate state.
"In this situation we can't just sit still and not take a fresh view on Telangana," said a Congress politician in Hyderabad. He added: "That will be suicidal for us. We will be isolated as an anti-Telangana party and lose votes in the region."
Telangana has 119 out of the total 294 seats in the Andhra Pradesh assembly. The Congress's main rival at the Centre, the BJP, is quite clear that it will create a separate Telangana if it comes to power in New Delhi.
Incidentally, the Congress went to the 2004 polls with a promise of Telangana and for good measure fought the elections jointly with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The TRS has now parted ways with the Congress for the latter's reluctance to create a separate state after the elections. More important, it is now in the final stages of sewing a pre-election deal with the TDP.
Though Sonia and her main advisers in Delhi had been toying with the idea of Telangana, they never foresaw that Chandrababu Naidu would pull a rabbit out of his hat. "So long as he opposed Telangana more stridently than us, it was a level playing field for us, but no longer so," says a Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh. With her eyes trained on coming to power in 2009, Sonia had always been asking Congressmen: "Will creation of Telangana, help us to sweep Telangana?"
YSR and his associates invariably told her: "No, Madam. We will lose more than we gain because we will be wiped off in the rest of Andhra Pradesh, where people shirk at the prospects of the division of the state." YSR also said that giving in to the demand for a Telangana state would give rise to a demand for a separate Rayalaseema.
So it would not be just bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh but a trifurcation of the state that New Delhi would have on its hands. The chief minister also proffered that the demand for Telangana was overplayed and with rapid growth that he was targeting, the sentiment would go away. YSR further warned that Telangana would become a hot bed for Maoists, whose writ ran in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh.
Though other Congressmen doubted the correctness of YSR's arguments, the party boss could not take a decision in the face of contradictory advice. Of course, this also had to do with the issue of Telangana getting linked with the demand for creation of Vidarbha among others. Faced with this situation, Sonia did what politicians do best: she set up a UPA subcommittee to report on the matter. That subcommittee headed by the man for all seasons Pranab Mukherjee is still deliberating. These days when asked about the prospects of Telangana, YSR goes on the defensive: "I do not know. The decision has been left to Madam