Unfazed by the pro-Telangana State proponents, Dr. S. Shailajanath, an unassuming but key Minister in the Kiran Kumar Reddy-led Congress government, in-charge of School Education, strongly reiterates the case for a united Andhra Pradesh. Excerpts from an exclusive interview he gave to M.R. Venkatesh in Hyderabad recently:
THC: Do you think the Congress can no longer delay its decision on Telangana, as it is now seen as a core issue in the run-up to the 2014 elections?
Dr. Shailajanath: No, I wouldn’t say that. The time has come to take a decision on the future of the State. It may be divided or be like this, unified. But it is definitely a core issue in the elections in both the areas. I agree with that. Even the recent survey by The Hindu [the CNN-IBN-The Hindu poll conducted by CSDS], says that 63% of the people [respondents] in Telengana are demanding for the ‘T’ State, while more than 70% in coastal Andhra and over 60% in Rayalaseema region are for a united State. So, people are eagerly waiting to see what happens. But the UPA government (in Delhi) stands for a united State; because this has been given by the Congress party those days; both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs. Indira Gandhi stood for a united State. Today also, a united State of Andhra Pradesh will bring more electoral benefits for the party.
THC: But there are reports that the government is favourably considering Telengana.
Dr. Shailajanath: No, these are just hearsay and some media reports. But till today, this minute, no responsible person [in the Central Government] has opened his/her mouth, for or against, on this issue.
THC: What is your stand on the Srikrishna Committee’s six options on the T-issue and which is the most practical to implement?
Dr. Shailajanath: They [the Committee] have already disclosed that it is the sixth option which can be implemented with the widest consensus. They have said that it should remain a united State, and whatever grievances Telengana region people have, we will sit across the table and address all those issues.
THC: But do you think the Congress will implement the Srikrishna Committee’s sixth option?
Dr. Shailajanath: I hope so, because the Srikrishna Committee was set up by the Congress-led UPA government only. Basically, problems related to formation/division of States are the concern of the Central government. So, it is a problem of governance, of the administration. It is in that backdrop that the Government of India appointed the Srikrishna Committee. It has given its report. Definitely, they will take a decision. Even our party in-charge of the State, Mr. Digvijaya Singh, has said that they will take into consideration the Srikrishna Committee report.
THC: What are your objections to the Telangana State? They say they are only asking for their original State with Hyderabad as the capital.
Dr. Shailajanath: You can’t reply to this in two or three words. We strongly believe in the State remaining united. Please go back and see what the scene was in those days when the two States were there. But it is only in Andhra Pradesh in the last four to five decades, that particularly the Dalits, the OBCs, weaker sections, Muslim minorities and women, have seen vast development in society, in both financial and social aspects. There is no doubt that this was possible only in a united Andhra Pradesh. They are also safer in this united State.
THC: But your own Congress MPs and MLAs from the two regions are divided over the Telangana issue.
Dr. Shailajanath: It is the greatness of the Congress party. It is the most democratically functioning party. So they give a choice to all the stakeholders to deliberate on the issue and speak their views. Ours is not a party like the Telugu Desam or Jaganmohan Reddy’s party. It is a democratic party under the great leadership of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi; we work democratically. So this dissent is the greatness of the Congress party.
THC: Will the Congress high command’s position be finally accepted by all?
Dr. Shailajanath: They are repeatedly saying that they will deliver a good result, a good end. I hope that the good end will always be a united Andhra Pradesh, because it is only in a few districts that the TRS problem is there, maybe not more than five districts. In the remaining, it is the sway of the Congress party and other opposition parties. So, I think sentiment alone cannot give a new State.
THC: Alternately, do you think the Rayala-Telangana proposal is workable?
Dr. Shailajanath: You see, at this time, I am thinking of only one, single line; that is, nothing is acceptable except united Andhra Pradesh.
THC: If the Centre concedes Telangana, how will the government cope with the backlash, for there is a fear that coastal Andhra will again erupt into lawless activities.
Dr. Shailajanath: Definitely, the recent history is there. On that day, Dec 9, 2009, after they [the Centre] announced [the intent to form a separate Telangana State], without any prodding or motivation from the leadership, for 10 to 15 days the entire coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema was paralyzed. If the time comes again, they will agitate more; definitely, whenever a threat comes to them [people of those two regions], they will react.
THC: But will your government act effectively if Parliament passes a law by majority?
Dr. Shailajanath: I am not going that far. We hope the State will remain like this only.
THC: You expect the status quo to remain?
Dr. Shailajanath: Yes, definitely. It is not that kind of a simple issue, or a border dispute or anything like that. It is really not a dispute. It is an issue of inter-dependability. The dependability is from region to region. For example, in Telengana, they are utilising more than 5,000 million units (MU) of power on an average till today. But they are producing only 2,000 to 3,000 MUs, like that. For their lift irrigation schemes in future, they will need another 5,000 to 7,000 MU of electricity. It is impossible... because the Godavari river is always beneath; they are upland. So, they are always on lift irrigation. Like this if you see, every party of the State is dependent on each other.
THC: How will you convince the people in Telangana that a unified Andhra Pradesh is better for all?
Dr. Shailajanath: This is not the first incident in the history of Andhra Pradesh. First, for the unity of the Telugu people, the first voice came from Telengana only; before the formation of the State of Andhra Pradesh after dividing from Tamil Nadu, we came into the Andhra State. From the region of Telengana they demanded and then both the Assemblies passed a resolution for unification. Later, we faced two agitations, ‘Jai Telengana’ and ‘Jai Andhra’. In 1971, I think, the Andhra people agitated more, staged a bigger agitation than this. But on that day Indira Gandhiji said, without any doubt, that the State must remain united. To give further clarifications, the great leader on that day in the Parliament made a speech on this State. So, this is not new to the State. But any problem, we will definitely sort out across the table.