Public memory is proverbially short, but politically long. K. Chandrasekhar Rao says Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi promised a separate Telangana in the UPA's common minimum programme of 2004. He supported and joined Manmohan's first government against that promise, and stayed put for a while without a portfolio. Now honour your word, he says.
Much water has flowed down the Krishna and the Godavari since 2004. Most of it, say the Telanganis, into the fertile Andhra, leaving Telangana dry. The promise, they say, was reiterated twice by Manmohan's home ministers—P. Chidambaram in 2009 and Sushil Shinde a month ago. A wise guy has gone to court, praying for prosecution of these gentlemen for cheating. If political promises were justiciable like fundamental rights, India would have been ruled not from Raisina Hill but from Tihar Jail.
“Every politician,” said G.K. Chesterton, “is emphatically a promising politician.” Not Manmohan Singh. He has never promised Telangana. The 2004 CMP read: “The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana state at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus.” Straighten the italics, which are mine and the printer's, and you get a delightfully vague statement of impious intentions. Believe me, in the last eight years Manmohan has mentioned the T-word just thrice, all in passing, once in Parliament, twice to the press.
The CMP didn't say Telangana will be conceded; it said Telangana will be considered. It didn't offer Telangana on the spot; it offered Telangana after due consultations, which are continuing. The CMP didn't give a deadline; it gave a lifeline to a dying movement.
The Telangana demand is as old as the demand for a Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh and a Punjabi-speaking Punjab. Potti Sriramulu fasted to death for Andhra and got the principle of linguistic states propounded. Tara Singh and Fateh Singh fasted more than once for a Punjabi Suba and got the linguistic principle recognised. (Salute the spirit of Fateh who broke his 1965 fast when Pakistan attacked India.) Darshan Singh Pheruman fasted to death, but could not get Chandigarh for Punjab.
Telangana simmered through all these, but never boiled over. Not even when A.B. Vajpayee, whose BJP had promised it in its 1998 manifesto, dumped Telangana but created Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. In the process he dumped the linguistic principle and created the small-state principle.
Soon Rao formed the TRS; the Congress roped him into an alliance, got him five seats in the Lok Sabha, gave him a cabinet berth and dumped him in six months. Rao fasted, Telangana boiled over. Chidambaram hemmed, Manmohan hawed, Telangana exploded. Now the Congress says the AP Assembly has to pass a resolution to enable bifurcation by Parliament. Bunkum! The Constitution doesn't say so. It is only an NDA-made guideline.
Mitchell's law says that any simple problem can be made insoluble if enough conferences are held to discuss it. Ten years ago few were asking for Telangana, few were opposing it. Today, after consultations, committees, commissions, conferences and all-party meetings each of which brought in new stakeholders, millions are asking for it, and millions are opposing. The Godavari will be on fire if you give it; the Krishna will be on fire if you don't. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Tailpiece: There is a precedent of a territorial issue being decided through referendum. After their accession to India, Goans were asked to decide if they would join Maharashtra. They voted for a separate territory. The heavens didn't fall; the Portuguese didn't come back.
But where will you hold a Telangana referendum? In the Telangana region or in the entire Andhra Pradesh?