And so is Congress. The ugly scenes in the House on Telangana mirrored the party’s failures of leadership.
The august Lok Sabha turned into the arena for a brawl on Thursday, when the Telangana bill was tabled. Some dissent was expected from Seemandhra MPs, but nobody expected it to take the outrageous form it did, with expelled Congress MP from Vijayawada, L. Rajagopal, whipping out a can of pepper spray and firing it at fellow legislators.
Parliamentary privilege does not allow MPs to be frisked on entry, it is perhaps time to reconsider that immunity. MPs physically attacked each other in the well of the Lok Sabha, damaged microphones, broke glasses, and snatched the speaker’s papers. It was a sad day for Parliament.
It was also a dismal Congress versus Congress tableau. The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh was always going to be an acrimonious process. But its playing out as a raucous intra-party battle in the House mirrors the party’s slow-motion failure to provide judgement and leadership on the issue, at every step. The Congress cannot claim to have been taken by surprise — the political divisions on the issue were evident. Those from Telangana see statehood as the culmination of a struggle for selfhood as long as the history of independent India.
Those from Seemandhra resist the division with equal force — as a move that will affect commerce and livelihoods, access to water, power, the future of their capital. Political equations were also bound to be upset, and no one appeared to have as much to lose as Seemandhra politicians from the Congress. Yet the top Congress leadership failed to either anticipate and manage the escalation of tensions, or make the proposed partition as painless as possible by drawing in the two sides for a dialogue on questions of resource sharing.
Most of all, it failed to convey to its own party members that the decision on statehood was absolute. From the first moment of capitulation in 2009, and through the years of stalling since, the Congress has failed to impress upon its own members that it truly believes in Telangana. It did not explain the basis on which Telangana’s aspirations justified a separate state while other equally intense agitations for separate statehood are denied.
And having decided to go through with its decision, it did not immediately start working out the terms of separation. Till the end, Seemandhra MPs and MLAs led petitions to the Congress leadership, conveying to their constituents that things might still go their way. In all these years of dithering, the Congress looked like it wanted to play it both ways, until it abruptly sealed the deal on the brink of the general election. This implosion within its ranks now speaks of the Congress’s failure of political leadership.