TDP-TRS Fight Is More Than Just Phone-Tapping & Cash-For-Votes

Prashanth Bhat

Jun 16, 2015, 12:30 PM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 10:13 AM IST

A description of the politics at stake behind the ongoing tussle between KCR and Chandrababu Naidu.

On May 31st, the anti-corruption bureau of Telangana arrested Telugu Desam MLA Revanth Reddy for allegedly trying to bribe Elvis Stephenson, a nominated Anglo-Indian MLA to vote in favor of TDP in the legislative council elections.  A few hours after Reddy’s arrest, a video was leaked to the media where the TDP MLA was seen not only talking to Stephenson about the elections but also handing him over Rs 50 lakh in cash. The video which went viral has Revanth assuring Stephenson that he had the approval of his “boss” for the transaction.

The high-drama that followed the arrest and leaked video could have given a high-budget Telugu movie a run for its money. Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which is in power in Telangana, immediately demanded not only the resignation of the MLA but also the arrest of TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu for attempting to bribe an MLA ahead of elections.

On June 7th, the audio tapes of a purported phone conversation between Chandrababu Naidu and Stephenson surfaced in which Naidu was heard assuring Stephenson of honoring all “promises” made to him. Stung by these tapes, Andhra Pradesh government called for an emergency cabinet meeting asking the central government to handover law and order in Hyderabad, which is the common capital for both the states, to the Governor. While the Telangana government is considering booking AP Chief Minister for bribery, TDP leaders in Andhra filed several cases against Telangana CM for alleged phone-tapping. In an unprecedented situation, both the Chief Ministers are threatening to arrest each other.

The intense rivalry between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments is more than just about bribery and phone tapping. TRS, whose sole purpose was to achieve a separate state, has no stakes in Andhra while TDP which had ruled undivided Andhra Pradesh for over two decades, has 15 elected MLAs in the Telangana legislative assembly out of which five have jumped into TRS. With its repeated attacks and allegations on KCR and his family, TDP has positioned itself as the only credible opposition to the TRS government in Telangana. MIM is acting like a de-facto ally of TRS while Congress and BJP in Telangana lack strong leadership to take on Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao.

Therefore, it suits TRS to blame the TDP government in Andhra for all its problems ranging from water shortage to power supply. For instance, TRS workers in Telangana’s Nalgonda district set TDP office on fire accusing the AP government of stalling Telangana from generating power in Srisailam across Krishna river. Given a chance, Telangana government would any day prefer a conflict with its counterpart in Andhra because it puts the Telangana Telugu Desam party cadre on the defensive.

The slugfest between both the governments would not have been this bad if it wasn’t for TDP ruling Andhra Pradesh. Had YSR Congress been in power in Andhra (which I think would have been disastrous for AP), TRS wouldn’t have bothered to go to the extent of tapping phones because that party poses no threat to it in Telangana region. The TRS wants to completely destroy the opposition in Telangana while TDP is in no mood to give up on the region. Chandrababu Naidu spends more time criticizing Telangana Chief Minister than the opponent in his own state–Y S Jagan. The same holds true for Chandrasekhar Rao. Naidu is the punching bag for him. The ferocity and frequency with which they criticize and plot against each other would make one wonder if the states are really separated.

In the last five years of Telangana agitation, there was visible animosity between people from both the regions. People from Telangana and Andhra share anecdotes of being subject to discrimination, personal attacks, stereotyping or name-calling. That feeling of resentment for one another has drastically come down in the last one year even as both the governments are trying too hard to make their fight of political one-upmanship appear as a conflict between both the states.

Such constant battle between Chief Ministers and governments is not a good sign in a country where Prime Minister talks about “Team India”. Both Telangana and Andhra are new states faced with their own unique challenges. A decade of Congress rule marred by massive corruption has left people of both the regions craving for good governance. Respective governments must focus on issues at hand and improve the quality of lives of people in their states instead of spending time in bringing each other down. Perhaps, that’s too much to expect and idealistic considering how corrupt and power-mongering Andhra and Telangana politicians have come to be in the last two decades.

What’s worrying is the Centre’s stoic silence on the tussle between  the TDP and TRS which is turning out to be a battle between the states. In the interest of people of Telangana and Andhra, the Centre must intervene and send a strong message to both the regional parties to stop indulging in petty politics and focus on governance.  Also, there is a lot of confusion on asset distribution, sharing of resources, jurisdiction and continuation of existing policies. For example, lakhs of students were left waiting for clarity on counselling for professional courses thanks to confusion on sharing fee-reimbursement.

The Centre must facilitate smooth transition of governance by creating a conflict redressal body. The Prime Minister must call for a meeting with both the Chief Ministers and convince them to work collaboratively for mutual benefit. Also, the Centre must ensure the implementation of the Andhra Pradesh reorganization act-2014, of which section-8 clearly places the law and order of the common capital under the control of the Governor.

This controversy has also highlighted the need to fix the loopholes in our anti-defection law. If five MLAs of TDP jump into TRS and become ministers without resigning as MLAs, then it is setting a bad precedent and a vicious circle.

Prashanth Bhat is a PhD student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland-USA.

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