The battle of egos between the chief ministers of the two states has reached the Supreme Court and is a long festering one. How will the center handle it?
By Bhavdeep Kang
THE slugfest between the chief ministers of Andhra and Telangana, each bashing the other on the noggin with criminal charges, may be a comic treat for YouTube viewers. But in the two newbie states, no one is laughing. Least of all the legal community. [See video War of Words Between Two CMs]
Wily Telangana CM K Chandrashekhar Rao or “KCR” deftly set the ball rolling by entangling his Andhra counterpart Chandrababu Naidu or “Babu” in a cash-for-votes scam. Babu hit back at KCR with telephone-tapping charges. They threw the book—in this case, the IPC—at each other and the matter is now before the Supreme Court. Other flash points include serious concerns such as water-sharing and petty ones like denial of a building permit for Babu’s new house in Hyderabad.
The fisticuffs are fuelled as much by a clash of egos as the acute economic disparities between the two regions. The feud between the two, once buddies or at least co-conspirators and now sworn enemies, is long standing.
AP HIGH COURT
Perhaps the most immediate of many concerns is the bifurcation of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and the filling of vacancies in the lower courts. Currently, say Telangana lawyers, the composition of judges is heavily weighted in favor of Andhra. Earlier this year, the AP High Court ruled that it would serve both states until the central government sets up a separate court for Andhra, after which the Hyderabad HC would serve Telangana (in accordance with Section 31 of the AP Reorganisation Act 2014). A division bench comprising then Chief Justice Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta and Justice PV Sanjay Kumar put the ball in the center’s court, adding that the AP government would have to decide where to set up the new HC.
For Telangana, a separate HC is a matter of urgency. According to Shravan Kumar, who represents the Telangana Young Advocates’ Association: “Of the 49 judges, only six are from Telangana. The rest are mainly from Andhra. In the lower judiciary, we find 85 percent domination by Andhra.” In the matter of filling up vacancies, this gives Andhra a natural advantage. Says Kumar: “In Andhra, there is a culture of competitive examinations, which we in Telangana do not have. So they walk away with all the posts, in every field.”
The Supreme Court has ordered that all vacancies be filled by mid-September, rejecting Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi’s plea that appointments cannot be made unless Telangana puts in place a separate judicial cadre. An order that must be obeyed for fear of swift reprisal. The removal of the Karnataka HC registrar-general for not respecting the deadline to fill up posts a couple of months ago has had a salutory effect.
Sentiment against Andhra and the union home ministry, responsible for bifurcation of the HC, runs high in Telangana. The perception that adjudication on the controversial Sections 8 and 10 of the AP Reorganization Act will go in favour of Andhra has added urgency to Telangana’s demand for bifurcation.
FRIENDS TURNED FOES
First, a brief recap. Babu and KCR started their careers with the Youth Congress, later switching to the Telegu Desam Party (TDP). Babu revolted against TDP founder (and his father-in-law), NTR, in 1995, with KCR taking his side. He later joined Babu’s cabinet. In 1999, Babu – then riding high as a key member of the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – relegated KCR to the post of deputy Speaker. It was an insult KCR would never forgive, particularly after intermediaries brokered a truce, only to have Babu renege on his commitments. KCR quit the TDP to launch the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in 2000.
The KCR-YSR Rajasekhara Reddy combine swept the 2004 assembly and Lok Sabha polls and KCR got a cabinet berth in the UPA government, only to quit in 2006 over the Telangana issue. Both KCR and Babu went into decline until YSR’s demise in 2009. The UPA finally caved and allowed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
Telangana, it is said, was an idea whose time had come, after 60 years of sporadic, at times bloody struggle. However, the move—dictated by the necessity of hanging on to the state which had the maximum number of MPs in 2004 and 2009—achieved the reverse. The Congress was decimated and both KCR and Babu surged back to power. Since then, they have bickered ceaselessly over the division of assets, control over institutions and common capital (for the next ten years) of Hyderabad.
Law and order is under Section 8 of the Reorganization Act, directly under the governor. Telangana questions the constitutional validity of Section 8, while Babu insists that guidelines be framed for its implementation. Section 8(3) is peculiar in that it says the governor shall act on the advice of the Telangana council of ministers but, at the same time, grants full discretion in exercising his “individual judgment”. The HC dismissed a PIL against Section 8 earlier this year. Governor ESL Narasimhan, being a UPA appointee, contends with a trust deficit vis-a-vis the two CMs, who watch out for any hint of partisanship.
A senior Congress leader observed that Babu’s belligerence is exacerbated by the fact that he was caught flat-footed in the cash-for-vote scam. “As I understand, his conversation with the nominated MLA who alleged a bribe had been offered to him by TDP, was inadvertently recorded by an aide and fell into the hands of the Telangana police. This gave KCR a club to beat him with,” he says. Babu, however, claimed the purported recording was fake and countered with a telephone-tapping charge. Two TDP MLAs have been arrested by the Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in connection with the charge of bribery. According to senior Eenadu journalist G Krishnamohan Rao, KCR was reined in only when home minister Rajnath Singh prevailed on him to go slow on the case after “Babu came to Delhi and met everyone”.
A more serious concern for Babu is the demand for special status to Andhra. While the UPA did not specifically include it in the Act, the Congress and the YSR Congress have both raised the demand, saying the promise of the then central government must be honoured. For Babu, putting pressure on the NDA to deliver is a political compulsion.
BJP general secretary P Murlidhar Rao observed: “Special status for Andhra has not been rejected. It is under consideration.” Regardless of this half-hearted assurance, in order to avoid upsetting Tamil Nadu and other neighboring states, Andhra will in all likelihood be generously compensated in ways other than the grant of special status. In parliament, MoS finance Rao Inderjit Singh had stated that special status was off the table for any and all states, other than the 11 already granted.
Like the bifurcation of the HC, division of assets is proving to be a slow process. The Sheela Bhide panel was set up last June to determine the disposition of state-level institutions between the two. A year-and-a-quarter later, de-merger reports have been submitted for only two-thirds of the 90 entities listed in the Act.
Water is a current and future flashpoint, now that Telangana is an upper riparian state. Any irrigation projects initiated by the state would impact Andhra. The semi-drought this year has sparked off a furious exchange of letters, each state charging the other with arbitrarily taking up new irrigation projects in violation of the AP Reorganization Act. Sharing of water from Nagarjunasagar and Telangana’s insistence on the Palamuru and Dindi lift irrigation projects have alarmed Andhra. Telangana has hit back by questioning the Pattiseema lift irrigation project.
The process of reorganization is delicate, given the prevailing sentiment in Telangana that it has historically gotten the short end of the stick. It sees itself as underdeveloped and discriminated against in terms of allocation of resources, although it is the custodian of considerable mineral wealth. People here are now impatient for freedom and want the state to chart its own course, even if means taking the occasional misstep—like the cheap liquor policy and motor vehicle entry tax.
Expediting the separation of the judiciary and division of assets will go a long way to defusing tensions between the two states. Even so, considerable tact and skill on the part of the central government is imperative to ensure that both parties are satisfied.