“If in the people’s movement, some people lost their lives… we are sorry for that. But you cannot hold the (then) Central government responsible,” Chidambaram said, when asked about BRS chief and Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao’s (KCR’s) remark that the Congress had delayed the formation of Telangana, which had led to loss of lives.
While Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka have all at different times condoled the loss of lives in the statehood agitation, Chidambaram’s apology is significant as he was the Union Home Minister on December 9, 2009, when the Congress government at the Centre made an almost midnight announcement that the process to initiate the formation of Telangana will begin soon.
Chidambarama’s announcement came 11 days into KCR’s “indefinite” fast, starting November 29, 2009, for separate statehood, with tensions running high. On December 9, Chidambaram brought the fast to a close with his statement, which also noted that December 9 was Sonia Gandhi’s birthday and that the process of creating Telangana was her gift to the people of the state.
Eventually, the state came into existence five years later, with the passage of a Bill in Parliament in February 2014.
According to official records, 369 people lost their lives in the first Telangana agitation in 1969. While the total number of martyrs is disputed, over 100 youths are believed to have committed suicide in the movement reignited after the demise of then united Andhra CM Y S Rajashekara Reddy in a chopper crash in September 2009. The leadership vacuum helped KCR give a push to his long-lasting demand.
After Parliament had passed the Bill to recreate Telangana, KCR was asked if would thank Sonia or merge his party TRS (as BRS was called then) with the Congress. He famously said: “When India got Independence, did Indian leaders run to thank Queen Elizabeth? The Congress is a sinking ship, why would I merge my party with it? We fought for Telangana, my party will form the next government.”
Chidambaram’s apology is seen as another attempt by the Congress to get some credit for the formation of Telangana, which happened under the UPA government. As the face of the agitation, it is KCR who has so far garnered the political gains accruing from it.
KCR, who broke away from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 2001 to float the TRS , won the 2014 elections to the Telangana part of combined Andhra with 63 seats. In the Assembly elections held in 2018, which he brought forward, the TRS – still riding the Telangana goodwill – bettered its 2014 performance, and returned with 88 seats in the 119-member House. Later, an Independent MLA joined the TRS.
On the other hand, the Congress has little to show for its role in the formation of Telangana. While the truncated Andhra Pradesh shut it out completely in the 2014 and subsequent 2019 polls, in Telangana, it has been outclassed by KCR.
In 2014, the Congress won 21 seats despite the pro-TRS wave, but the newly formed Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee was so divided and disorganised that they could not prevent their MLAs from switching to the TRS.
In the December 2018 Assembly elections, the party won 19 seats but as many as 12 of them switched to KCR in June 2019.
While former Telangana Congress chief N Uttam Kumar Reddy continues to hope for Telangana gains to reach the Congress, party leaders admit that they have missed the bus.
“KCR and the TRS wrested credit from the Congress as we did not have a strong leadership. The AICC leadership too did not take much interest in Telangana, and we did not get any benefit. All the laurels were taken away by KCR,” a party leader says.
Senior Congress leader and former Rajya Sabha MP V Hanumanth Rao admits that KCR has been successful in projecting himself as the hero of the statehood movement.
This election too, the Telangana issue is at the forefront. In June, KCR inaugurated a Rs 179-crore Telangana Martyrs Memorial built by his government. He also promised withdrawal of cases related to the agitation, as well as compensation and government jobs for next of kin of martyrs.
The Opposition accuses the government of making tall claims but neglecting martyrs and their families.
During his remarks Thursday, Chidambaram criticised KCR for claiming in his speeches that he alone was responsible for the creation of Telangana. “KCR emerged as the leader of the separate state movement, but I hope he is not saying that the people have nothing to do with that… I am told that he makes that claim everywhere… If he is saying that, the people will answer him in the elections,” Chidambaram said.
A day later, the Congress released its manifesto including a promise to honour ‘Telangana Movement Martyrs and Fighters’, and other assurances as made by the BRS for them.