One would not generally expect regional parties to gloss over federal issues, having a bearing on the Centre-state relations, while taking political positions.
However, all the four prominent regional parties in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh surprised political observers when they threw their weight behind the NDA government and backed its controversial move to revoke Article 370, bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir and downgrade the state to Union Territory status.
Cutting across political differences, the regional parties — Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress Party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Jana Sena — came out in support of the repeal of the constitutional provision that provided special status to the border state for over seven decades and the bill to split Jammu and Kashmir into two centrally-administered territories. Unlike the AIADMK or Shiv Sena, none of these parties is a member of the NDA government.
Interestingly, the TDP, YSRCP and Jana Sena have been fighting for special status for Andhra Pradesh, following the bifurcation of the state in 2014, but had no hesitation in endorsing the end of special status of a different kind enjoyed by J&K.
Despite being strong advocates of upholding federal values and the rights of states, the TDP, TRS and YSRCP refrained from raising any objections over the issue in which the NDA government went ahead with its plan to change the basic structure of the border state without any due process of consultation and consensus building.
Opposition Congress leaders pointed out that each regional party had its own set of compulsions in toeing the NDA government’s line on crucial policy matters.
“It is an open secret that the Chief Minister (Jagan Mohan Reddy) is desperate to be in the good books of the BJP leadership because of the corruption cases hanging over his head. Similarly, Chandrababu Naidu is also worried about harassment by central agencies which are being used as a tool to go after the political opponents,” a senior Congress leader told The Federal.
On the TRS supremo and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s consistent backing of the Centre, the opposition leader said it should not come as a surprise because he had been “too willing to serve as a B-team of the BJP”. “Moreover, he needs liberal sanction of central funds to implement his populist schemes,” the Congress veteran said.
Regional parties provided unqualified support to the Centre on Jammu and Kashmir issue. The YSRCP was more gushing in its praise of the Narendra Modi government.
“Hats off to the Home Minister and the Prime Minister for their vision. This will completely solve the Kashmir problem. The bold and courageous step by Amit Shah will be remembered in the history of Indian Parliament forever. Our party president and our party wholeheartedly support the move,” the party’s Rajya Sabha member Vijayasai Reddy said.
KCR’s unqualified support was a bit surprising because he has been a strong advocate of federalism and had in fact toyed with the idea of floating a Federal Front of regional parties to serve as an alternative to the two national parties of Congress and BJP.
As someone who spearheaded the Telangana statehood movement and fought for greater autonomy for states, KCR, however, saw no problem in supporting the J&K Reorganisation Bill that does not enjoy the support of a majority of the elected stakeholders in the Valley.
Both the TDP and TRS often harp on the plank of ‘atmagauravam’ (self-pride) of the people of their respective states. But, they do not seem to care about similar sentiments of the Kashmiri people.
While these regional parties have been advocating more power to the states and reduced role of the Centre, they had no hesitation in endorsing the NDA government’s move to downgrade Jammu and Kashmir from a state to a Union Territory which will effectively mean Delhi rule.
On one hand, Naidu, Jagan and Pawan Kalyan have been vying with one another in demanding special status for AP but on the other, they voted to remove the special status of a different kind for Jammu and Kashmir.
During the bifurcation of AP ahead of the 2014 general elections, both TDP and YSRCP cried hoarse over the manner in which the then UPA government hurried through the AP Reorganisation Bill without any debate in Parliament. They had alleged that the division of the state was done against the will of the people of 13 districts of the state and that it was a classic case of violation of the federal spirit of the Constitution.
However, the two parties did not say a word on how the prominent public representatives of Jammu and Kashmir were put under house arrest and the sentiment on the ground in the Kashmir Valley was ignored while splitting the border state.
On Triple Talaq bill, both KCR and Chandrababu Naidu have indirectly helped the NDA government by directing their party MPs in the Parliament to abstain from voting on the legislation. With his stand of Triple Talaq bill and Kashmir, KCR has antagonised his political ally All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
The fear of further erosion of Hindu votes could be one of the reasons for TRS’ decision in refraining from opposing the Triple Talaq bill. The regional party suffered a major setback in the April 11 Lok Sabha elections when the BJP wrested three seats — Adilabad, Karimnagar and Nizamabad — from it, besides retaining Secunderabad.
The calculation in the TRS camp is that if it had gone with the other opposition parties and voted against the Bill, it would have only helped BJP make inroads into the Muslim women electorate and the TRS would have been accused of minority appeasement. In terms of votes, it would have meant lose-lose situation. On RTI amendment bill also, it supported the government, drawing flak from several quarters.
A common thread running through several legislations introduced by the NDA in the recent times has been an open attempt to centralise powers and dilute the federal spirit.
Despite being a formidable regional party, the TRS has been unwilling to articulate the rights of the states. Instead, it has been meekly accepting the Centre’s policy moves.
The TRS came out in support of the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, though the other regional parties like DMK and BJD have opposed it, saying it infringes on the rights of the states.
KCR also threw his weight behind the Dam Safety Bill, 2019, though several states have voiced their concern saying it would undermine the powers of the state governments since water is a state subject. The legislation virtually allows the Centre to take over the maintenance of the dams in the name of providing uniform safety measures across the country.