Ironically, MIM is an unofficial ally of TRS and has emerged as the biggest Opposition party for the first time.
Woes of the Congress are far from over as 12 out of its 18 MLAs in Telangana have merged with the ruling TRS, thus robbing the main Opposition party status in the Assembly. As a result, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka will lose his Cabinet rank as the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the House. Now the party is left with just six MLAs in the Assembly of 119 members.
Another interesting development is that the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which has seven MLAs, will now occupy the main Opposition benches in the Assembly that meets sometime later this month. But, ironically, MIM is an unofficial ally of TRS.
The six remaining Congress MLAs will be seated as a bloc next to the AIMIM, but it is not clear whether Speaker Pocharam Srinivas Reddy recognises them as one party under the name of the Congress.
The official merger of CLP with TRS is a sort of blow to the Congress which has seen mixed results in the state for the last few months. The party fared badly in the 7 December Assembly elections by getting just 19 seats, but recovered fast in the 11 April Lok Sabha elections by bagging three MPs. As soon as the Assembly elections are over, TRS president and Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) lost no time and started wooing Congress MLAs one by one. In the last five months, as many as 11 of them had switched over to the TRS. Each of them separately met TRS working president K.T. Rama Rao and issued statements that they were joining TRS for developing their constituencies.
Those who joined are: Atram Sakku, Sabita Indra Reddy, Gandra Venkata Ramana Reddy, Regha Kantha Rao, Kandala Upender Reddy, Haripriya Naik, Vanama Venkateswara Rao, Chirumarthy Lingaiah, D. Sudheer Reddy, B. Harsha Vardhan Reddy and Jajula Surender. However, the resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy, who won as Nalgonda MP to his Huzurnagar MLA seat, on Wednesday made things easy for TRS leadership. After he quit his Assembly seat, the strength of Congress fell to 18 and the ruling party could secure the support of Pilot Rohit Reddy who was waiting for long to leave Congress. TRS was spared of waiting for one more Congress MLA.
The ruling party got into the act from Thursday morning and paraded the 12 Congress MLAs before the Speaker at his residence in Hyderabad around 12 noon. The legislators had handed over a letter to the Speaker urging him to merge their CLP with TRS and allot them seats in the treasury benches along with the ruling party members in the Assembly.
Obliging their request, the Speaker had signed orders merging the CLP with TRS and Legislature Secretary Narasimha Acharyulu issued a notification by evening declaring that the CLP had been merged with the TRS as the 12 legislators had constituted two-thirds of the total members of the party, in accordance with the 4th Para of Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.
This has triggered panic reaction from the Congress as Uttam Kumar Reddy, who heads the Pradesh Congress Committee and Bhatti Vikramarka, CLP leader had sat on a dharna in front of Mahatma Gandhi statue on the Assembly premises and termed the act of the Speaker as “murder of democracy”. Soon they were joined by other leaders, but all them were arrested and shifted to the police station. Uttam Kumar Reddy told this newspaper that the entire drama of so-called merger had taken place at the official residence of CM KCR and that the Speaker had become incommunicado to the Congress leaders who wanted to meet him and submit a memorandum to stop the merger process. “We have already filed a petition before the High Court seeking disqualification of the defected Congress MLAs,” said Reddy.
Congress leaders are planning to move the HC over the weekend, terming the decision of the Speaker as the contempt of the court. The party is also planning to approach the newly set up Lokpal and also lead delegations to the President of India, among others, on this issue. However, the TRS leaders dismissed the charges of Congress as “baseless”. “We (government) have no role to play in the entire episode of defections. The Congress MLAs having lost faith in their state and national leadership had decided to leave their party. The Speaker had merged the CLP with TRS as per the norms stipulated in the 10th Schedule of Constitution,” said Telangana Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav. Yadav had defended the defections, reminding that when the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was the Chief Minister, the Congress had merged several TRS MLAs into it. “Even TDP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had admitted 23 MLAs of YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh in the last five years, and Congress had no moral compunctions in joining hands with the TDP in the Telangana Assembly elections,” Yadav told this newspaper.
The merger of CLP with TRS will have many technical setbacks to Congress in Telangana, as the party will lose several legislative posts.
The merger of CLP in Telangana also projects the Congress high command in poor light as it had been caught unawares of this important development. Though the party could smell TRS efforts to wean away its MLAs, it had done little to stop or create public awareness on the defections. Congress had failed to team up with other Opposition parties and like-minded civil society groups that oppose the ruling party.
What minister Yadav said on Thursday, too, is a point to be pondered by the Congress high command. “How can the Congress MLAs stay with the party when their local leaders are divided into three groups, and their national president Rahul Gandhi had run away from his post after the Lok Sabha defeat? Their leadership should be blamed for the defection of MLAs to our party,” Yadav said.