Statehood for Telangana is too contentious an issue to yield to random consensus-building exercises. Major political parties and large sections of the people of Andhra Pradesh are divided on geographic lines on the question of bifurcation of the State, and any solution would have to involve climbdowns and compromises. In the absence of any structured dialogue engaging the various stakeholders, all-party meetings called by the Centre have resulted only in the reiteration of known positions. After another all-party meeting on Friday, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde did not do much more than promise to take a decision on Telangana within a month. But importantly, he indicated that there would not be another all-party meeting on this issue. The time for negotiations and consensus-building is over; the stage is set for a solution imposed from above. By now, the Centre must have realised that buying time will not work even as a short-term tactic. With patience wearing thin among pro-Telangana protesters, some forward movement would have to be made within the next month if the statehood agitation is not to escalate further. But given that the Centre’s decision-making on the Telangana issue is almost entirely based on the political calculations of the Congress, nothing more than an in-principle acceptance of the statehood demand is likely in the near future.
Left to itself, the Congress would like to let matters drift till 2014 when elections to both the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly are due. Sure, there is no solution that would please everyone, but that is no reason to delay a decision on an issue over which a large number of people in the Telangana region have been organising protests and agitations affecting normal life. The Congress knows that a decision to carve out a separate Telangana would alienate many people in Coastal Andhra and other parts of Andhra Pradesh, and also that any further delay would fuel anger among those in the thick of the statehood campaign. The tactic of holding out hope for a separate State without actually conceding it cannot yield political dividends any longer. Of course, the Congress is not the only party indulging in doublespeak over the issue. While the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India have been unequivocally pro-Telangana, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen have been openly against the bifurcation, the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress have been ambiguous on this issue. Politics is all about taking a stand and parties would do well to realise it is impossible to be all things to all people.