In February 2014, months away from the Lok Sabha elections, the United Progressive Alliance government was desperate to see through the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill—which, if passed, would bifurcate the state of Andhra Pradesh. The bill had been the result of a fierce movement for creating Telangana that had lasted for decades. However, members of parliament from the Andhra region across parties had been protesting the bill tooth and nail—on 13 February, one Congress MP had unleashed pepper spray over the house.
On 18 February, when the UPA government had made all arrangements to pass the bill, and all eyes were on Lok Sabha Television, the screen went blank about three minutes into the proceedings. Speaker Meira Kumar decided to go ahead with a “voice vote”—where the speaker asks for the members’ consent to pass the bill and they respond with “aye” or “nay.” Even as members demanded a “division vote”—where members stand up at their seats—Kumar went through with the voice vote. Opposition leaders called the day the “death of democracy.” While the Lok Sabha secretariat claimed the blackout was a “technical glitch,” the BJP described it as a “tactical glitch.”
Since the new state of Telangana was to inherit the affluent capital city of Hyderabad, along with all its tax revenue, protests broke out in the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. To assuage discontent among the Andhra voters, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister at the time, promised that for a period of five years the new state of Andhra Pradesh would be accorded Special Category Status—a classification given to geographically and socio-economically disadvantaged states that entitles them to extra funds from the centre. There were apprehensions that Andhra Pradesh might face severe financial problems, which the SCS might help alleviate. Then a BJP MP, Venkaiah Naidu (now vice president of India) asked that the SCS be given to AP for ten years, a demand that most parties in Andhra, including the Telugu Desam Party, or TDP, then backed. But soon after the BJP came to power it completely reversed its position. It now holds that the state should not be granted SCS at all.
In this context, it makes sense that the TDP, which was an ally in the BJP-headed National Democratic Alliance government for the past four years, has pulled out of the government over the demand. On 8 March 2018, two union ministers from the party tendered their resignations. However, there are other issues at play here.
While all parties involved have claimed that they have nothing but the best interests of the people of Andhra Pradesh at heart, it is clear that each has its own hidden agenda. With both the general and state-assembly elections due in 2019, battle lines are being drawn in Andhra. While the TDP attempts to shore up its waning popularity, the BJP seems to want to grow on its own in the state. Examining the history of the issue shows that the developments seemingly related to the SCS demand have more to do with each player’s political strategy ahead of the elections.