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Murky enterprise: why the defection business of TDP, TRS may go bust

A Saye Sekhar | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

Since taking power two years ago, the Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi have aggressively courted MLAs from rival parties. The idea, clearly, is to tighten the political grip on post-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, respectively.

So far, the TRS has lured away 12 of TDP's 15 legislators - all but finishing the party off in Telangana - five of the Congress and two of the BSP. Another coup came last Friday when the Speaker announced the merger of the YSR Congress Legislative Party comprising three MLAs - for good measure, the party's lone MP came along as well - with the TRS.

The TDP, on the other hand, has got 17 YSR Congress legislators to switch loyalties, making a mockery of the anti-defection law in the process.

All this trading in loyalties was done with the understanding that it was beneficial to both sides: while the two ruling parties would increase their legislative strength, the turncoats would get plum rewards. Of course, in public, the switching of allegiances was justified as being in the interest of "development".

Also, it went without stating, the turncoats would be fielded in the next polls. However, this tacit agreement, which virtually underwrote the deals, may well come undone. That is because it was based on the understanding that the TDP and the TRS would increase the number of constituencies in their respective states through delimitation.

Otherwise, the turncoats would have to compete for tickets in their new parties with the candidates they had defeated in the previous election, and who, having stayed loyal, would expect to be renominated.

Through defections, KCR has shored up his assembly strength from a tenuous 63 to a commanding 88

Such a scenario is an invitation to dissension within the ruling parties. It may yet come to be as the hoped-for delimitation appears to be in jeopardy.

For one, the Congress has declared it won't support the proposed delimitation. Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told Catch that his party would not back a constitutional amendment for delimitation of assembly segments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, as promised in the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, "owing to horse-trading indulged in by the ruling parties".

Section 26(1) of the Act states: "Subject to provisions contained in Article 170 of the Constitution and without prejudice to Section 15 of this Act, the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of successor states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana shall be increased from 175 and 119 to 225 and 153, respectively, and delimitation of the constituencies may be determined by the Election Commission."

Conforming to Article 170 of the Constitution would mandate amending Articles 81, 82 and 170 - which would require two-thirds support in both Houses of Parliament, and approval from the assemblies of half the states.

Now that the Congress, which controls the Upper House of Parliament, has made its opposition to delimitation known, is there a way out? There is, said TRS MP B Vinod Kumar: the phrase "subject to" in the Act could be replaced with "notwithstanding", and Parliament "could adopt the same with necessary majority, the rest of the process need not be followed".

This appears unlikely to happen, not least because relations between the BJP and the TDP, partners in the NDA, have been strained after the Narendra Modi regime categorically refused to grant Special State Category status to Andhra.

Indeed, until not very long ago, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, who hails from Andhra, constantly talked about the delimitation, as if buttressing TDP's efforts to engineer defections. He has suddenly fallen silent.

Add to this the deterioration of the Congress-BJP "functional relationship" in Rajya Sabha, brought about by the ongoing slugfest over the AgustaWestland scam, and the chances of the delimitation bill seeing the light of day appear nil.

The AP Reorganisation Act provides for increasing number of Andhra's seats to 225, Telangana to 153

Still, it's a long time to the next polls, by when shifting political situations and alliances could well make delimitation feasible. If not, Chandrababu Naidu and K Chandrashekar Rao, chief minister of Andhra and Telangana, respectively, could find other means to "rehabilitate" the incoming defectors and potentially outgoing dissidents. Indeed, KCR has already proposed to increase the number of districts in his state from 10 to 25 - a move that could open up a lot of plum postings to keep all party leaders happy with.

All that is in the future, however. For now, both KCR and Naidu are quite upbeat. While the former has shored up his strength in the assembly from a tenuous 63 to a commanding 88, the latter seems to be killing two birds with one stone. By taking away YSR Congress' MLAs, Naidu has weakened the main opposition party to the point where he is going after YS Jaganmohan Reddy - the TDP and its frontal outfits have been engaged in a vilification campaign against the YSR Congress chief for a while now - without much resistance. At the same time, Naidu has all but secured the third Rajya Sabha seat in the election in July.

Interestingly, all but three MLAs who have defected to the TDP had, at some point in the past, been associated with the ruling party before joining the YSR Congress, solely to contest the last election.

Will they, as indeed those who have defected to the TRS in the neighbouring state, stay loyal if denied election tickets for want of addition constituencies? The answer is anybody's guess.

Edited by Mehraj D Lone

First published: 9 May 2016, 8:30 IST