By Mohammed Shafeeq
Warangal/Hyderabad : A major human smuggling scandal uncovered with the arrest of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP in New Delhi has shaken up Andhra Pradesh, discrediting many of its politicians and blunting the campaign for a separate Telangana state.
When BJP's Babubhai Katara was arrested at the Indira Gandhi International Airport April 18, few would have thought that the scandal, of which the Gujarat MP was then the public face, would have its roots in this southern city. Two of the three people arrested a day later were from Hyderabad. And it became quickly clear that the scam has deep links with the city.
While arrested travel agent and key suspect Rasheed has named a few leaders of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the one outfit that finds itself mired neck deep in the racket is the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). With revelations made every day, the scandal is proving to be a political doom for the party, six years after it was launched amid fanfare to revive the movement for separate statehood for the Telangana region.
Though names of three or four MPs from north India came up during the primary investigations in the scam, the entire focus shifted to Andhra Pradesh when the accused revealed the name of Ramnamurthy, an aide to TRS MP A. Narendra.
The developments of the last two weeks have dealt a severe blow to TRS, which celebrated its sixth anniversary under the shadow of serious allegations against its MPs and legislators that they obtained passports for others in the names of their family members to illegally send people abroad.
Already hit hard by rebellion by a group of MLAs, the image of TRS was further dented by the allegations. And the crisis appears to have hit the Telangana movement, though temporarily, and left the party leadership discredited in the eyes of people in the region.
Even ordinary people are now saying that TRS leaders seemed to be keen to make money through unscrupulous means rather than fight for a separate state.
"The scamsters can't be torch bearers of the Telangana movement. They can't be founding fathers of a new state," a disgusted T. Ramakrishna, a teacher in the TRS stronghold of Warangal town, told IANS.
"The involvement of TRS leaders in the scandal has dashed our hopes of achieving a separate state," said Dasarth Reddy, a student of Osmania University, the hotbed of Telangana politics.
At a time when TRS was gearing up to intensify the Telangana movement, the scandal has pushed it to the brink of split.
TRS chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao, popularly known as KCR and until recently a cabinet minister, suspended his deputy A. Narendra from the party soon after the latter's named cropped up.
Though the scandal provided an opportunity to KCR to suspend Narendra, with whom he had developed serious differences, he could not save the party's reputation.
While one TRS rebel MLA Kasipeta Lingaiah is already in jail, police are on the lookout for another, S. Baburao. They were among nine legislators who raised a banner of revolt against KCR a year ago.
However, the names of KCR's personal secretary Ajit Reddy, his loyal MPs Madhusudhan Reddy and Ravinder Nayak and MLA Ramalinga Reddy have also come up in the human smuggling scandal, adding to the party's embarrassment.
The TRS leaders are washing their dirty linen in public, calling each other names.
After being suspended from party, Narendra hit back to term KCR as 'K.D No. 1' (Known Depredator Number One) and accused him of amassing money in the name of Telangana.
Narendra, who had merged his Telangana Sadhana Samiti with TRS five years ago, is all set to form a front by joining hands with TRS dissidence and smaller groups fighting for a separate state.
Both the ruling Congress party and the main opposition TDP seem to be enjoying the internal bickering in TRS.
Pushed to a corner, KCR is sending feelers to the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying TRS is ready to re-join the coalition. The move is seen as an attempt to keep his flock together in this hour of crisis. However the Congress is not amused.
TRS, which has five members in the Lok Sabha, pulled out of UPA in August last year to protest against the delay in carving out a separate state.
TRS sees the allegations against its leaders as conspiracy against the Telangana movement. It has now asked people of Telangana to wait for a new state till after the 2009 elections. But few seem to trust TRS this time.