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Nine Congress MPs quit parliament on Telangana issue

Jul 4, 2011

parliament Nine ruling Congress party MPs resigned on Monday to press their demands for a separate state of Telangana, roughly halving the government's majority and heaping more pressure on the beleaguered party.

The members giving up their seats called for government action on the long-standing demand for a new state hours after dozens of Congress lawmakers stepped down from the assembly in Andhra Pradesh.

If accepted by the speaker, the resignations are likely to further delay the ruling coalition's attempts to pass long-delayed reform bills key to continued growth in Asia's third-largest economy, but they are unlikely to lead to the fall of the government.

Government hand-wringing over the four-decades old demand has lead to violent street protests in Andhra Pradesh, which is likely to be a crucial battleground state in the 2014 election, sending 42 members to parliament in New Delhi.

Losing nine MPs will put Congress and its allies on the back foot when parliament reopens on August 1, and may disrupt business in a chamber that has lost months of legislative work because of opposition protests over corruption.

The failure to resolve the issue of the new state, after the government gave in-principle support for the creation of Telangana last year, underlines a sense of drift in Congress, with party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seemingly unable to take big decisions.

"It was an accident waiting to happen. In a way, it was another case of mishandling a political situation," said political analyst Amulya Ganguli.

"(The government) will limp along for some time. It will be quite a stormy session."

FORCING THE ISSUE

Seven Lok Sabha MPs tendered their resignations in person to their speaker of parliament, and two others sent their resignations by fax, a Rajya Sabha lawmaker who also stepped down from his seat told reporters.

"We want to identify ourselves with the aspirations of the people of Telangana," said K. Keshav Rao.

The resignations must be accepted by the speaker and that may take weeks.

Analysts cautioned that the resignations may not be accepted in order to give Congress time to strike a deal with the rebel MPs and avoid losing their votes in parliament.

"It makes it more complicated for the government but the government is not in trouble," said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan, adding that the political opposition was also weak in parliament.

"It will force the Congress party to make a decision on Telangana."

The Congress-led coalition, which before the resignations held a rough 18-vote majority, has seen its reputation damaged by widespread voter anger at a string of multi-billion dollar corruption scandals.

"Congress is not against Telangana. The government is trying for a consensus," Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad told reporters.

"This is a highly sensitive and emotional issue, an appropriate decision will be taken at an appropriate time."

Last week, Manmohan Singh was forced to refute widespread accusations that he was a "lame duck" leader presiding over a government in paralysis, as a failure to tackle high inflation and graft made Congress appear out of touch with voters.

A failure to pass reforms such as bills to overhaul land acquisition policy, an archaic taxation system and to liberalise foreign direct investment rules have suffered as the government drifts, dampening market performance and spooking investors.