Tie up with Chiranjeevi may signal new pol tie up

Hyderabad: Congress moves for tying up with the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP), headed by actor Chiranjeevi, has set off signals about a new alignment in Andhra Pradesh aimed at stability for its government and may also have implications on the Telangana issue.

Defence Minister A K Antony held a meeting with Chiranjeevi here on Monday and extended an invitation to him to go to Delhi for a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

State Congress President D Srinivas, who was also present at that meeting, told reporters on Tuesday that it was Congress` reciprocal gesture of friendliness to him to strengthen the "working arrangement" between the two parties.

PRP is a strong votary of a united state and is opposed to division in the wake of demand for separate Telangana. It has 18 MLAs and could come to the rescue of Congress in case of a trial of strength in the Assembly.

Congress, which has 155 MLAs in a House of 294, may also require the support of seven-member Muslim Majlis. Jagan commands the open support of 16 Congress MLAs and some more "fence sitters".

Observers wonder whether the Congress, which is fighting a rebellion by late Y S Rajasekhar Reddy`s son Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, may be forced to adopt a similar line on the Sri Krishna Committee`s report on the Telangana issue.

The sixth recommendation of the Committee favours maintaining status quo of a united Andhra Pradesh along with some statutory and Constitutional guarantees for Telangana region.

The Congress` game plan appears to be to hit two birds with one stone. Using Chiranjeevi as the main weapon, it wants to hit at rebel leader Y S Jagan, who is emerging as the main threat in the Andhra-Rayalaseema regions, and also the contentious Telangana issue.

But, how it manages to silence the Telangana protagonists within the party is a big puzzle. For months now it had been "mere speculation" but PRP`s alignment with the ruling Congress now appears imminent.

For now, the PRP has remained tight-lipped on the eventual merger with the Congress.

"We will meet on February 3 and 4 and take a decision on whether or not to accept the Congress` invitation for talks in New Delhi. We have not taken any decision on the alliance with Congress so far," Chiranjeevi told newsmen upon landing in Tirupati, the Assembly constituency he represents, this afternoon.

He also said no decision has been taken on whether or not to join the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in the state.

Chiranjeevi held a meeting with his party MLAs at his residence here before leaving for Tirupati this morning. Only nine of the 18 MLAs attended the meeting and Chiranjeevi himself spent only a few minutes with them.

"We discussed about the invitation extended to Chiranjeevi by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi through Defence Minister A K Antony. The issue of merging the PRP with the Congress was not discussed. In fact, there is no truth in reports that our party will merge with the Congress," a senior PRP MLA said after the meeting.

The Union Defence Minister met Chiranjeevi only to invite the latter to New Delhi for a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, senior PRP MLA Ganta Srinivasa Rao maintained.

However, senior leaders in the PRP aver that a clear picture on their party?s future would emerge after Chiranjeevi`s meeting with Sonia Gandhi.

"A package has been offered to us, but Chiranjeevi will go with a bouquet of demands. We have to discuss the finer points and take a final call," a senior member of the PRP Political Affairs Committee noted.

The meeting between Chiranjeevi and Sonia Gandhi might happen in the second week of February before the Budget session of Parliament begins, he added.