New Delhi (Agencies): Congress in Andhra Pradesh on Sunday got a major boost when actor Chiranjeevi announced the merger of his Praja Rajyam Party with it that could come as a breather for the ruling party facing rebellion from Y S Jaganmohan Reddy and the sensitive Telangana issue.

After weeks of back channel talks between the two parties, actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi, a strong votary of a united Andhra Pradesh, met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at her residence here for over 50 minutes and finalised his merger plans that could bring new political alignment in the state.

"We have decided to merge the PRP with the Congress. It is in the best interests of the state of Andhra Pradesh... it is an historic occasion for (the state and the two parties)," he told reporters outside Gandhi's residence.

During the meeting, attended by Congress leaders A K Antony and Veerappa Moily, 55-year-old Chiranjeevi said he discussed with Sonia the current political situation in the
state and various developmental projects that will benefit people.

Moily said: "We welcome him. He has joined the Congress family from today."

Chiranjeevi's PRP, which was launched in August, 2008, has 18 MLAs in the 294-member Andhra Pradesh Assembly and his decision to merge with Congress can give its government some stability in case the 25 party MLAs loyal to Jagan break from it.

The actor also brings with him a considerable chunk of backward Kapu community votes spread mainly in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, but has only negligible in the
Telangana area where a strong separatist movement is currently on.

Troubled by the revolt of Jagan, son of late Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress had removed the ageing veteran K Rosaiah and brought in a much younger Kiran
Kumar Reddy and had been working on other ways to strengthen the party.

MLAs loyal to Reddy have been attending rallies and fasts organised by the young leader defying the party High Command.

The PRP has 18 MLAs in the 294-member state Assembly and the Jagan camp claims to have the support of at least 25 MLAs. By roping in Chiranjeevi, the Congress, which has 155 MLAs, may be able to face a trial of strength in the Assembly more confidently.

Of the 18 PRP MLAs, two are with Jagan and one is in support of Telangana movement.

Chiranjeevi said PRP's merger with Congress was agreed upon without any pre-conditions as he was bothered "only about the betterment of the poor, downtroden and deprived sections of the society."

"No. Not all. I don't have such motives. I will be working for the people as I am (doing) now," he said, replying to a volley of queries whether he would be part of the state
government.

The Sonia-Chiranjeevi meeting came six days after Antony met the PRP chief in Hyderabad and asked him to come to New Delhi for talks with the Congress President.

In reply to a question on whether his party members would get positions in Congress, Chiranjeevi said: "I don't expect anything. It is their responsibility and duty to allocate and give whatever responsibility they in which ever form," he said.

Asked why a decision to merge the party was taken, he said as both Congress and PRP fight for social justice it was better that they do it together.

"In the plank of social justice we have done our best. To do more justice, we need a much more bigger platform so that people can be benefited by both of us joining together," he said when asked about his earlier assertions that Congress was his 'first enemy' in Andhra Pradesh.

"For the benefit of the poor, downtrodden and deprived, I think it is the right move. They also think the same way. So, I think this is the best time to join hands together to strengthen ourselves as well as the people who are deprived," he said.

Chiranjeevi also scotched speculation that there is a divide within his party over the merger with Congress.

"No, there is a consensus in our party. 99 per cent of the people are with the party. But here and there some problems may crop up, but there is no problem," he said.
The actor-turned-politician was at pains to drive home his point that he has not put any pre-conditions for the merger.

"I discussed the projects which are crucial to the state like the Polavaram irrigation project and others. So, now we will work together," he said.

There was no word on when the formal merger would take place.

"Our merger is unconditional. We are not bothered about what we are going to get. We are concerned only about what people will get. We are concerned about their betterment," Chiranjeevi said.

Asked whether the people of Andhra Pradesh will feel let down by him, he said they will not as they "trust me."

"Never, they trust me. They know that whatever step I take it will be for their betterment only. I don't have any selfish motives," he said.

Moily said the merger was not aimed at countering Jagan and that Congress is not "against anybody."

"The move is strengthen the Congress in the state. We are not against any individual. It is not against any personality. Chiranjeevi is fighting against poverty and we want him to be with us," he said when asked whether the move was to counter the Jagan threat.

"Both PRP and Congress have decided to merge. From today, Chiranjeevi is a member of the Congress family," he said.

Meanwhile, Congress general secretary and the party's media department chief Janardan Dwivedi said the development would strengthen the party.

"The party welcomes the decision of Chiranjeevi. It will definitely give strength to the Congress and we hope that all formalities (of merger) will be completed very soon," he said.

Referring to the PRP chief's "social issues", he said Congress will keep them in mind.

Commenting on the development, party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, "Everything is done after a holistic perspective to strengthen the party at all levels."

He said the merger is intended to leverage the unique characteristics and talents of the regional party and to synergise them with the Congress objectives of sustaining and exceeding achievements made in Andhra Pradesh by two successive governments.


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