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Political economy, regional articulation డిసెంబర్ 18, 2009

Posted by Telangana Utsav in agitation, Andhra, BCs, Congress, Culture, Economy, elections, GHMC, Godavari, Greater Rayalaseema, Guntur, Hyderabad, Identity, Koya, landuse, livelihoods, MIM, Mulki, Polavaram, politics, PRP, Rayalaseema, SC, SEZ, ST, students, TDP, Telangana, Telugu, TRS, youth.
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Political economy, regional articulation

R Uma Maheswari
New Indian Express: 17 Dec 2009 12:40:31 AM IST

If Telangana were a mere ‘sentiment’ as it is made out to be, it wouldn’t have evoked this nature of resistance in the Andhra Pradesh state assembly and elsewhere. Not unless there is a stronger force with a strong reason on the other side. There is a history to it that needs to be given due credit, even if not accepted, or even adequately understood.

Regional allegiances are intricately interwoven with political-economic developments in Andhra Pradesh since 1956. All the political leaders who have resigned or are crowding to resign are from the Andhra-‘Rayalaseema’ belt. A simple statistical survey should show that historically the coastal Andhra belt has transformed rather smoothly from a richly provided for agricultural zone (with heavy commercial farming) to a power centre. Problems in coastal Andhra that do not always come to light lie in the nature and extent of land alienation of the tribal communities and exploitation of Dalits who are mostly daily wage earners. They do not figure in the epicentre. Most of the older zamindars from the coastal belt gradually gained in the form of education and set up industries and even post-Independence retained ownership of vast acres of agricultural land despite various rules. It is these classes (and upper castes) of Andhra people who have attained political predominance. On the other hand are the former factionist leaders from the upper castes from the relatively poor stretch of Rayalaseema who entered politics through guns and battles and economic prosperity.

Telangana has had a distinct historical process, having been part of the Nizam’s Dominions, and its own history of oppression under the Nizam rule and its own nature of encounters with the British, distinct from the Madras Presidency areas which are included the present-day coastal Andhra. This difference has its own significant role in political aspirations and expressions of communities from these regions and is in no small way a cause for uneven development of the regions within a merged Andhra Pradesh or Visalandhra of the ’50s.

One of the earliest state interventions on Godavari in its own way led to an entire gamut of change in the agrarian history of Andhra Pradesh which has played itself up time and again in the context of the Telangana-Andhra divide. With the building of the anicut on Godavari Sir Arthur Cotton, the undeservedly deified British engineer, managed to alter forever the nature of agriculture in the delta districts. Troubles over management of the river water post-anicut also indirectly led to formation of Krishna and Guntur districts. It is no coincidence that some of the most prominent industrialists hail from this region and opportunities in education, employment, etc were available to these sections rather than to others in the rest of AP.

The Andhra or Telangana sentiment is not to be underestimated or brushed aside. Over the years, travelling through the villages across regions in AP, one realises the importance of regional identities and histories, which have rarely found space in the Indian democracy. This goes for communities that feel historically and politically marginalised as it goes for regions that seek political representation time and again.

But there is also the question as to how a region is formed or formulated in the minds of people or in administrative, political terms — do these correspond or converge, if at all? In the case of Telangana, is it the region that came under the political umbrella of the Nizam’s Dominions alone? Or is it the region that comes under the Godavari river basin as a geophysical entity? Perhaps it lies in people considering themselves part of a regional cohesive whole which includes cultural, political, economic and social contexts which seem to unite them.

Telangana statehood today is not so simple to attain. For, in the meantime, massive investments have gone into both the city of Hyderabad, which is an integral part of Telangana and is now being talked of as a free zone, and on Godavari, which is the most important contested resource between the two regions. Any talk of a new state will beget talk of the river and other natural resources.

The Godavari river in no small way will decide the future of a state, and if another is formed, the future of the river itself. Today it is not the politicians in the assembly alone who are averse to Telangana but the rich contractor lobby in alliance with the industrial lobby that is moving behind the scenes.

At stake are crores of rupees invested in irrigation projects, SEZs, hydel power projects and thereby, real estate activity in and around Hyderabad. Hyderabad is a metro with business interests and investments of people not only from the Andhra region but also from all over India. Most Telangana farmers around Hyderabad (with Greater Hyderabad apportioned off to at least 60 SEZ) have become landless; and some of the bigger farmers suddenly turned into the nouveau riche buying property in areas such as Kukatpally and its surrounding pockets.

While it is true that KCR himself could not have envisaged such a large spontaneous upsurge across Telangana region, it would be doing injustice to the students (who initiated this kind of a movement) and the people to give him the entire credit. Support from teachers, auto drivers, construction workers from Telangana, lawyers, doctors, and even a few members of the Telugu cinema industry to the movement in those 10 days calls for more serious and informed comment.

TRS as a party has more often than not reduced Telangana to more of a token term used for electoral purposes alone and forgotten thereafter. Finally, can political articulation of a regional identity clamped by economic and political developments be a reason for statehood? Are we somewhere stuck on ideas of nationhood that no longer represent the reality on the ground, in terms of articulation of citizenship and as political agents and not subjects or beneficiaries?

(The writer is a journalist based in Hyderabad)

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