We need a clear policy on statehood : Vir Sanghvi డిసెంబర్ 27, 2009Posted by Telangana Utsav in agitation, Andhra, bandh, Congress, Economy, fast, Hyderabad, Identity, KCR, politics, Rayalaseema, Settler, Sonia, students, suicide, Telangana, Telugu, TRS, violence, YSR.
We need a clear policy on statehood
New Indian Express: 27 Dec 2009
The decision to create a state of Telengana indicates a disturbing softness at the Centre whose leaders seem prone to panic at the least sign of trouble Few of us seem to know what the principle behind statehood is.
Why is it okay to have a Jharkhand but bad to have a Telengana?
Why shouldn’t UP be further split up?
We are guided by nothing more than expediency, pressure, convenience and blackmail
So, the government is not going to support the creation of Telengana after all. Shorn of all the code phrases and obfuscations, that appears to be the message behind the home minister’s press conference in Delhi on Wednesday. At one level, what P Chidambaram announced seemed eminently reasonable. When the Centre announced its support for the creation of Telengana, the situation in Andhra Pradesh was entirely different. All political parties in the state had passed a resolution supporting the creation of Telengana. The Centre’s decision to back this move was merely an expression of its desire to facilitate the wishes of the people of Andhra. Now, however, political parties have changed their minds. No consensus exists. Therefore, the Centre has had to review its support for the creation of Telengana.
But, of course, it’s not all that simple. The entire Telengana fiasco tells us something about decision-making in India and about the confusion that envelops our policies on statehood.
The demand for a separate state of Telengana has been around for decades. It received a fillip six years ago, however, when the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti headed by K Chandra Shekhar Rao, aligned with the Congress on the platform of statehood for Telengana. Against the odds, the Congress beat Chandra Babu Naidu’s TDP and came to power in New Delhi. Chandra Shekhar Rao became minister without portfolio in the Manmohan Singh government and assumed that it was only a matter of time before the state of Telengana was created.
He had reckoned without the Congress.
While the party paid lip service to the idea of Telengana, its Andhra Pradesh unit made it clear that it would oppose the creation of the state. I remember having lunch with Chandrasekhar Rao at his ministerial bungalow in New Delhi during that phase. “I have no demands other than Telengana,” he said. “We have a one-point agenda. Either they give us Telengana or we will leave.”
But, of course, they did not give them Telengana. And Chandrasekhar Rao left. The Congress was not sorry to see the TRS go. The then chief minister of Andhra, Y S Rajashekhar Reddy, was a shrewd tactician who recognised that the TRS had run out of steam. He advised New Delhi that Chandrasekhar Rao was now a figure of no consequence.
It seemed that Reddy was right. Chandrasekhar Rao made a fool of himself by joining the Third Front and his party did badly in the Parliamentary and Assembly elections. Even when the municipal election results came out, it seemed as though the TRS was finished.
So, after driving Chandrasekhar Rao out of the UPA because of its intransigence, why did the Congress suddenly do an about-turn, agreeing to grant Telengana to Rao when he was opposed to the party?
The short answer appears to be that the party panicked. When the Congress’ senior leaders met to consider the situation arising out of Chandrasekhar Rao’s fast they were informed by the home minister that the situation in Hyderabad was grave. Rao’s health was failing.
His death seemed imminent. If he died, then there would be blood on the streets of Hyderabad. Over a lakh of his supporters had surrounded the Assembly. They were certain to run riot. Something had to be done urgently.
After being subjected to this terrifying briefing, panicky Congress leaders agreed that the Centre must do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Hyderabad, even if it meant granting the state of Telengana. Presumably, other parties were as frightened because initially the demand for a separate Telengana state was supported by everyone.
Much attention is now focused on two separate issues. The first is the troubled state of the Andhra Pradesh Congress. Is the revolt in the state unit merely a means of destabilising the chief minister? And the second is the accuracy of the home ministry’s information. Were things ever that bad in Hyderabad? Was Chandrasekhar Rao really at death’s door? Would there really have been blood in the streets?
Both are valid issues but they are not the ones that interest me. I have two quite distinct concerns.
One: should governments take far-reaching decisions that affect future generations when they are blackmailed by events and are in the grip of panic?
Two: what is our policy on statehood, anyway?
No matter how you look at it, the Telengana issue was mishandled. You cannot take the line that Rao and the TRS are washed up and then suddenly alter government policy only because you feel that they have the potential to create havoc in the state. The two positions are entirely inconsistent. Obviously, somebody miscalculated.
But even if the home ministry’s claim -dubious though it may seem in retrospect — that Andhra would be plunged into chaos if Rao died was accurate, was the government right to base its decision on nothing more than a desire to avoid bloodshed? Let’s take an example from another state.
Suppose the Shiv Sena declared that it would paralyse the city of Bombay unless all `outsiders’ were deported. Or if Raj Thackeray’s MNS announced that there would be blood on the streets unless barriers were introduced to prevent non-Maharashtrians from settling in Bombay. What would the government do?
You and I both think we know the answers.
The government would arrest the Thackerays, crack down on their cadres and, if necessary, send the army in. There would be no question of giving in to this kind of blackmail.
Or would it?
If you go by the Telengana principle, we seem to have given too much credit to the Centre. This is a soft government that panics at the sight of trouble and makes far-reaching political decisions without thinking through the consequences.
My second concern is with statehood itself.
I have no strong views for or against the creation of Telengana. But then, I had no strong views on Chattisg arh, Jharkhand or Uttaranchal either. As far as I am concerned, the whole business of how states are created remains murky and confused.
When India became independent, states were based on administrative convenience.
Then, Pandit Nehru accepted the principle of linguistic states — a mistake, in my view — and we have had nothing but trouble ever since. Time and time again, agitations and fasts have led to the creation of new states.
Whether it was Sant Fateh Singh threatening to fast unto death if a separate state of Punjab was not created or it is Chandrasekhar Rao’s campaign on behalf of Telengana, statehood has become an idea that divides India rather than unifies it.
What’s worse is that few of us seem to know what the principle behind statehood is.
Why is it okay to have a Jharkhand but bad to have a Telengana? Why shouldn’t UP be further split up?
Nobody in government — any government at all — is willing to provide any answers because the sad truth is that we have no policy on statehood. We are guided by nothing more than expediency, pressure, convenience and blackmail. Is this a situation befitting the world’s largest democracy?
So let’s forget about the specifics of the Telengana issue. Let’s focus on the bigger question of statehood. It’s time we finally had a policy in place.
— The article is written exclusively for TNSE. More on his website. Follow him at twitter.com/virsanghvi