Fasting, Mining, Politicking? Telangana & the Burdens of History – D Parthasarathy మే 21, 2010Posted by Telangana Utsav in agitation, Andhra, Andhrapreneurship, BCs, Congress, Culture, Economy, fast, Hyderabad, JAC, Jai Andhra, Kamma, KCR, MRPS, Naxalite, Polavaram, politics, Rayalaseema, Reddy, regionalism, Settler, ST, suicide, TDP, Telangana, TRS, Urdu, Velama, violence, Y S Jagan, YSR.
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Fasting, Mining, Politicking? Telangana and the Burdens of History
The burdens of history are many for Telangana as they are for most regions of the world whose people have been historically subjected to domination, oppression and exploitation. These burdens are cumulative and imbricate each other, and result not only in various forms of ‘backwardness’, but also in ways of perceiving a problem and modes of struggle that reify and reflect those burdens rather than enable subject populations to look for meaningful alternatives. Telangana has been witness to a long history of struggles, some initiated by its own populations, others instigated from outside, and yet others forged by radical or bourgeois class alliances across regions. Whether or not the people of Telangana get a separate state, what they are desperately seeking for is agency. What is however worth emphasizing is that, if the current round of protests and agitations are to yield rewards for the region’s long suffering and distressed classes, some at least of the parties involved need to find ways of escaping the past and instead search for new methods of agitation and new vocabularies to articulate an alternate politics that truly reflects the frustrations, grievances, and aspirations of the troubled region.
The formation of Linguistic States, although essential, cannot be decided by any sort of hooliganism. Nor must it be solved in a manner that will serve party interest. It must be solved by cold blooded reasoning.
B. R. Ambedkar
Thoughts on Linguistic States, 1955
The morality of Gandhi’s emotional athyachar through his fast unto death preceding the Poona Pact of 1932 is rarely called into question by his many admirers, followers and scholarly acolytes. While criticism of Gandhi’s tactics by dalits and those who adopt a dalit/ bahujan perspective in their analyses is seen as partial and subjective, the long term consequences of this Gandhian method of protest to get others to toe your line has not been taken seriously despite the frequent use of this method for contentious goals and objectives. The simultaneous use of Gandhian methods of fasting and street violence by groups ostensibly fighting for a separate Telangana state, and similar counter strategies resorted to by pro-United Andhra groups may constitute a “grammar of anarchy” as Ambedkar warned in his closing speech to the Constituent Assembly. Ambedkar also castigated other Gandhian methods such as civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha, arguing that in a post-independent nation there was no “justification for these, …where constitutional methods are open”. The tendency of diverse groups in India to resort to unconstitutional methods derives in large part from a partisan state that selectively uses force when it fears legitimate protests and demands, and turns a blind eye to violence when it is perpetrated by groups closely allied to those who people the state. The Indian state’s rapid response to Gandhian fasting methods in this case needs to be seen against the backdrop of hundreds of more legitimate demands by diverse groups around the country which are equally rapidly put down with brutal force, even as the demands take decades to be addressed if at all they are taken seriously.
That significant decisions that decide the fate of millions are still taken as a response to unconstitutional methods, to hooliganism, and in ways that “serve (specific) party interests”, rather than by recourse to “cold blooded reasoning”, and institutionalized debates, is as much a sign of the evolution of our political society, as it is a symptom of the deep gulf between the two broad streams of Gandhian and Ambedkarite political norms that we have inherited. Such methods of protest constitute only one of several burdens from the past that we carry and that affect how we govern ourselves, how democracy works for different sections of our population. For, as Ambedkar perhaps would have been the first to acknowledge, street violence by supporters of a Telangana state are but a direct reaction to deep levels of frustration resulting from political misrule, the absence of meaningful development and empowerment, and the failure of diverse political and social groups to understand, articulate or express their genuine grievances. But more importantly, street violence and hooliganism that target both coastal Andhra elites and middle class and poor migrants from the Andhra region settled in Hyderabad and other urban centres in Telangana are also a response to mindless police brutality. Police brutality and administrative violence in Telangana cannot be understood in simplistic terms as the action of the state apparatus supporting the interests of the ruling class, though this may in large part be true. We need to recognize that the state has interests of its own, that the state apparatus behaves in habitual ways, is disposed to react by virtue of a certain habitus, and that the agents of the state also constitute a class by virtue of their social status, property ownership position, and surplus extraction function. That diverse groups fighting for a Telangana state – be it the TRS or the JAC – have simply failed to understand, far less address the grievances and frustrations of the youth of the region can also be seen in the way in which personal troubles are linked to public issues1 – reflected in the scores of suicides and suicide bids that are currently taking place. In many ways the street violence and suicides are expressions of the fact that vast sections of Telangana’s population have been among the politically ‘uncounted2’ despite the long history of the Telangana movement. One might even argue that the politics surrounding the Telangana state, the hijacking of the demand by parties which do not truly represent or comprehend the aspirations of those they pretend to represent, the street violence and suicides – all of these in fact are reflective of a politics involving the “inscription of a part of those who have no part”3, in other words the attempts by those who have hitherto not been represented adequately to make their voices heard.
‘Economic backwardness’ in the Telangana region and ‘cultural domination’ by people of coastal Andhra are cited as principal reasons by proponents and activists / scholars sympathetic to the demand for a separate Telangana state. Without doubt these are true reflections of social, political and economic life as these have evolved over half a century of the united Andhra state, and through centuries of interaction among the Telugu speaking people in the different regions of what now constitutes Andhra Pradesh. While granting this however one must not only question the appropriateness of the methods used by reactionary and progressive forces, political parties and student activists, but also deliberate on whether a separate state in itself would address these problems meaningfully. The interests of those who fight for Telangana statehood are not the same – there is little commonality for instance between the Maoist support resting on strategic reasons as well as the need to reflect the plight of peasants and forest based communities, and the feudal landed class turned real estate magnates who fight a turf war in Hyderabad with agrarian elites from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema who have invested heavily in the city.
Both economic backwardness and cultural domination are expressions or symptoms of structural inequalities that have been complicated by historical factors; any attempt to address these symptoms require at the minimum that we comprehend the ways in which different regions and groups have evolved, interacted, and exercised or experienced domination and exploitation. Economic backwardness and cultural domination are reflections of differences in capabilities and resources, diverse historical paths to social and economic well-being, outcomes of specific sets of interactions between regions and groups, and hence there are no easy or simple resolutions. It is often forgotten by analysts of all hues that there has been a significant spatiality to the expansion of class and caste domination in India, and that this has meshed with movement of populations and capital to yield unique constellations of rural-urban social, economic and political networks. Consequently, neo-Marxist and dependency theories need to be sometimes revised or overturned in studying regional disparities in India, especially in cases where regions seek autonomy or statehood out of a perception that greater sovereignty would alleviate problems of economic growth and distribution. In the Indian case, dominant regions exercise power and control over others which not only have resources that they can (and do) exploit, but these ‘backward regions’ also have institutional, social, and cultural capabilities needed to invest their agricultural surplus in more modern sectors of the economy and profit from them. In many ways then regions such as coastal Andhra are dependent on the cultural capital of Telangana to sustain and extend their economic and political domination. Statehood demands are then not merely about overcoming the burdens of history arising from a feudal agrarian and social structure, but also the burdens of post-colonial history – its political dynamics, history of party formation, communal conflicts, and loss and gain of power among different groups. Our institutions and systems of governance have acquired specific biases and ways of functioning, even as they have come to be controlled by specific social groups, investments have created specific types of built environments, and capital investments have developed a logic of their own – all of which leads to cynicism regarding the possible outcomes of statehood for Telangana.
This is especially so as diverse actors in the Telangana movement and intellectuals / activists supporting the demand seem to have no vision at all as to what a Telangana state would entail for its population, how it would address the deep structural aspects of caste and class based oppression and exploitation; indeed it is doubtful in the first place whether these actors are even aware of the quite profound craving that the poor and oppressed in Telangana have for an alternative politics, their aspirations for a democracy that is truly meaningful; beyond standard articulations of ‘good governance’ and ‘development’, progressive and radical forces, as well as reactionary, conservative, and liberal proponents seem to be incapable of expressing or articulating the yearning for an alternative that is clearly evident even if not spelt out with lucidity. An alternative can be perceived in the cosmopolitanism that characterized Hyderabad and its regional culture, until the recent de-cosmopolitanization influenced by the influx of Andhra and Rayalaseema migrants and their cultures of domination and consumption. It was and is a cosmopolitanism that is largely non-Brahminical, forged through a historical process in which industrial class struggle or struggles against capitalism was not a major aspect4, which meant that this cosmopolitanism was more open and creative, full of the potential for a locally derived more just and equitable alternative social formation, but also a cosmopolitanism that worked in a more subterranean way, more tolerant and less domination-seeking, even if somewhat unruly. It’s a cosmopolitanism that is non-parochial (despite the targeting of non-locals during agitation), non-particularistic, derived from a culture that willingly and constantly absorbs from other cultures and hybridizes itself, and enables governance structures and institutions to function with some degree of autonomy as opposed to their arbitrary nature of functioning in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.
In taking a stance on the Telangana issue therefore, it becomes imperative that one does not mimic the sensationalistic media view of focusing on conspiracy theories, politicking by parties and actors with short-term interests5, and on street violence, and instead make an attempt to comprehend the historical burdens and potentialities that respectively characterize and inhere in the movement.
Telangana vs United Andhra: Stakes and Stakeholders
From Marri Chenna Reddy to K.Chandrasekhara Rao, a range of political leaders from the Telangana region have used the demand of statehood to manipulate themselves and their family members and followers into positions of power at the state and national levels. The interests of the peasantry and of the adivasis who have been oppressed both by local feudal lords, and by land greedy dominant castes from coastal Andhra have been articulated only by the Maoists who have consistently supported the movement for Telangana state. In this the Maoists – more than a genuine belief in the potential of statehood for rendering social and distributive justice and upholding the rule of law – have been driven by strategic reasons, perceiving greater influence in a smaller state, both by virtue of having to face a smaller class enemy, and a weaker state apparatus. Their support base is also stronger in the Telangana region compared to other regions of Andhra Pradesh. Given that the movements for Chattisgarh and Jharkhand were also led by progressive forces, that these included active workers movements, environmental movements, and intellectuals, and the current capture of the state apparatus in these states by a motley group consisting of reactionary forces, mining and resource multinationals, and mercenary Indian capital, the Maoist belief in the emancipatory potential of Telangana needs to be questioned. Speculation has been rife in Andhra Pradesh fuelled by selected leaks by political leaders and bureaucrats that the current round of protests and counter protests has been funded and stage-managed by Congress and BJP allied mining interests from Andhra and Karnataka to make the state agencies weak so that they can corner mining licenses and also carry on with illegal mining in an unhindered manner. The Supreme Court and the CBI have launched investigations recently affecting mining operations on the Karnataka – Andhra border. The Madhu Koda scam, and large scale illegalities in handing out all kinds of permits and licenses in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh no doubt add more than a touch of truth to such rumours. The functioning of Indian democracy makes it eminently possible, that whatever the intentions behind administrative or political reforms and changes, these are likely to be hijacked by those with a capacity to work the system in their favour by coming to power through electoral means. The Maoists in Telangana simply do not have the organizational strength and the ability to politically mobilize significant sections of the population to prevent such a hijacking or capture of the state. In a post-liberalization state of affairs the profits to be made from natural resources such as minerals, land and water have reinforced existing or created new cross-regional, inter-state, or global linkages, making it much more difficult for local communities to access and reap benefits from such resources. While these cause regional imbalances and / or exclusionary forms of development, this is not necessarily an argument against smaller states, indicating instead the need to regulate the ownership and use of such resources for more equitable development. This requires a larger vision of appropriate development models and a sound strategy to work towards the realization of those models which are currently not reflected in either state policies or in the politics of Telangana statehood. Resources have been at the centre of conflicts and oppression in regions around the world, and resource based exploitative economies can exist at both inter and intra-regional scales of operation. Sovereignty is key in preventing such exploitative economies being functional, and perhaps smaller states are better placed for this, but appropriate governance mechanisms need to be worked out so that people and not notions of efficiency or growth determine how resources are used and who can make decisions regarding resource extraction and use.
The fear of the Maoists gaining power in a Telangana state is however strong enough to cause disquiet among bureaucrats and police officials in the state, who may not have the ability to influence a decision on this matter, but whose views will be considered seriously whenever a decision is made. In the post-liberalization era, the officialdom has become stronger than it was, with states playing a greater role in attracting and retaining capital investments. Both multinationals, multilateral agencies and international aid agencies find it much easier to deal with officials considerably enhancing their role in governance and decision making.
Among those who are actively demanding statehood for Telangana are also the landed classes – who despite a home advantage continue to lag behind the Kammas and Rajus of coastal Andhra and the Reddis of Rayalaseema in alienating and acquiring real estate in and around Hyderabad. Lacking the enterprise of the coastal Andhra dominant castes, and the same kind of feudal ruthlessness of those from Rayalaseema, nor even having access to fiduciary networks like their counterparts, they have had to generally play second fiddle in cornering the benefits from Hyderabad’s real estate boom driven by the rapid growth in the IT sector. This is a dangerous class and the consequences of their rise to political power in a Telangana state can be quite perilous for the peasants and adivasis of the region. The growing middle classes including intellectuals and the student population of Telangana have also been active in the movement for statehood. These have had to face competition from their coastal Andhra counterparts, as well as cosmopolitan Hyderabad’s non-Telugu domiciled population for educational and employment opportunities in the government. Lacking industrialization of any significance, private sector employment opened up only since the 1990s in the software and IT sector which recruited from other parts of the state as well as from the rest of India. That situation is unlikely to change with statehood, hence the demand for Hyderabad to be the exclusive capital of Telangana after bifurcation so that at least the (smaller share of) government jobs are open wholly to Telangana aspirants. The historical reality of a locally resilient exploitative social structure rooted in a semi-feudal low productivity relations of production however makes the sustenance of Hyderabad’s economic boom in a post bifurcated state problematic. Once again this is a historical burden which is not considered by any of the parties or actors in the Telangana movement.
In the sphere of education as well, statehood is unlikely to make much of a difference in terms of helping the regional population to attain their educational aspirations. The University of Hyderabad (a central university) established in the mid 1970s as part of the Six Point Formula in response to a similar agitation for statehood has always had a majority of its students from other parts of the state and country, with a very small minority choosing or found ‘fit’ to join the university’s programmes. Basic structural problems of education and poverty cannot simply be resolved through executive fiats and the creation of opportunities, unless people are enabled to access those opportunities. In this context it is important also to address the issue of the decline of universities such as the Osmania and Kakatiya universities6 located in the Telangana region. While many factors can be adduced including the absence of a strong local economy with links to university education and research, one principal reason has been the failure of university administration and faculty themselves, and of local leaders to develop a vision for these universities with respect to the region, the failure to clearly define a role for the universities in terms of the educational, political and developmental aspirations of the region.
It is possible however that the dalits of Telangana are likely to benefit from statehood. The demand for sub-categorization of reservations has a regional aspect to it, with organizations such as the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti spearheading this demand supporting the agitation for statehood. This raises another thorny issue. Like most other capitalist sections in India, the Andhra regional bourgeoisie did not bring about any real development in its region, and its continued caste oppression meant that lower caste, unemployed youth had no option but to move to Hyderabad in search of educational and employment opportunities. Dalits from Andhra who have been benefited from a long history of Christian missionary established educational institutions move to Hyderabad both for higher education and for white collar jobs. The Telangana demand and the possibility of Hyderabad losing its status as the capital of Andhra Pradesh raise the prospect of exclusion from the city for Andhra dalits. Combined with the violence against non-elite, non-dominant Andhras in Hyderabad and other urban centres in Telangana, this has made Andhra dalits quite fearful for their security and future in a bifurcated state. In addition, as University campuses in Telangana increasingly become the hub for the Telangana movement, this has made Andhra dalit students apprehensive given a history of discrimination and violence against dalits in the university campuses in Andhra. Intellectuals and progressive elements within the movement have not been forthcoming enough in assuaging these fears, in the process losing an opportunity to enunciate their own vision for a future Telangana state, a vision for justice, equitable development, and inclusive politics. The prospect of uniting marginalized and oppressed groups for a better future has been lost with Telangana groups unable or unwilling to answer questions from sections of Andhra as to why they should be made to pay for the sins of their oppressors just because they happen to be from the same region.
One significant section of Telangana’s population which has not been consulted on statehood, and which has reacted in a confused and ambiguous manner to the agitation and subsequent announcement of the initiation of a process to grant statehood, is the region’s Muslim minority. The BJP has as a general policy, supported the creation of smaller states partly as a strategy of working their way back to power in the central government by winning elections in as many states as possible. It is far easier to win elections in smaller states than in larger ones. A majority of the current Muslim population of Andhra Pradesh are concentrated in Telangana, predominantly in Hyderabad city. While a section welcomes statehood partly out of nostalgia, and partly out of a feeling of being able to influence policy making in their favour due to higher numerical strength, there is also considerable disquiet about the implications of the Sangh Parivar stoking communal conflicts in a Telangana state. In a larger state with a smaller proportion, Muslim bashing does not yield the same dividends as it would in a smaller state. The fear that a larger proportion invites a risk of being targeted by parties with a Hindu social base for electoral gains is quite comprehensible and explains the disquiet and confusion. Hyderabad has had a history of communal conflicts, and it has been quite ironic that the rise to dominance of coastal Andhra politicians in Hyderabad has reduced the frequency of riots targeting Muslims. As yet Hindu fundamentalism and Muslim bashing is not part of the political language and symbolism of coastal Andhra politics, and this may change with the advent of statehood in Telangana. The migration of local leaders with a history of communal politics from the BJP to the Telangana movement adds to the disquiet of Muslims in Telangana in this regard. These however ought not to be construed as arguments against a Telangana state. If the state does come into existence, well designed mechanisms to protect the Muslim minority community’s rights and ensure their security need to be put in place. The effective way of fighting Hindutva politics is political, and not by administrative mechanisms or territorial strategies. Representative democracy has immense potential for Muslims in India to ensure their security and promote their social development, and their larger proportion in a smaller state would make it possible to realize this potential, given sufficient safeguards for their physical security.
At the other end of the ideological spectrum the erstwhile united Communist Part of India supported a Visalandhra movement for a combined state for all Telugu speaking people in the 1950s for much the same electoral reasons. Having tasted electoral success in the Andhra region of Madras state, and in the aftermath of the Telangana Armed Struggle, the then CPI perceived a greater scope and possibility of coming to power in a united state. The CPI(M) still supports a united Andhra state, a position that perhaps also derives from the Stalinist perspective (based on European experience) on the national question in which common language is one of the key constituents of a nation. Dominant castes from coastal Andhra have historically colonized political parties, social movements, and sundry voluntary organizations including communist movements, as part of their attempts to extend their social and political power, and diversify their economic portfolios beyond agriculture and money-lending to real estate, trade, films, and other enterprises including software and information technology in the recent past. In some ways the movement for a united Andhra can be linked to the historical transition from a largely agrarian economy to urban based sectors. The emergence of the Telugu Desam party, its emphasis on Telugu pride, and the influx of agrarian capital into Hyderabad simultaneously are indicative of this. One should be cautious however in perceiving this process in terms of the European historical experience of language based nation-state formation.
It is easy to comprehend why economically backward regions claim autonomy, especially when these regions are dominated by educated elites from outside, resulting in cultural domination as well. Within these regions, stakes are likely to differ and change across time for diverse groups. It is however not easy to comprehend why regions that experience economic growth, and whose economic and human development indicators are positive wish to retain connections with ostensibly backward regions? Will it not make sense for Andhra to secede from Telangana on the grounds that Telangana (or even Rayalaseema) act as drags on their own growth, enterprise and prosperity? The widespread protests by politicians from Andhra and Rayalaseema, and the about turn of political parties in retreating from their earlier positions on Telangana statehood need to be studied from a broader sociological perspective.
If it was just a question of protecting Andhra and Rayalaseema’s investments in real estate and in other businesses in Hyderabad, mechanisms could perhaps have been worked out, failing which, the possibility of capital flight back to their regions of origin are always available. The transformation of Hyderabad from a cosmopolitan city to one whose demographic features, built environment, and symbolic / iconic markers all reflect the influx of agrarian capital from Andhra may explain an emotional attachment and feeling of ownership of the city, which the owners of capital are loath to give up. There is however a larger question here that begs answering, namely why the abundant capital from agricultural surplus and rent-seeking was not initially invested in coastal Andhra? Why did this capital along with its owners need to move to Hyderabad? The answer perhaps lies in the cosmopolitan nature of Hyderabad city despite its feudal, failed industrial past. It lies in the provincial nature of the Andhra capitalist class which despite its current global links is almost completely incapable of creating and fostering the institutions required for advancing the capital accumulation process, reflected quite spectacularly in the Satyam scam7. The transformation of agrarian / predatory capital into modern industrial capital requires the concomitant growth and evolution of institutions which foster this transition, including but not restricted to banking and financial regulation, institutions overseeing and ensuring the rule of law and enforcement of contracts, professional bodies, higher education, and bureaucratic forms of organization and governance. The coastal Andhra elites had an abundance of capital but not the ability to develop or foster this institutional base of capitalism. On the other hand for reasons which are still not clear, despite a feudal, backward industrial context, Hyderabad city fostered these institutions which were then taken over by the in-migrating capital and elites. Hyderabad’s cosmopolitanism may offer one explanation for the evolution of institutions and a favourable environment for capital accumulation, but we also need to uncover how this cosmopolitanism developed and acquired its unique features. It’s a cosmopolitanism that has been under severe stress in recent times, one could even make an argument for de-cosmopolitanization of many of our cities whose urban landscapes are increasingly transformed by the activities of agrarian elites8. This would require that we grasp the true nature of the Indian capitalist class, which is rooted in a semi-feudal, caste-class social structure, and whose limitations and inadequacies have come to the fore in the current politicking over Telangana.
Looking Back or Looking Ahead?
The burdens of history are many for Telangana as they are for most regions of the world whose people have been historically subjected to domination, oppression and exploitation. These burdens are cumulative and imbricate each other, and result not only in various forms of ‘backwardness’, but also in ways of perceiving a problem and modes of struggle that reify and reflect those burdens rather than enable subject populations to look for meaningful alternatives. Telangana has been witness to a long history of struggles, some initiated by its own populations, others instigated from outside, and yet others forged by radical or bourgeois class alliances across regions. Whether or not the people of Telangana get a separate state, what they are desperately seeking for is agency. It is possible to argue with Forrester (1970, 21) that the Telangana movement is an “aspect of the growing pains of modernization”, and that its “essential drive is in the direction of balanced and equitable modernization” (ibid.). Or one could turn around and state that the agitations are precisely over the definition and fallouts of modernization, if not against specific forms and aspects of modernization. What is however worth emphasizing is that, if the current round of protests and agitations are to yield rewards for the region’s long suffering and distressed classes, some at least of the parties involved need to find ways of escaping the past and instead search for new methods of agitation and new vocabularies to articulate an alternate politics that truly reflects the frustrations, grievances, and aspirations of the troubled region.
Ambedkar, B.R., “Ambedkar’s Closing Speech to the Constituent Assembly of India”, Friday, 25th November, 1949, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol11p11.htm
Ambedkar, B.R., “Thoughts on Linguistic States”, 1955, http://www.ambedkar.org/ambcd/05A.%20Thoughts%20on%20Linguistic%20States%20Part%20I.htm
Forrester, B Duncan: “Sub-regionalism in India: The Case of Telangana”, Pacific Affairs Vol 43, No 1, pp.5-21, 1970
Gray, Hugh, “The Demand for a Separate Telengana State in India”, Asian Survey, Vol. 11, No. 5, pp. 463-474, 1971
Mills, C. Wright, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, London, 1959
Rancière, Jacques, Dis-agreement: Politics and Philosophy, Translated by Julie Rose, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1999
Parthasarathy, D., Collective Violence in a Provincial City, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1997,
Subba Rao, C.V, Hyderabad: The Social Context of Industrialization, 1875-1948, Orient Longman, 2007
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Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, 400076
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