Land of many discontents, united AP rationale squandered అక్టోబర్ 9, 2011Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in 1969, agitation, Andhra, Andhrapreneurship, Articles, BJP, Congress, CPI, CPI-M, Culture, fast, Guntur, Hyderabad, Identity, Kamma, KCR, Mulki, Nizam, politics, Reddy, regionalism, Settler, TDP, Telugu, TRS, Velama, Y S Jagan, YSR.
Tags: Gorkhaland, Greater Rayalaseema, poll alliances, Seema Chishti
Land of many discontents
Seema Chishti, The Indian Express, Oct 07 2011
Among most English-speaking sections of southern India, when a concept finds itself abbreviated or turned into an acronym, it is considered evidence of its acceptance. To that extent, the usage of “T” for Telangana in newspapers and periodicals there, as opposed to AP for Andhra Pradesh, could signal that “Telangana” is around the corner.
But if you discount the hype, there is a different story unfolding in the region. The absence of real stalwarts in Andhra Pradesh who can lend heft to the debate, and the Congress’s classic act of not knowing which side to weigh in on, after muddling things up very competently two years ago, does not help. A short biography of the idea of Telangana and the “movements” there is in order.
The Telangana movement, as was understood when India was being created out of hundreds of princely states, was of a completely different kind. A deep peasant revolt against the landlords was brewing, headed by the then-united CPI. The Telangana movement, between 1946 and 1951, meant bringing about a virtual “people’s republic” in those parts. Facing brutal attack from local landlords and the Nizam, comrades like P. Sundarayya, Basavapunaiah, B. Narasimha Reddy and a thousand others led a prolonged struggle for establishing “true” freedom, before they withdrew the struggle (for a variety of reasons) and participated in the 1952 elections. The communists, then a force to be reckoned with in AP, secured more than 33 per cent of the votes and were more than a handful for a wary Congress. However, despite a pre-poll alliance that got them more than the Congress, it was the Congress that was called in to form the government. Communist accounts describe how the backbone of the comrades was crushed with a brutal police-led witch-hunt, as the Telangana “movement” wound down.
However, the question of Telangana as a separate cultural entity did not really arise then, as the former Nizam’s territory had been already divided between three different states. Also, the political situation in the country was pointing towards a radical structural reorganisation, in order to stay united. The idea of linguistic states within the same nation (a concept that was the opposite of the European idea of nation-states based on different languages) caught on, and Andhra Pradesh was the spur for that movement. The persuasion of a former Congressman, Potti Sriramulu, who died fasting for a Telugu-speaking state to be carved out of Madras province, and P. Sundarayya’s thesis of Visalandhralo Prajarajyam, which argued for language as a basis for state formation (and which, by the way, is the inspiration for Chiranjeevi’s former party) were significant factors.
The late ’60s witnessed the “Jai Telangana” impulse (the original Telangana under the Nizam was split between three new states, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) erupt once again, largely driven by student leaders, and focusing on cultural differences vis-a-vis the rest of AP. It was however, seen as a shadow of the problems prompted by “under-development” in the context of a rapidly developing coastal Andhra, with political and economic dominance also controlled by one or two castes.
The fact that no real rivals to the Congress existed at the time meant that Indira Gandhi was able to get her way. She quelled the unrest through important amendments to the Constitution. and installing Marri Chenna Reddy, a Telangana man, in power.
The emergence of the TRS in 2003 indicated that the theme was being taken up again; but the fact that the TRS was welded to the Congress and then-chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s skilful alliance up till the 2009 elections (where TRS came down to two seats) gave the impression that all was well.
But almost as a symptom of the instability that has engulfed AP since YSR died in an aircrash, the Telangana agitation was revived, with the Congress rushing to mollify a fasting KCR (a fasting Chandrababu Naidu by contrast was fed intravenously), and pledging, with needless clarity, things they could not deliver. The intention, if it was to divert and shrink the zone of influence of the rebel son Jaganmohan Reddy, backfired, and the Congress ended up converting its biggest stronghold into its biggest challenge. Buying time via a “committee” did not help either, and the intellectual rationale for “staying united” was squandered, as there seemed to be no political will left to carry forward the Srikrishna Committee’s conclusions.
Once again, the state of limbo continues. The Centre looks especially shifty here, unlike on the demands for the trifurcation of UP and for Gorkhaland, because it is seen as retracting a commitment made two years ago. While protests are loudest in Telangana, the move has also provoked agitations against division, with groups like Vishalandhra Mahasabha insisting that “certain regions are rich in minerals; others have surplus agriculture output and metros have a thriving service sector. Separation will destroy this mutually beneficial economic activity among regions.”
If the Centre is seen to melt under the pressure, it could set off demands in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra too, possibly setting off a chain reaction that it cannot set rational bounds for. At the end of the last century, demands for separate states came from regions within large states that were far away from the capital. In this case, though, it is the capital and contiguous areas that appear most enraged — making it a tricky precedent to set for separation.
Rayalaseema (the most backward region of the four southern districts of AP and, ironically, the home of five CMs from the state, including Chandrababu Naidu and YSR) is now in the grip of a protest movement led by a former Congress CM’s son, Kotla Jaya Surya Prakash Reddy. “Greater Rayalaseema”, under-reported by the national media, is likely to spill over if the Centre is seen succumbing on Telangana. It can be safely assumed that coastal Andhra will not disappoint either, with several political groups happy to look for “bases” and causes.