'It's more about Telangana identity than development'
The Telangana movement for separate state is at its peak now. The Sri Krishna committee appointed by the Central government is supposed to submit its report by the end of the year.
The parties that are supporting the cause of statehood for Telangana however are not ready to accept either the terms of reference or the time frame set for the committee. They want a speedier creation of the separate state.
But why has this situation come about? Why is there widespread anger among the people and leaders of Telangana against delay? There are multiple reasons for this and the present movement is different from the previous ones.
The usual argument forwarded condescendingly by the commentators is that the Telangana region is ‘backward’ and therefore the agitation. They claim that if only the region is economically developed –through some kind of economic package—the issue will be resolved. But this argument is wrong. At the heart of the issues on which the struggle for Telangana statehood now is more about Telangana identity rather than economic development.
The argument that the Telangana state always existed, separately from Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, prior to Independence, and the formation of linguistic states, is not a sufficient justification for the demand. What existed earlier under the Nizam was a feudal state that depended on an agrarian system of landlords and revenue administration that nobody can think of going back to. The reasons are more contemporary.
Firstly, ever since the formation of the unified state the very first principles of the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ signed by the representatives of both the regions have been ignored. For example the agreement says that the post of the deputy chief minister should be given to a leader from Telangana, in case the chief minister is from other regions, has never been followed.
All the governments since the formation of the unified state – both Congress and non-Congress governments have ignored the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Since then the policies pursued have been favourable to coastal Andhra. These pertain to jobs in the government and public sector, irrigation projects and policies of education and health. The bias always was toward the non-Telangana areas.
Secondly, the present conjuncture is characterised, and is a result of, the policies pursued by the Telugu Desam and Congress governments over the last fifteen years. The N T Rama Rao regime which came to power in 1983 through the Telugu Desam Party championed the ‘Telugu pride’ and ‘self respect’ vis-à-vis the Centre. Later, NTR shifted the Telugu film industry from Chennai to Hyderabad. This was a huge subterranean shift; from then onwards two processes happened: one, propagation of a discourse of Telugu pride and two, systematic rehabilitation of coastal Andhra interests in Hyderabad.
Thirdly, the subsequent Chandrababu Naidu government qualitatively changed its tack and concentrated on a paradigm shift from NTR-style populism to neo-liberalism. Naidu, in his rule of about a decade, did his best to attract internal investment from coastal Andhra and external investment from the multinational corporate sector in high-tech industries.
He built the infrastructure needed for this in Hyderabad. There was also systematic exodus of coastal Andhra investors to Hyderabad. The rural sector and agriculture were neglected, which resulted in a large numbers of farmers’ suicides; these particularly happened in Telangana.
Naidu’s focus was Hyderabad. The TDP lost the elections in 2004. Post-2004, Y S Rajasekhar Reddy changed the political strategy concentrating on rural sector. In a way, both Congress and TDP were responsible for the current Telangana movement.
The assertion of Telangana cultural identity today, wherein the protesters are using all the folk media that they can muster, is in direct opposition to the economic and cultural dominance of the aforesaid culture industry.
It is pertinent to note that the coastal Andhra culture industry deliberately humiliates Telangana dialect and culture; it’s past and present. All those who belong to culture industry are based in Hyderabad and have expanded their grip over the economy of AP and Hyderabad. Therefore they need Hyderabad. No matter what happens to its hinterland.
So far, the movement has been led largely by the Osmania University students and the Joint Action Committee consisting of major political groupings. The situation today is that the movement has spread to rural areas and grassroots; not only students but the activists of Telangana are also committing suicide in desperation.
The ‘unified state’ protagonists do have not much to lose if they accede to the demand, because even under Telangana state, Hyderabad will retain its diversity. The task before the Sri Krishna committee is to see how the genuine urge for Telangana can be accommodated neither making Hyderabad a Union Territory nor yielding to the pressures of the coastal Andhra lobbies.
As for the national repercussions of any such decision, we can only say that each case must be considered on its merit. Arguments in favour of Telangana does not mean that there need be a single solution for every demand of statehood.
(The writer is an assistant professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore)