Seemandhra boils over Telangana fire

Seemandhra boils  over Telangana fire

What is the use of the engineering degree when Hyderabad, the only place we could find employment, is not ours,” students from Sri Sunflower Engineering College ask  in anguish.

Thousands of students, who gathered at the junction of the town of Challapally in Krishna district of Coastal Andhra region, boycotting their classes to participate in the Lakshagala Garjana (roar of a lakh voices) echoed similar feelings as the Congress Working Committee’s (CWC) announcement snatched away their dreams of a better life away from the drudgery of coastal town of Diviseema, an area prone to frequent, devastating cyclones.

Undeterred by the announcements from New Delhi that the process of bifurcation is irreversible, common men and women, school children or farmers have come out on to the streets voluntarily since July 30, the day their hopes were dashed by the CWC decision to carve out the new state of Telangana.

The APSRTC buses stopped plying in all the 13 districts of Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra, jointly called as “Seemandhra,” and for two months not even a single bus has come out of the 250 bus depots inflicting losses of over Rs 650 crore on an already ailing government body.  This is in addition to the existing losses of Rs 4,200 cr of the organisation and Rs 290 cr annual interest payment liability.

The Samaikyandhra agitation has thrown normal life out of gear in the Seemandhra districts. While 6 lakh government employees went on strike shutting down all government offices, 70,000 employees of the APGenco, AP Transco and the Discoms went on an indefinite strike for five days bringing the Southern Grid under severe pressure.

Electricity employees’ strike disrupted train services, medical emergencies and water supply in municipalities. In coastal districts of Krishna, Visakhapatnam, Guntur, Nellore, Prakasam and East Godavari, people have faced prolonged power cuts of over 15 hours at a stretch. 

Business community was not spared as sales came down by over 50 per cent in most sectors, and their chance to cash in on Dasara festivities was also lost. For over two months, shops in Seemandhra region are closed  half the day everyday in solidarity with the agitation. With the Andhra Pradesh Non-Gazetted Officers’ Association (APNGOs) deciding not to celebrate Dasara this year and with no salaries from past two months, shops and commercial establishments are not expecting good sales. The entertainment sector was also hit, with cinema halls shutting down unable to run three shows a day with the help of a single generator. It is a relief, however, that protestors have temporarily suspended their agitation.

Surprisingly, though inconvenienced, the common man is bearing it with a grin. They seem to have taken it in their stride - they firmly believe the agitation is for keeping the State united. But, how long will they put up with all this is the million-dollar question. Novel protests were organised every day represented by one particular section of the society in different Seemandhra districts. The agitators say that Hyderabad-centric development has siphoned off the funds to Telangana while the coastal region and Rayalaseema have been left with nothing.

Political vacuum

When the December 9, 2009 announcement of the then Home minister Chidambaram on Telangana came, Seemandhra legislators cutting across political affiliations saw to it that the decision was withdrawn. But this time,  there is a striking political vacuum. The APNGOs Association is the only rallying force behind the agitation.

While the ruling Congress and main opposition TDP are vertically split over the Telangana issue on regional lines, YSR Congress and CPI (M) are the only two political parties which have announced support to Samaikhyandhra. The YSRC which had favoured Telangana in a letter to the Centre, has changed its mind, knowing well its dwindling fortunes in Telangana.

Though YSRC president and Kadapa MP YS Jaganmohan Reddy undertook indefinite hunger strike demanding the government to keep the state united, his trademark tirade against Congress is noticeably missing even to the astonishment of his cadres. Was there a tacit understanding between the Congress and the YSR Congress so that at a  later date announce outside support to Congress at the Centre, will be interesting to watch.

“The Congress strategy is to ride piggy-back Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which is spearheading the separate state movement, in  Telangana and the YSRC in Seemandhra,” says Payyavula Keshav, TDP MLA from Anantapur district. The TDP is equally worried as the stand of their party chief Chandrababu Naidu is not easy to defend in Seemandhra as it has given in writing its no objection to Telangana. It had at least once fought elections with the TRS, an alliance which eroded TDP’s credibility in Seemandhra.

Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, seen as a loner in the Congress, has suddenly turned into a champion of united Andhra cause. Even though his presentation to the AICC war room on the need to keep the state failed to amuse party high command, the Peeleru MLA at least succeeded in  impressing his voters. He not only attacked his party’s decision to bifurcate the state but also lashed out at party’s  state in charge Digvijay Singh on Telangana.

With the Union government inching closer to sending the Telangana draft bill to the state Assembly, Reddy has already taken a vow to defeat it and then quit his post.  The employees and teachers may have temporarily withdrawn their strike in the hope that political parties will take forward the agitation they have built but the protest may restart any time with the Centre remaining firm on gifting Telangana region a separate state.

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