Revolt of the deprived

Revolt of the deprived

The demand for a separate state of Telangana has been through many phases accompanied by violence and strong opposition from political leaders belonging to the Rayalseema and coastal region. This longstanding demand epitomises a problem facing the country — the existence of backward region(s) in all the big states formed at the time of Independence.

This is evident from the immediate demands for smaller states sparked off by the announcement of the Central government that it would move a resolution to form a separate state of Telangana — Vidharbha, Bodoland, Coorg, Bundelkhand and Gorkhaland among others.

Much of the discussion on states reorganisation has focused on issues of language, culture and more recently size and governance. Little attention has been paid to the political economy of formation of underdeveloped regions on the sub-continent during the colonial period and subsequently, which has played a significant role in the ongoing demands for creation of smaller states.
Colonial investment in commercial agriculture and industry on the sub-continent in keeping with imperial interests was in selected areas: deltas, river valleys, coastal and mineral-rich regions. With some exceptions the princely areas also remained backward.

This distorted pattern of regional development continued into the post-independence period despite the adoption of the goals of socialism and centralised allocation of resources. The result has been the development of capitalism in ‘enclaves’ in all the big states surrounded by poorer sub-regions that remain backward with undernourished and illiterate populations.
Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, Vidharbha in Maharashtra, the tribal regions of Orissa typically form the deprived underbelly in these states, despite the Congress party being in power until the 1990s.
At Independence it was envisaged that in these large states, capital would move from the developed to the underdeveloped sub-regions and labour vice-versa, creating all-round development. This rationale underlay the creation of Vishal Andhra but the outcome has been ‘internal colonialism’ or the better-off region grabbing the lion’s share of resources/opportunities.

Consequently, the people of Telangana are today demanding statehood arguing that they have been badly neglected by successive governments. While earlier the upper castes and upwardly mobile Reddys and Kammas were in forefront of the demand for Vishal Andhra, today it is the backward castes and Dalits who are vociferous in demanding a separate Telangana where they feel their needs will be addressed.
However, some features of this pattern of unequal regional development could make formation of a separate state of Telangana difficult. Colonial investment in the Andhra deltas led to the creation of a rich landlord class, which after Independence moved inland into agro-industry, manufacturing and in recent years the IT sector in Hyderabad.

Supportive of the economic reforms introduced by Chandrababu Naidu, it has representatives in the legislature which explains the mass resignations by leaders from virtually all parties opposing the formation of Telangana. With the advent of a market-led economy it is questionable if the aspirations of the people of Telangana (and other such regions) can be easily fulfiled.

Regional inequalities have markedly increased since the early 1990s with retreat of the state and a growing private sector controlling investment decisions of scarce resources. It will be difficult for the poorly educated and disadvantaged groups in the underdeveloped regions to obtain employment particularly in the better paid, more dynamic sectors of the economy.

Well-educated and better-off ‘outsiders’ might benefit leaving the people of the new state behind, heightening feelings of regionalism witnessed in Maharashtra. Signs of this are already evident in Hyderabad with private businesses moving out afraid that ‘Brand Hyderabad’ may no longer attract private capital and they would have to cater to demands for local employment.

Considering the plethora of demands for separate statehood from backward regions, the problem is not limited to the creation of Telangana. The Congress party passed a resolution in 2001 proposing establishment of a Second States Reorganisation Commission to consider redrawing the map of India and carving out smaller states, but the Congress-led UPA following its victory in 2004 conveniently chose to forget such promises.

In 2008 prior to the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh it supported the proposal, but it was a short-term tactic to form a partnership with the TRS to obtain votes in Telangana and was abandoned after emerging victorious fearing antagonism from coastal leaders.

Chandrasekara Rao’s 11-day fast has pushed UPA-II to agree to the formation of Telangana but backlash from political leaders — including Congressmen — in Andhra and Rayalseema and demands from other states, has put the Congress leadership in a bind. Given the violence unleashed, the creation of Telangana can no longer be postponed.

The challenge before the Congress leadership is twofold: establish a commission to create smaller, economically viable states; more immediately, create a political consensus to make a separate Telangana possible.
(The writer is professor at centre for political studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)