Telangana: People's aspirations vs political chicanery

A similar mass agitation was last seen a decade ago, in early 1990s when thousands of women took to the streets in coastal districts against the proliferation of liquor.

For the past one month since December 9 when Union Home Minister P Chidambaram backtracked on the announcement to create Telangana state, outraged people of Telangana have poured out into streets regularly to register their protests. These were not people paid to shout slogans or or fill up venues of public meetings addressed by politicians. These were people who felt betrayed by the political class from established parties like the Congress to a newcomer like Praja Rajyam Party, who went back on their promise to support creation of Telangana state.

In several meetings held across Telangana, political parties were conspicuous by absence. And when some like TDP MLA Nagam Janardhan Reddy tried to woo them, they were thrashed soundly. As Prof K Murali Manohar of Kakatiya University put it “the people are disillusioned with the parties.”

Dr Rajesh Naik, a first generation Lambada college principal, had to spend 10 days in police detention for leading a students’ protest post-Dec 9 backtracking. He believes that the present movement is as historic as the Telangana Armed Struggle waged by the Communists in the 1940s against the feudal rule of the Nizam. “This movement is now being led by people, not politicians. They are ready to lay siege on Delhi too if they are denied Telangana state,” he said.

The situation has changed so drastically, that now when people talk, leaders are listening, and not the other way round. Such is the power of this issue that not only entire population of villages are pouring out on to streets but non-mainstream groups like sex workers and hijras too are speaking out in its support.

Three major factors have contributed to this awakening. One, awakening brought about by education, exposure and economic improvement, howsoever small. Two, the influence of the three-decades long revolutionary movement that was strong in large parts of Telangana that gave a voice and confidence to the marginalised people. Three, the minute-to-minute reporting of events by the 24-hour Telugu news channels.

Class struggle

The movement is also the first-ever struggle that has seen the mobilisation of the most depressed people of the so-called lower and service castes. Prof I Tirumali of Delhi University who was elected as chairman of Telangana People’s Organisations Joint Action Committee points out that an important dimension of the movement is opposition not just to Andhra rulers but to upper castes of Telangana who are in leadership positions in various political parties. The people want not just their own state but they want their legitimate share in resources, power and positions. “This is not simply a movement for Telangana. It is a yearning of the people for democratisation from below,” he said.

A reality that is missed by most, according to Gaddar, the popular revolutionary balladeer, is that while the students from the oppressed and backward castes are keeping the flames of the movement alive, the political leadership is in the hands of the upper castes, mainly Reddys and Velamas. “So the common man is asking how will Telangana state benefit me? Will I get to own a small piece of land? Will my wages increase? Will I get water and power… what we need is people’s Telangana, not Dorala (of landlords) Telangana,” he said.

The uniqueness of the struggle is that it is funded neither by big bucks nor led by ‘big’ or known political leaders. The students don’t have money even to put up tents. Their strength is their ideological commitment to the cause. Such power of the people has surpassed the electoral power. “While the votes during Assembly and Parliament elections did not shake Delhi, the students did,” said Gaddar.

The irony of the movement is that those who have nothing much have staked it all for their beliefs. And those who have everything like the political leadership, are not willing to sacrifice anything, whether it is KCR or Telangana ministers in the Rosaiah cabinet or Telangana MPs and MLAs. And they are waiting, like vultures, to swoop down and grab power and positions. Or, if the situation is not conducive for this, then they will betray the cause to protect their own interests as also those of their caste and class.

Optimists believe that that the current movement cannot be stopped by any force and hence Telangana State will be a reality, if not immediately, at least in the near future. Optimists also believe a new chapter of ‘real’ democracy is being written by the people of Telangana.

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