The Telangana tangle

Complex issues

The situation in Andhra Pradesh is extremely fluid. Of course, the conflagrations that one witnessed earlier seems to have settled for the time being. The temperatures have calmed down to some extent but, obviously, there is a simmering undercurrent and the situation is far from normal. This was all in the wake of the demand for a separate state of Telangana.

Why did the situation come to such a flash point, in the first place? What is the way for a peaceful settlement? How to go about in dealing with the situation in the immediate term?  These are questions which need to be addressed objectively and soberly; more so, because the eruption over the question of statehood had, indeed, led to a fracturing of the political process and more importantly division of the people of the state along the regional lines.

The question of statehood has remained a contentious issue since the founding of our independent Republic. The reorganisation of the states after independence in order to achieve a better and more rational degree of integration while taking into account, the diverse, composite and plural nature of the Indian society, was always a major challenge.

In fact, the humongous magnitude of the Indian population and the extent of its diversity perhaps have no other parallel in any other part of the world. That the country has managed to stay united and integrated for more than six decades despite occasional outbursts of the nature that we have seen on the question of Telangana is a positive commentary on the eventual ability of our people and polity to work out a course of negotiated settlement on contentious issues.

It is this collective and time-tested experience that will have to be brought into play to understand and address some of the questions that we have asked ourselves. The integration of India by reorganising hundreds of princely states that co-existed with large presidencies and provinces under direct British colonial rule was a complex task. It is the aspiration of the people on a linguistic basis to have a state reorganisation on this basis.

Movements for Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra were massive popular agitations to lead to the formation of state reorganisation commission under the chairmanship of Fazal Ali. The report of the commission in 1955 led to the formation of united Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

However, it has to be recognised that in a plural and diverse society, the mechanism for administration and governance can never be settled and processes to address the changing aspirations of the people is carried out on a continuum. Since India chose a path of capitalist development, this was an urgent necessity; for such a course of development entails a degree of regional imbalance with emergence of advanced areas and backward hinterlands. To ensure that benefits accrue evenly and alienation does not get intensified along regional lines, the governments have to be always vigilant.

However, the unsettling of the states settled once on a linguistic basis is a very sensitive issue. In fact, in the absence of a consultative and comprehensive dialogue it can actually turn out to be a dangerous proposition. In the case of the present conflagration on Telangana, this is precisely what has happened. Unfortunately, the handling of the issue is symptomatic of what had happened in the past.

Little progress
Having amended the constitution and adding Article 371 D, which made special provisions with respect to Andhra Pradesh to the effect that President “may by order ... provide ... for equitable opportunities and facilities for the people belonging to different parts of the state in the matter of public employment and in the matter of education, and different provisions may be made for various parts of the state,” precious little had actually been done on the ground to constantly address the sense of alienation of the people in the Telangana districts.

The abrupt announcement on the midnight of Dec 9, 2009, by the home minister outside while the parliament session was on with obvious lack of adequate consultation had only precipitated the situation. Though belated, it is positive that the Union government has now started consultations.

But we have seen how parties have come to be divided right down the middle on regional lines. It is obvious that such fissures manifest and mutually reinforce the deep division of the people themselves which has been accentuated by the unimaginative handling of the issue.

That all the eight major parties which were part of the initial process of consultation to issue a common appeal to the people to remain peaceful and restore normalcy in the state is a good starting point. It is this process which has to be carried out in the coming days more vigorously. It is only in an atmosphere of sober understanding and accommodation that the situation can be defused.

The principle to which any long-term solution can be achieved has to be free of emotive upheavals. And the Union government has to realise that no unilateral, partisan approach can produce any positive outcome. It is more so, when divisions within the Congress party has its obvious manifestations.

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