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Home > General > Andhra is Headed For Chaos and Violence: The Telangana Challenge

Andhra is Headed For Chaos and Violence: The Telangana Challenge

7 January 2011

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Kashmir Times, 7 January 2011

by Praful Bidwai

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has thrown down the gauntlet to the Central government by boycotting meetings convened to discuss the report of the BN Srikrishna committee on the issue of separate statehood for Telangana, comprised of the northern districts of Andhra Pradesh. The Bharatiya Janata Party has followed suit.

The TRS questions the method of consultations proposed by Home Minister P Chidambaram, of inviting two representatives each from all the significant parties in Andhra, one from Telangana and the second from the other two regions, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao says the absence of a unified position on separate statehood in the Congress and Telugu Desam will only cause further confusion. On what basis the Centre will take a political call on the issue remains unclear.

The battle-lines on Telangana were drawn even before Justice Srikrishna submitted his report, which apparently doesn’t make recommendations either in favour of statehood for Telangana or other arrangements. These could include the status quo; making Hyderabad a Union Territory and the capital of both Telangana and the rest of Andhra on the Chandigarh-Punjab-Haryana model; or an altogether new reconfiguration.

On one side of the battlefield are ranged the TRS, the BJP, the Communist Party of India, some sections of the CPI(ML), and most, if not all, the Telangana-based legislators from the Congress, the TDP and actor Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). They emphasise Telangana’s distinctive culture, dialects, cuisine and customs.

On the other side are: the Communist Party of India (Marxist); the new political formation-in-the-making under Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the late Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who recently quit the Congress; and members of the Congress, TDP and PRP from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.

Newly-installed CM Kiran Kumar Reddy and Governor ESL Narasimhan are believed to be hostile to separate statehood. The Governor isn’t supposed to express or influence political opinion. But Mr Narasimhan, a former intelligence official, who served controversially as Chhattisgarh’s Governor, is an ambitious man prone to be meddlesome.

The opponents of statehood also warn against violating the principle of linguistic reorganisation of states, which might trigger the formation of “too many” small states like Vidarbha, Bundelkhand, Gorkhaland and Bodoland. But there’s nothing wrong with smaller states, based on cultural, agro-climatic, economic and administrative considerations. India is huge, with 1,130 million people—far greater than the average population of just 30-35 million of the world’s 190-odd nations.

There are strong political and administrative reasons for, say, 50 states, where small social groups would be better represented than in the present 28 states and 7 Union Territories. There’s no harm if Vidarbha and Bundelkhand are created. We aren’t dealing with secession or separatism, only a second stage of reorganisation of states beyond linguistic identities. There are enough sub-linguistic differences that warrant such reorganisation. Smaller states are generally better at promoting participatory democracy and development. Federalism is a worthy principle which is neglected in an over-centralised India.

No matter how the Srikrishna report is debated, and what procedure is followed to decide on statehood, it’s likely that the consequence will be contention and conflict. The TRS is uncompromising on demanding a separate Telangana state with Hyderabad as its capital. The repeated fasts by KCR and other leaders, and their pronouncements, unambiguously demand that the Centre should move a resolution in the budget session of Parliament to create the new state.

That indeed was Mr Chidambaram’s promise when he panicked at reports in December 2009 that KCR, then on a hunger strike, could slip into a coma, and announced that the process of creating a separate state would be launched immediately. The Home Minister’s ineptitude was staggering. His promise greatly exceeded the wildest expectations of the pro-Telangana proponents.

The pro-Telangana group in the Congress feels resentful that it’s not being consulted enough by the Central party leadership, whereas MPs from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema have used their superior money power to gain access to New Delhi’s top-level decision-makers. The pro-Telangana sentiment is far weaker in the TDP, whose leadership comes predominantly from the coastal region and the landowning Kamma caste.

The unified-Andhra lobby bristles at the thought that Telangana should be rewarded with the prized jewel that’s Hyderabad, a city to which all three regions lay claim. If the TRS demand is conceded, people in the other two regions will almost certainly take to the streets. Violence and bloodshed will follow. The Centre has tactlessly sent thousands of paramilitary forces primarily to Telangana, thus giving the impression of an anti-Telangana bias. One can only hope that it behaves more maturely, aware that even a minor mistake on its part will lead to avoidable bloodshed and loss of life.

Eventually, the Congress may settle the Telangana issue on a crudely political self-interest calculus. If it accepts KCR’s public offer of merging the TRS with the Congress if a separate state is created, it can secure enthusiastic support of the Telangana people and win 17 Lok Sabha seats (of Andhra’s total of 42). If it dithers, or opposes separate statehood, it stands to lose in all the regions.

Andhra Pradesh is extremely important for the Congress. It owes 35 of its Lok Sabha seats to the state—the highest in any province. This was the Congress’s highest success rate in the 2009 election. On balance, the Congress might tilt towards Telangana for opportunistic reasons.
Yet, there’s a persuasive principled case for a separate Telangana state based on social, cultural, economic and political considerations. As a political entity, Telangana as the erstwhile Hyderabad state has an older history than Andhra. This is partly rooted in the anti-Nizam-anti-British Freedom Movement and the Telangana armed peasant struggle, led by the undivided Communist Party.

Andhra came into being only in 1953, comprising the coastal region and Rayalaseema, with Kurnool as its capital. The present entity, Andhra Pradesh, was created in 1956 through Hyderabad’s merger. Its basis was linguistic identity and a 10-point “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between the then Chief Ministers of Andhra (Bezawada Gopal Reddy) and Hyderabad (Burugula Ramakrishna Rao). This included the creation of a Regional Committee for Telangana whose recommendations would “normally be accepted by the government and the state legislature”.

Another understanding was that 40 percent of Cabinet members would be from Hyderabad/Telangana. There would be a Deputy Chief Minister too, so that either the CM or the Deputy CM would be from Telangana. Many in Telangana believe these conditions haven’t been properly fulfilled.
There has since been a strong assertion of a distinct Telangana identity, through two major agitations in 1969 and in 2000. These sharpened Telangana’s sense of discrimination and highlighted its educational backwardness and “developmental backlog”. Incidentally, the Telangana demand in 2000 was led by none other than YS Rajasekhara Reddy, strongly identified with Rayalaseema.

The pro-statehood proponents argue that Telangana has not received state development assistance proportional to its size. This argument is largely valid although semi-arid Rayalaseema too can claim that it’s poor and underdeveloped. Only coastal Andhra, with its prosperous agrarian economy and rapid industrial growth around Vishakhapatnam, is decisively more developed than Telangana.

Where Telangana has an even stronger case is on its share of the waters of rivers Krishna and Godavari. Sixtynine percent of the catchment area of the Krishna and 79 percent of that of the Godavari is located in Telangana. Internationally, water-sharing is decided on the basis of this area.
But opponents of Telangana’s statehood club Hyderabad with the region to argue that Telangana’s per capita development indices are higher than coastal Andhra’s or Rayalaseema’s. Besides, Hyderabad’s prosperity is the result of investments from the other regions, especially coastal Andhra, known for its aggressive enterprise in construction, trading and industry. This is true. Many non-Telangana people have settled in Hyderabad for decades; it would be unfair to displace or disenfranchise them.

Telangana clearly has the first claim on Hyderabad: it’s literally at the heart of the region. But it’s also logical to treat Hyderabad as a special category, where some degree of regional representation and sharing is possible. In a truly federal India, we ought to go beyond the “Chandigarh Union Territory” formula, and try something that would substantially meet divergent expectations.

There are useful precedents from elsewhere in the world, such as Trieste, an ethnically distinct region in which Italy and Slovenia agreed to share sovereignty, and the Autonomous Aland Islands in Finland, which have a Swedish ethnic majority. Above all, there is Hong Kong, where China set up a Special Administrative Region in 1997 while taking it over from Britain.

There’s no reason why Hyderabad can’t be the capital exclusively of Telangana, but also have a city government in which all the local people participate. What we need is unorthodox, out-of-the-box, imaginative solutions that reconcile contradictory demands, expectations and aspirations. But can the Congress summon up the courage to think imaginatively? That’s a tall order. But the alternative is far grimmer—endless chaos and bloodletting.