Why the demand for a separate Telangana
Hyderabad: Sub-regional assertions for autonomy and statehood in India are always viewed with suspicion. Even academics see them as parochial movements with potential threats to national integration. Such approach prevents us from studying the statehood movements in all its dimensions. This treatise looks at the nature and the socio-economic context of the movement for statehood.
Telangana was part of the princely state of Hyderabad. The Union hoernment integrated Hyderabad state into the Indian Union after an armed action popularly known as the police action in 1948. In 1956, Andhra Pradesh was created by combining Telangana with Andhra state which was a part of the Madras Presidency until 1953.
The people of Telangana were against integration with the Andhra State. The reasons for the opposition were listed out by the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), headed by Fazal Ali: “One principal cause of opposition to Vishalandhra” according to the SRC report “seems to be the apprehension felt by the educationally backward people of Telangana that they may be swamped and exploited by the more advanced people of coastal areas.” Therefore, the Commission recommended that Telangana should be allowed to continue as a separate entity.
In spite of the recommendations made in the SRC report, Congress leaders from coastal Andhra continued their demand for Vishalandhra not only to satisfy the Telugu sentiments but to resolve the economic problems faced by the Andhra state. Vishalandhra was envisaged to “solve the difficult and vexing problem of finding a permanent capital for Andhra.” Another advantage was that “if independent political jurisdiction, namely that of Telangana, can be eliminated, the formulation and implementation of plans in the eastern areas in these two great river basins (Krishan and Godavari) will be greatly expedited.” It was also felt that the “existing state of Andhra has likewise no coal but will be able to get its supplies from Singereni (located in the Telangana region).”
In view of economic gains involved, the Andhra leaders not only supported Vishalandhra but also actively pursued it. In the beginning, the central leadership was not in favour of Vishalandhra. In October 1953, Nehru criticised the idea of Vishalandhra as bearing a tint of “expansionist imperialism”. But subsequently he changed his views due to pressure from the leaders of the Andhra region. Andhra region was actively involved in the national movement. Hence the Congress leaders from the region had strong ties with the national leaders. They used their contacts to persuade Nehru to accept the demand for Vishalandhra.
The struggle for representative government led by the Hyderabad State Congress in the erstwhile Hyderabad state remained outside the national movement. In fact, the Hyderabad State Congress was not part of the Indian National Congress. Therefore the Congress leaders from Hyderabad had only tenuous contacts with the national leaders. After the Central government took a firm decision to form Vishalandhra, the protagonists of the separate state could not continue their battle any further as Chenna Reddy, a prominent leader of the Hyderabad State Congress, and a staunch separatist, admitted, “Nehru’s stature loomed large. It was difficult to oppose him. Now we believe that we had made a mistake. Had we insisted for a separate state without fear, it would have emerged.” Thus Vishalandhra was formed through manipulation with the active involvement of the Central government. There were widespread protests in Telangana against the decision to merge Telangana with the Andhra State.
Experiments with the Regional Committee
Under these circumstances to placate the opposition to Vishalandhra in the Telangana region, leaders of the Andhra state offered certain safeguards through an agreement known as the Gentlemen’s Agreement. Among other things, it assured that “for the Telangana there will be a regional standing committee of the state assembly belonging to that region -legislation relating to specified matters will be referred to the regional committee.”
The Regional Committee failed because “more powerful men from the Andhra area now dominated the political scene and the Telangana leaders had to play the supporting role.” There was little scope for any independent leadership from Telangana. The political articulation of various groups of Telangana and their relationship with the political institutions at the state level was mediated by forces outside the region. In this political process, the Regional Committee could not operate as an autonomous body.
Power wielded by the Andhra leaders is not an individual attribute. It is an outcome of the socio-economic processes. Well organised and articulate elite emerged in Andhra region from the mid-nineteenth century onwards as a consequence of the growth of irrigation, development of modern education system, rise of modern political institutions and social reform movements. On the contrary, oppressive political institutions prevented social transformation in the Telangana region. “What have been merged are not merely two regions but two different, incompatible systems and historical experiences.” It is in this historical context that elite of the Andhra region could establish its hegemony over the state. The safeguards guaranteed by the Gentlemen’s Agreement could not offer any protection to the Telangana region.
In a third world country like India, the state is actively involved in building a modern society. The groups, that could appropriate the resources allotted by the state for development, emerged during the last fifty years as the most powerful groups. These processes widened the regional inequalities in Andhra Pradesh.
It was in this context that the movement for a separate state originated in 1968 led by students and government employees. The Central government resolved the crisis by changing the leadership. But the demands of the region remained unfulfilled. Subsequently, bowing down to the pressures from Coastal Andhra region, the Centre has abolished all the safeguards guaranteed through the Gentlemen’s Agreement. The Regional Committee provided a platform to voice protest if not to secure justice. Even that small space to ventilate their grievances was lost.
Internal colony: By establishing hegemony over the state, Andhra elites could divert the resources to their region. Telangana is thus converted into an internal colony as a result of the economic development process pursued by the successive governments. Its resources are diverted and utilised for the development of the other regions. The major grievances of Telangana centre around water and irrigation, employment and culture.
Irrigation policies pursued by the state government illustrate the discrimination towards Telangana. In the first plan prepared by the erstwhile Hyderabad government, nine projects were proposed for irrigating 38 lakh acres in all of Hyderabad state. Out of this, the Telangana region would have got about 26 lakh acres.
If the Hyderabad state were to continue, all the schemes constructed would have diverted nearly 1,000 thousand million cubic feet (tmc) of Krishna and Godavari water to irrigate the fields in Telangana. But today as per the records, the region gets hardly 277 tmc of water. In reality, it is far less. In fact, the benefits of major irrigation have gone to coastal Andhra. The total area under canal irrigation in the entire Telangana region is much less than the area irrigated under canals in Guntur district alone. Due to neglect, tanks the backbone of Telangana agriculture deteriorated. The net area irrigated under tanks in the Telangana region has gone down from 4.47 lakh hectares to 1.26 lakh hectares between 1955-56 and 2004-05. As a consequence, farmers in Telangana region spend huge amounts to dig bore wells. Nearly 80 per cent of the area irrigated in the Telangana region is under wells/bore-wells. Unable to recover the investment incurred to dig wells, many farmers have committed suicides. Many continue to do so.
In public employment, several government orders concerning local reservations are violated leading to discrimination towards Telangana. Article 371-D inserted through Thirty Second Amendment Act of 1973 empowers the President of India to issue orders providing for equitable opportunities for people belonging to different parts of the state. The President issued an order in 1975 introducing local reservations. The JM Girglani Commission, appointed by the government of Andhra Pradesh in 2001 to study the implementation of local reservations, recorded 18 different kinds of violations of the local reservations, specifically in the Telangana region.
Similarly the culture of Telangana region is suppressed and discriminated by the mass media, films and text books over which the control of the Andhra elites is complete. Andhra elites also used control over the state machinery to secure contracts and acquire land in and around Hyderabad. Vast areas of land have been acquired in and around Hyderabad violating land laws, thanks to their access to power. It explains their reluctance to leave Hyderabad.
The movement for separate statehood seeks to articulate the demand for a fair share in the resources. It is an outcome of injustice meted out to the region by successive governments in Andhra Pradesh. Formation of Telangana state is seen as the only answer to these grievances.
The Sri Krishna Committee noted that the “Telangana movement can be interpreted as a desire for greater democracy and empowerment within a political unit. As stated earlier, sub-regionalism is a movement which is not necessarily primordial but is essentially modern – in the direction of a balanced and equitable modernisation. Our analysis shows that cutting across caste, religion gender and other divisions, the Telangana movement brings a focus on the development of the region as a whole, a focus on rights and access to regional resources and further, it pitches for a rights-based development perspective whereby groups and communities put forth their agendas within a larger vision of equitable development.” (P.413)
Since all the political parties as well as the administrative machinery is dominated by the Andhra lobbies, there is no space for the people of the Telanagana region in the political arena to articulate their grievances. In view of this situation the movement for statehood always emerged outside the political arena in the realm of civil society. It originated due to the efforts made by the middle class intellectuals and social activists. Political leaders responded to the demand only after the movement gained wide support from the people. The present phase of the movement led by various civil society groups started in 1989 and intensified since 1996. Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) was formed only in 2001, after the movement gained strength. It has given political expression to the movement. The civil society groups are active even now without joining the TRS, enabling mobilisation of different sections of the society into the movement. Those who are not willing to associate with any political party find non-party forums as useful vehicles for joining the movement.
Yet the Congress party heading the UPA is not able to deliver a decision on the issue. The party seems to be more concerned about the support from the Andhra elites rather than the aspirations of the Telangana people. This delay in fulfilling the promise made to the Telangana people led to many suicides. Until now, more than 1000 youths of Telangana have died in desperation. Some of them died in public in front of the media by setting themselves on fire. Most of them left behind detailed suicide notes, clearly blaming the government and naming some political leaders. These suicides are a direct consequence of the failure of the democratic process.
The Government of India has delayed the process of formation of the Telangana state and its terrible cost is evident – human loss, economic damage and loss of credibility for the political decision making process. This is not the feature of good governance and would bear consequences in the long run for the nation.
The writer is a professor in political science at Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is also the chairman of the all-party Telangana Political Joint Action Committee (T-JAC) which fights for a separate Telangana state. Views expressed are personal.