TELANGANA is back in the headlines with a bang once again with MPs and legislators, belonging to the region, from virtually all political parties including the ruling Congress Party, tendering their resignation in what seems to be a desperate bid to force the Centre to bring in a law for the creation of a separate state in the upcoming Monsoon session of Parliament. Several Ministers in the state Government too put in their papers, rejecting the mediation by the party high command.
The en masse resignations were followed by a 48-hour bandh, call for which was given by the Telangana Joint Action Committee to put pressure on the Centre to concede statehood. Offices, educational institutions, shops and business establishments remained shut and several bus and train services were cancelled.
The emotive Telangana issue has been like a volcano erupting off and on. Unfortunately, all political parties, except for BJP, have all along been maintaining inconsistency on the issue and kept changing their stance according to their electoral convenience.
There has also been an attempt to compare the demand for Telangana with similar demands for smaller states across the country and fears have been raised time and again that conceding to the demand would open a pandora’s box and the country could ill afford creation of so many smaller states.
While smaller states may be administratively more convenient and give greater say to the local populace in matters of governance, states such as Jharkhand, where independent MLAs like Madhu Kora became Chief Ministers and amassed wealth vastly disproportionate to their income, showed the inherent fragility of polity in the newly carved out utopias often touted as the ultimate panacea for misgovernance and mal-administration in large states.
However, the demand for Telangana, comprising the Telugu speaking portions of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad, has been there right since the time of nation’s independence. Except for the Telugu language, there was and is very little in common between the peoples of Telangana and other regions of the state namely Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra.
To begin with, Telangana was never under direct British rule, unlike the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh, which were part of British India’s Madras Presidency.
It may be recalled that the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) , appointed in 1953, to study the creation of states on linguistic basis, was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana region with Andhra state, despite their common language.
In fact, in paragraph 382 of its report, the Commission Report said “opinion in Andhra is overwhelmingly in favour of the larger unit; public opinion in Telangana has still to crystallise itself. Important leaders of public opinion in Andhra themselves seem to appreciate that the unification of Telangana with Andhra, though desirable, should be based on a voluntary and willing association of the people and that it is primarily for the people of Telangana to take a decision about their future”.
The Commission found that the people of Telangana had several concerns. First of all, the region had a less-developed economy than Andhra, but with a larger revenue base, which people of Telangana feared might be diverted for use in Andhra.
Secondly, they had strong apprehensions that the planned irrigation projects on the Krishna and Godavari rivers would not benefit Telangana proportionately, even though people of Telangana controlled the headwaters of the rivers.
Another issue of serious concern was that the people of Andhra, who had access to higher standards of education under the British rule, would have an unfair advantage in seeking government and educational jobs in the proposed new state.
Therefore, the Commission proposed that the Telangana region be constituted as a separate state with a provision for unification with Andhra state, after the 1961 general elections.
However, under pressure from the Congress High Command, the then Chief Minister of Hyderabad State, Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, agreed to the proposed merger and subsequently on Novermber 25, 1955, the Andhra state Assembly passed a resolution on to provide safeguards to Telangana.
“The Assembly would further like to assure the people in Telangana that the development of that area would be deemed to be special charge, and that certain priorities and special protection will be given for the improvement of that area, such as reservation in services and educational institutions on the basis of population and irrigational development.”, the Resolution said.
In fact, the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was initially skeptical of merging Telangana with Andhra State, fearing a “tint of expansionist imperialism” in it. He compared the merger to a matrimonial alliance having “provisions for divorce” if the partners in the alliance cannot get on well.
Finally, the new state of Andhra Pradesh came into being on November 1, 1956 with assurances to Telangana in terms of power-sharing as well as administrative domicile rules and distribution of expenses of various regions.
However, the honeymoon did not last long with the people of Telangana expressing dissatisfaction over the implementation of the agreements and guarantees, made at the time of the state’s merger.
The growing discontent and disillusionment was reflected in the first rally organised by students of Osmania University to protest against discrimination in government jobs against Telangana people, way back in December 1968.
Following the Jai Andhra agitation in the Seema-Andra region in 1973, against the protections (mulki rules) given for Telangana region, the Government of India diluted the guarantees provided in the pre-merger Gentlemen’s agreement.
According to proponents of a separate state, Telangana is not only the largest of the three regions of Andhra Pradesh state, covering 41.47 per cent of its total area and inhabited by 40.54 per cent of the state’s population but also contributes about 76 per cent of the state’s revenues, excluding the contribution of the Central Government.
They also cite perceived injustices in the distribution of water, budget allocations, and jobs. They allege that Budget allocations to Telangana are generally less than 1/3 of the total Andhra Pradesh budget. There are also allegations that in most years, funds allocated to Telangana were never spent. According to the proponents of separate statehood, only 20 per cent of the total Government employees, less than 10 per cent of employees in the secretariat, and less than five per cent of department heads in the Andhra Pradesh government are from Telangana.
Telangana supporters claim that the agreements, plans, and assurances from the legislature and Lok Sabha over the last five decades have not been honoured, and as a consequence the region has remained neglected, exploited, and backward. They feel that the experiment to remain as one state has proved to be a failed venture and separation is the best solution.
In due course, various political parties were formed on the plank of pursuing separate statehood for Telangana region, including the Telangana Praja Samithi Party in 1969, which won 11 out of 13 Parliamentary seats in 1971.
BJP was the first national political party which in the 1990s promised a separate Telangana state if elected to power.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), led by K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), was formed in 2001 with the single-point agenda of creating a separate Telangana State with Hyderabad as its capital. In the 2004 Assembly and Parliament elections, the Congress Party promised a separate Telangana State and entered into all electoral alliance with the TRS. The Congress came to power in the state and formed a coalition government at the Centre. In fact, creation of Telangana state was part of the Common Minimum Programme of the first UPA Government.
However, the Congress reneged on its promise and in September 2006, TRS withdrew support from the Congress-led coalition government.
Realising the groundswell of support for separate statehood and the sharp divisions within its own leaders and cadres, the TDP, the main opposition party in the state which has always been supportive of a United Andhra and talked about Telugu pride, announced its support for the creation of separate Telangana state in October 2008 and promised to work towards creation of separate Telangana state.
The Praja Rajyam Party (PRP), founded by Telugu Matinee cinema actor Chiranjeevi, too supported separate statehood.
In November 2009, TRS president K Chandrashekar Rao started a fast-unto-death, demanding that the Congress Party introduce a Telangana Bill in Parliament. He was arrested by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. Following massive unrest, on December 9, 2009, Union Minister of Home Affairs P Chidambaram announced that the Centre would begin the process of forming a separate Telangana state, pending the introduction and passage of a separation resolution in the Andhra Pradesh assembly.
Even as pro-Telangana supporters celebrated the announcement, people from the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions protested, following which the Congress-led UPA again backtracked saying no action on Telangana would be taken until a consensus was reached by all parties.
Following widespread protests, the Centre announced a five-member committee on Telangana headed by retired Justice B N Srikrishna to look into the issue.
But instead of coming out with a strong recomendation, the Committee, in its report, offered six options ranging from maintaining the status quo to creation of a separate state with the contentious Hyderabad as a Union Territory as also acceptance of the demand for carving out a separate state with Hyderabad as its capital in toto.
Continuing with its dilly dallying tactics, the Centre sat on the recommendations, resulting in the present crisis.
With United Andhra contributing the highest number of MPs to its kitty, the Centre is hesitant to take a decision on the issue. With the charismatic YSR no more around and his son Jaganmohan Reddy threatening to undermine the party’s base in Seema-Andhra, the party’s options are limited. It knows too well that the present weak leadership in the state just cannot deliver unlike YSR, during whose tenure the Telangana movement had lost much of its steam.
The Congress also does not want the TRS, BJP or other regional parties to take credit for creation of a separate state. Having realised that the creation of Telangana was inevitable and a matter of time in the wake of consensus on the issue among all parties and sharp division within its own rank and file, the resignation of Congress Minister, MLAs and MPs is being seen by political observers as a last ditch stage managed attempt by the Congress Party to hijack the movement and retain at least part of its fast dwindling strength south of Vindhyas.
With only 38 MLAs and a wafer thin majority in Kerala, a discredited ally in Tamil Nadu, a near wipe out in Karnataka in the wake of BJP’s continued winning spree in Assembly and civic polls and a fast eroding base in Andhra thanks to Jaganmohan Reddy and a weak state leadership, Congress, it seems, sees a last straw of hope in Telangana.
Thus, the Congress men’s sudden penchant for Telangana has apparently more to do with realpolitik than the sentiments and aspirations of the people of the region. Whatever be the political compulsions, it is high time the people of Telangana get to realise their long cherished dream with the people of Seemandhra being adequately compensated for the loss of Hyderabad and having no bitterness for their brethren.