IT is difficult to understand a government that promises to set up Telangana as a separate state and then reneges on its promise. On November 29, 2009, K Chandrasekhar Rao, president of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) went on a fast-unto-death, demanding that the Congress Party introduce a Telangana Bill in Parliament. This was followed by massive rallies and strikes. On December 9 Union Minister of Home Affairs, P Chidambaram announced that the Indian Government would start the process of forming a separate state, pending the introduction and passage of a separation resolution in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.
Pro-Telangana supporters celebrated the Union Government’s decision while those in the Rayalseema-Andhra Pradesh region protested. In the circumstances, a fortnight later (December 23, 2009) the Government of India announced that no action on Telangana would be taken until a consensus was reached by all parties. That was asking for the moon. Understandably the State was again racked by rallies, hunger strikes and suicides throughout Telangana and in response the Government announced a 5-member Srikrishna Committee to look into the entire issue and make recommendations, setting December 31, 2010 as the deadline for submission of the report. The 505-page report presented in time recommended keeping the State united, but advised constitutional and statutory measures for socio-economic development and political empowerment of Telangana region through the creation of a statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council.
The Government, drowning in a spate of scams has been slow in moving. Result: On February 17, 2011 people in Telangana started a non-cooperation movement which lasted for 16 days in which allegedly some three lakh government employees participated, causing a damage of Rs eight billion per day in revenue to the government. So deep is the demand for a separate Telangana State that as many as 100 out of 118 Telangana MLAs in the State, 12 out of 15 Telangana Ministers, 13 out of 17 Telangana MPs in the Lok Sabha have resigned, what is notable is that out of 53 Congress MLAs from Telangana, 44 have resigned.
It is obvious that there is near unanimity among the people of Telangana (consisting of ten of Andhra Pradesh districts) for the formation of a separate state (consisting roughly of 41.6 per cent of the entire state’s population). The only controversial issue is the status of Hyderabad in a divided state. As things stand, Hyderabad would geographically belong to Telangana, leaving the rest of Andhra Pradesh feeling emotionally and administratively deprived. Of course, technically speaking Hyderabad can be the working capital of two states, but that, at best, can be a temporary arrangement.
Andhra Pradesh was created, as we all know, after Potti Sriramulu passed away, following a much advertised hunger strike for the creation of a state on linguistic lines. There is now almost a paradigm shift in public thinking. It is now getting to be increasingly obvious that language is not necessarily a unifying factor. Within a linguistic state there have been complaints that some districts get better treatment than some others. Factually it may be incorrect, but here one speaks about emotion, not reality. Right from 1947 Telangana has been in the news. The Telangana ‘rebellion’, so-called, led by the Communist Party of India was aimed at local feudal landlords (Jagirdars and deshmukhs) guilty of ‘illegal and excessive’ exploitation through bonded labour. The movement had to be sternly put down.
Interestingly, the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) formed in December 1953 was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana region with Andhra State. The SRC Report said in part that while important leaders of public opinion in Andhra themselves seem to appreciate the unification of Telangana with Andhra as desirable it should be based on “a voluntary and willing association of the people of Telangana” who should take a decision about their future. The people of Telangana had several reservations. Telangana was less developed than the rest of Andhra Pradesh. Also feared was the fact 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.
There was the further fear that planned irrigation projects on the Krishna and Godavari rivers would not benefit Telangana proportionately, even though the people of Telangana controlled the headwaters of the rivers. Those fears were sought to be assuaged, but the demand for a separate state continues to this day. But presently what the government in power has also to face is a possible demand for the creation of Vidharbha, to be carved out of Maharashtra, for which there has been a steady agitation. And once Vidharbha is conceded what prevents a demand for a separate Konkan State? So many questions arise that need looking into. There is nothing fundamentally wrong in the creation of new states.
Today’s India is vastly different from the India of 1947 and even of, say, 1975. Literacy over the last thirty years has risen from 35 to 74 per cent. The GDP has increased nine times over from Rs 8.42 lakh crores to Rs 70 lakh crore. There is a consciousness in every corner of India for economic betterment. There is a growing demand among hitherto allegedly neglected districts for special attention. And people are getting to be more vocal, and demanding. They refuse to be shoed off with promises. That explains the tremendous consciousness among the youth to fight for Telangana, for instance. There is, of course, always the question of viability. Is Telangana economically viable? For that matter, is Vidharbha? Or Gorkhaland? These are valid question. There is always the fear of being marginalised. But one has to face them and that is the task not of the UPA Government alone but for all parties to ponder upon. No changes under existing conditions should be made without a thoroughly-worked out consensus, among all political parties. Perhaps a beginning can be made with the creation of Telangana, keeping in mind the demand for Vidharbha. But somewhere down the line, political parties jointly must draw a Laxman rekha on what is acceptable and what is not. Surely, that is not too much to ask?