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Telangana: A state is born

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 - 6:45am IST | Agency: dna

By conceding Telangana the Congress has averted a disaster.

There was a case to make Telangana a state within the Indian Union earlier; its urgency today is undeniable. At this moment different political parties, and political leaders may have their own calculations on the utility of this move for themselves, and various organised interests may be affected in one way or the other, but the legitimacy of conceding this demand is irreducible to such immediate calculations. It is not to the edification of any when a dozen young men set fire to themselves crying-out Jai Telangana, and hundreds of youth commit suicide in its name.

There have been various justifications that have been advanced favouring Telangana: they have come from perceptive observers of the socio-economic dynamics of the region, commission/committee reports and political leaders. One of the commendable endeavours in this regard is the Justice SriKrishna Committee Report (2011), which while suggesting the various options, eventually left the choice to the concerned political leadership, and rightly so.

Much of the literature and observations suggest the relative deprivation of this region compared to coastal Andhra, and the domination of the latter over the former through umpteen ways: how opportunities and resources tend to favour the rest of Andhra; how jobs and employment in Telangana are cornered by people from outside; how there is a gross mismatch between the revenue collected and expended in the region; how the water-table  in Telangana region is depleting further down while the large catchment area within the region feed the  Krishna and Godavari  that water the irrigation network of the rest of Andhra Pradesh etc.

While this regional imbalance can be an interesting take, and has led to an acrimonious debate between the supporters and opponents of a separate Telangana state such imbalances exist elsewhere as well, and one cannot easily imagine the prospect of rectifying them by recourse to carving out new states. In other words, rectification of regional imbalances is not an adequate justification for crafting a separate state. At the most, it can be a reinforcing argument.

However, there are three issues which I feel have a compelling force and they, in an order of priority are: First, Telangana is a region unlike other regions in India. It has sustained a distinct cultural terrain, made of deep diversities, which have commingled together and sustained a distinct way of life. In many ways it has been the meeting place of beliefs and mode of living. While, occasionally, there have been some extreme expressions of this diversity as in the communal flare-ups in Hyderabad, there is a much thick shared life, informed by diversity, that binds people of this region together. As a result language, festivals, food, religious beliefs and other elements of everyday life attain a specific attenuation markedly different from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.

This does not mean, the region does not share bonds of language and history with the rest of the present day Andhra state, but to stress a distinction that has been widely invoked by the people on the scene. The second reason, is the specific relation of this region to modes of militancy such as the great Telangana Movement (1946-1951) and later to Maoism that argued for a revolutionary transformation through protracted struggle with the peasantry as its social base of support. Thousands of young people from this region joined the Maoist outfits in 1970s and 1980s, seeking a just order. The great inequalities of wealth and entitlements and widespread social discrimination prevalent in this region, added fuel to the fire. 

While strategic experts might credit the Greyhounds for successfully hunting the Maoists in the region, those in the know-how of the spread of Maoism in this region easily concede that it is the movement for a separate Telangana state that took the wind out of the sail of revolutionary zeal. In other words, if there is one issue that has drawn the youth away from Maoism in the region it has been the agitation for separate statehood, that has thrown up a different imagination of establishing a just order. The pronounced stress on democracy and development replete in the movement can be understood in this light.

Third, and what seems to me as the most pertinent reason, is the near universal agreement in this region among all articulate sections in support of the demand for a separate state. There is a specific historical memory that has been constructed in support, poring over documents, sayings, and preceding movements in corroboration that has come to be widely accepted. Attempts to puncture such memory have been feeble, and increasingly being forcefully rejected.

This widespread demand cutting across social cleavages has made political leaders desert their parties, students give up their studies, and public discourse to become partisan. Even in such parties as YSR Congress, strongly committed to a united Andhra, its representatives from Telangana speak in a voice very different from the rest of the representatives of the existing state. In other words, elected representatives today, as the rest of the populace, are literally divided into being flag-bearers of Telangana or united Andhra, due to the groundswell of partisan support.

Those who defend a unified Andhra defend themselves not on grounds of democracy, or support from below but by appeal to a shared culture, common language, public institutions forged following the  unification of this region into a distinct state from 1956 , and on grounds of strategic, economic and corporate interests. Admittedly, the present Andhra Pradesh is a compact cultural region with much that is common, but this commonness has not succeeded in forging a political unity based on a shared sense of inclusion and fairness.

The author teaches Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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