Telangana up and running
I was barely six years in the profession, then working in Raipur, when Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh. There was hardly any noise witnessed, nor do I remember even a major rally demanding statehood for Chhattisgarh. Thus, one fine morning on 1 November 2000 we were in Chhattisgarh. All thanks to the BJP-led NDA government, which walked out with 10 out of 11 Lok Sabha seats in the state following the bifurcation.
Now 20 years in the profession, it’s almost déjà vu as I witness another bifurcation, but with a different angle. Now it’s down south. Working in Hyderabad for the past many years, I came across numerous situations of high-voltage political battle which eventually led to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, and it would be for the first time that the region seeking division will have the capital as well – Hyderabad in this case.
The case of the upcoming 29th state, Telangana, is very different from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Uttarakhand. Its birth would eclipse the parent state itself, reducing it to nothing but a small block (Rayalaseema) and a coastal strip (Coastal Andhra) on the Indian map.
Seemandhra will have the nametag Andhra Pradesh and the new state will be called Telangana, as was the case before 1956.
1956 ‘wedding’: Looking back to look ahead
The state reorganisation commission, appointed in December 1953 to recommend the reorganisation of state boundaries, was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana with the Andhra state, despite their common language. With the intervention of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Telangana and Andhra states were merged on 1 November 1956. Nehru termed the merger a ‘matrimonial alliance having provisions for divorce’.
The state reorganisation report of 1955, which brought the merger into effect, said the existing Andhra state had faced financial problems of some magnitude ever since it was created. Besides, compared to Telangana, the existing state had a lower per capita revenue. Telangana, on the other hand, was much less likely to face financial embarrassment, the report noted. It also strongly notes the dissent of the people of Telangana region and their unwillingness to form the larger Andhra Pradesh.
1969 agitation: What happened then?
Primarily a student-driven protest, it turned historical for the number of people who took part in it. Over 350 students were killed in police firing and baton charge. Osmania University was the movement’s hotbed. Congress leader Marri Channa Reddy, who raised the ‘Jai Telangana’ slogan, diluted the movement by merging his Telangana Praja Samithi Party with the Congress – Indira Gandhi made him the chief minister subsequently.
That’s how the movement collapsed: a result of Indira Gandhi’s masterstroke. PV Narasimha Rao, too, was made CM in 1971 because he was from Telangana region.
Why Telangana wants out
Telangana has been a highly disputed region ever since its formal merger with Andhra Pradesh in 1956. There were safeguards provided for the Telugu-speaking people in the form of a document known as the ‘Gentlemen’s agreement’. In fact, the ill-implementation of these safeguards is one of the causes for the struggle for bifurcation. Even when it came to chief ministers, Rayalaseema leaders had the say. Only a handful of Telangana leaders could make it to the coveted post.
Water-sharing has also been an issue. Telangana politicians cried that the Nagarjuna Sagar dam is built in Nalgonda district, which is in Telangana, but majority of water from the dam is used for Krishna and Guntur districts.
Two major rivers – Krishna and Tungabhadra – flow through Mahaboobnagar but the district remains perennially drought-hit since it has no major projects. In Telangana, only a few areas cultivate one crop a year and very rarely two crops a year, while most of the land doesn’t even cultivate single crop. In both Godavari districts, Krishna and Guntur districts, two crops a year is common and there are times where even three crops a year are cultivated. Reason: ample water. In the last few years, scores of youth committed suicide in Telangana region. Protesters, who came under a common banner irrespective of political affiliations, brought the state to a grinding halt on several occasions.
Why Seemandhra won’t let go
Experts argue that a separate Telangana may fall prey to Maoist violence – like neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Maoists have a big presence on its border. They argue that except Hyderabad and Secundarabad, Telangana has no other developed area or city. On the other hand, pro-united Andhra voices argue that post-bifurcation, Telangana will be a rich state with the money from Hyderabad – Secundarabad. In contrast, Seemandhra will suffer economically. They contend Seemandhra may not be able to pay even salaries and pensions with the meagre income the region generates.
Hyderabad: the bone of contention
The issue of Hyderabad remained – and still remains, though a murmuring one now – a stumbling block in the creation of the new state. The argument of the pro-Andhra protesters, who finally had to bite the bifurcation bullet, was that Hyderabad should be made into a union territory. They argued that the state capital developed in recent decades only because of investments of entrepreneurs from Seemandhra. To settle the issue, the centre has made Hyderabad a common capital for 10 years.
What after bifurcation?
Interestingly, there is not much noise in any of the three regions – Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema – since parliament approved the bifurcation (Lok Sabha passed the Telangana bill by a voice vote on 18 February, the upper house followed suit two days later after the union cabinet cleared it on 7 February). It was expected that Seemandhra region would witness a surge of protests, while roads will be packed with celebrations in Telangana. But a week after Rajya Sabha passed it amid uproar, everything seems normal on ground.
Political pundits say there could be several economic implications to the decision. The tension and uncertainty in Hyderabad, which will be the joint capital for the first 10 years, would affect the flow of investment – particularly the key IT sector. The division of assets and officials, the sharing of common resources, particularly water and energy, are expected to be major problem areas.
Article 371D (which provides ‘special provisions with respect to the state of Andhra Pradesh’) exists even after the bifurcation. It is bound to create issues in employment and education if the centre serves no detailed note on it. Article 371D safeguards rights of local people in employment and education and was created after agitation in the state. It was incorporated as the 32nd Amendment of the constitution in 1974.
What are the political gambits?
Telangana was the Congress’s trump card. The new state would have 17 LS seats and 119 assembly seats (AP has 294 assembly seats). Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) alliance/merger with the Congress could fetch the grand old party aspire to the magic figure of 60 in assembly and 12-14 LS seats. It all depends on TRS support, though. In Seemandhra, which has 25 LS and 175 assembly seats, the simple majority is 80. The Congress has 97 seats there but a Jaganmohan Reddy sweep has been forecast in the region. In the emerging scenario, Congress seems to have lost the plot there.
Odds still stacked against Seemandhra?
Seemandhra is rich in industry and, more importantly in southern India, water. Of the three regions of present-day AP, Telangana has the largest area (1,14,800 square km). The Deccan plateau has two major rivers – Godavari and Krishna – and Telangana alone has some 69 per cent of the Krishna river and 79 per cent of the Godavari catchment area. Telangana is also drained by minor rivers such as Manair, Bhima, Dindi, Kinnerasani, Manjeera, Munneru, Moosi, Penganga, Praanahita, Peddavagu and Taliperu. But if we did not have enough water disputes south of the Vindhyas, expect more than ever once the two warring cousins (Telangana and Seemandhra) are born. Besides, 20 per cent of India’s coal deposits, 45 per cent of AP’s forest area and 41.6 per cent of its population are in Telangana.
How did political parties react?
Opposition parties are firm that the Congress has bungled up on Telangana. Lok Satta Party chief Jayaprakash Narayan believes it is a classic case of how not to do things. Eventually, this issue will become a case study, he says, and Congress has played political games without exploring several factors. The party, the opposition believes, should have looked at alternatives and also considered public opinion. Only once all this was done should it have gone ahead with the bill.
Though the issue was raked up because people felt that phenomenal injustice had been done to Telagnana, no political leader spoke about this aspect for the last three years. Why did the Telugu Desam Party keep quiet for 10 years? Today, even when some parties are speaking up, it’s about their own convenience.
The BJP, on the other hand, could not go back on the Telangana issue, the party already having made a commitment and going back would raise questions about its credibility. In the long run, BJP leaders feel Telangana will be the party’s stronghold; it could even play a very soft Hindutva card on the issue, though the party is not exhibiting any haste.
Common capital and future
AP (or Seemandhra) would require around Rs 5 lakh crore to build a new capital. A tussle has already begun between the Reddys, the Kammas and the Kapus. The Kapus want a capital near the east and west Godavari, the Kammas want it in Guntur, Vijayawada, and the Reddys in Ongole. With caste equations very strong in the state, everyone is trying to pull the capital near their own land in anticipation of appreciation of land prices. Though Hyderabad will be the ‘common capital’ for 10 years, people of coastal AP and Rayalaseema would like a new capital built at the earliest.
Port city Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Kurnool and Tirupati are the major cities in Seemandhra region, and all these cities, each with a distinct identity, are contenders for capital status of the new state.
By arrangement with Governance Now