Telangana up and running: an ABC on the new state and Seemandhra

A primer on the country's 29th state and the residual one – looking back and looking ahead

| February 28, 2014




(This story first appeared in the February 16-28, 2014 print edition, after the Lok Sabha passed the Telangana bill on February 18. We reproduce it again to look at the basic issues at the heart of the demand for, opposition of and finally carving out of India's 29th state)

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 November 1, 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 November 1, 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 February 18, the upper house followed suit two days later after the union cabinet cleared it on February 7).

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 (YSR Congress) sweep has been forecast in the region. In the emerging scenario, Congress seems to have lost the plot there. TDP is also gaining ground with its anti-bifurcation stance.

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 percent of the Krishna river and 79 percent 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 percent of India’s coal deposits, 45 percent of AP’s forest area and 41.6 percent 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.

Where do parties stand now?
With the Telangana decision clearly set to decimate the party in Seemandhra region, Congress MPs and MLAs from the region had been opposing the Telangana bill vehemently and passionately. They could foresee a political death warrant for them.

The YSR Congress led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, which has made its pro-AP stand clear as crystal, hopes to gain the most in Seemandhra. Jagan’s main opponent is TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu, whose political star has been waning for the last decade and who is now looking to revive his political fortunes.

The Congress stands to, or hopes to, gain in Telangana. But it cannot enjoy the political dividend in splendid isolation. It has to share the laurel and glory with the TRS of K Chandrasekhara Rao, because it is TRS and Rao who had steadfastly spearheaded the demand for a separate state, and Congress’s central leaders did not show an unwavering commitment.

The Congress may lose out this time in Seemandhra – the party leaders are, in fact, reconciled to an imminent drubbing – but state leaders are confident that they will remain a factor in both Seemandhra and Telangana in the long run.

The BJP, which had supported the Telangana bill, is politically present in the region and absent in Seemandhra. It may not have any immediate gain because the immediate political glory would be shared between Congress and TRS. But it can hope to win a few seats in Telangana eventually.

The BJP is looking at both TDP and YSR Congress for possible and probable political alliances but both regional parties will have a tough time justifying an alliance with BJP, which supported Telangana.

The other local political player is – Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi – hopes to spread its wings all over Telangana. Right now, it is confined to the old city of Hyderabad.

What is TRS chief KCR’s role now?
With Telangana set to become the 29th state, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhara Rao will go down in history as the man who played a key role by reviving the movement for a separate state 14 years ago.

Then with TDP, KCR was hoping for a cabinet berth in the state government but was made deputy speaker after the 1999 elections. He quit TDP in 2001 to champion the cause of a separate Telangana state and founded TRS.

All this while, with faster development in rest of AP, a feeling was gaining ground in Telangana that it was being exploited and that the region’s surplus was being transferred to finance development in the rest of the state. In 2004 polls, YS Rajasekhara Reddy joined hands with KCR, promising a separate Telangana. But YSR got cold feet and backtracked, triggering resignations of TRS MLAs. KCR subsequently quit his union ministry post. Now he is seen as the man who managed to get the state bifurcated.

How is the business community reacting?
Business leaders say division of the state will not immediately impact their activities and urged the governments of the two states – Telangana and AP – to ensure a peaceful environment to protect and encourage investments.

MV Rajeshwara Rao, secretary-general of the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says there are a lot of investments made by Seemandhra entrepreneurs in and around Hyderabad. That should not be harmed.

GV Prasad, chairman of India’s largest pharmaceutical company, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, says, “Regionalism should not lead to division among people. Nobody should feel insecure in Hyderabad.”

B Ashok Reddy, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry in AP, says clarity on the state’s future will help businesses take decisions and it depends on how quickly the two governments come up with policies to attract investments from across the globe.

Wait, there’s a churning on SCs, STs, backward classes (BC) and minority communities form 92 percent of Telangana’s population, and as of today, they don’t have any political say, which has been concentrated between two communities – the Reddys and the Kammas – for the last 60 years. But, taken together, both do not account for even a hugely significant percentage of AP’s population.

In Telangana, the Reddys are 3 percent and the Velamas are 0.5 percent of the demographic pie but they account for 68 MLAs out of 190. There is a social engineering going on in Telangana which no political party is trying to understand. There are just 26 MLAs of the BC community, whereas their population is 56 percent. So where is the political share for them? A huge churning is taking place that might turn the future of Telangana upside down. In fact, the 1,000 youths who committed suicide were all from lower castes and the leadership of Telangana is all upper caste.

As far as MIM is concerned, it is controlled by one family and does not want to expand.

Common capital and future
AP (or Seemandhra) would require around '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.

Visakhapatnam (or Vizag) boasts of a major port and many public sector and private industries, besides being the headquarters of Eastern Naval Command. It is well connected to eastern India and has a cosmopolitan culture. It has an international airport, though that is under the Navy’s command. Efforts to develop a civilian international airport have come to a naught due to lack of defence clearance.

Vijayawada is known as the commercial capital and also political capital, besides being an educational and cultural hub. It is well-connected by railways and is the vital south-north link. It currently has a domestic airport with daily flights to major cities, including New Delhi. Located on the banks of the Krishna, the city has good water resources but land is in short supply here.

Kurnool was the capital of erstwhile Andhra state between 1953 and 1956 before the (united) Andhra Pradesh came into being. But its location is a disadvantage as it lies thrown away from coastal districts.

World-famous pilgrimage centre  Tirupati lies on the edge of AP.

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