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Telangana redux July 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , trackback

Brian Stoddart

It is now approaching two years since Home Minister P. Chidambaram, clumsily, at least seemed to offer up the idea that the Union Government would sanction formal recognition of Telangana and carve it out of Andhra Pradesh, India’s first specifically linguistic-based state. All round uproar surrounded the announcement: Telangana supporters wanted immediate action, the Rayalaseema region inside Andhra Pradesh reprised its case; the all-Andhra groups protested. From the Manmohan Singh government’s viewpoint there was immediate political fallout because Andhra Pradesh provided a key electoral base for its very existence, and now several of those members were compromised by this development.

The immediate response was to hive the issue off to the inevitable inquiry, this one headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna who had earlier led investigations into the Mumbai riots and the Madras High Court riots. While his committee worked away, on the ground demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and the full range of oppositional political activities developed.

A further complication sprang from internal Congress problems in Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister K. Rosaiah was replaced by N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, to the frustration of Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy. The son of the hugely popular Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) who died in a helicopter crash late in 2009, Jaganmohan had anticipated his own elevation to power. When that did not happen he separated from the main Congress to form the YSR Congress, and earlier this year he and his mother won seats from that platform in by-elections. His mother, in fact, defeated his uncle in her electorate, underlining the deep and complex personal relationships running through all this.

The political complexities and deal-making intensified, with what were apparently ‘firm’ policy positions being reinterpreted, reframed, abandoned, contested or ignored as the political exigencies predominated. Telangana parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi joined Congress in 2004 in the belief that it had a deal on the creation of Telangana, but later left the alliance in frustration that the goal remained unattained. TRS leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao’s fast led directly to the Chidambaram announcement. The Telugu Desam Party, led by former Chief Minister and technocrat N. Chandrababhu Naidu also shifted stance on Telangana several times. The enormously popular Telugu movie star Chiranjeevi formed his Praja Rajyam Party with a pro-Telangana stance. Earlier this year, however, he met Sonia Gandhi and moved more towards the Congress camp.

Meanwhile, Jaganmohan Reddy toured the state ostensibly in sympathy for those whose family members committed suicide after his father’s tragic death, but also seizing opportunities to push his own political case that inevitably edged into the Telangana debate even if his specific policy stance remains elusive.

Further in the background but significant, nonetheless, lay the on-going Naxalite problems long an issue in upland Andhra Pradesh that cross into the Telangana areas, with the hugely troubled Dantewada district in Chattisgarh just over the border along the so-called ‘Red Zone’ corridor. This did not help a state government facing troubles on all fronts.

While this all bubbled away, pro-Telangana forces revisited all the old stations of discontent stretching back well beyond Independence. These included the idea that the logic of Telangana was never fully accepted, that the very creation of Andhra Pradesh was contingent on concessions to Telangana that were never observed and, crucially, that significant resource issue decisions always went against Telangana and favoured prosperous coastal Andhra regions. These refrains were joined, for the most part, by Rayalaseema forces, brewing serious discontent. In particular, the ages-old aggravation about access to Krishna and Godavari river water and attendant irrigation development disputes loomed large, Telangana consistently claiming to have been short changed.

Boycotts of government services, the forced halting of rail and bus services, mass protests, attacks on buildings, public clashes between the different factions and attendant police action stalked Andhra Pradesh for months. Osmania University has played a leading intellectual and active role in Hyderabad, with political scientist Professor M. Kodandaram chairing the Telangana Joint Action Committee. For the past eighteen months the campus has seen mass demonstrations, processions into Hyderabad, police intervention and teargas episodes.

Earlier this year the Srikrishna Report appeared and inevitably satisfied no-one. Its essential wish was for maintenance of the status quo but conceded that other options were necessary. There was nothing new in the options. They included the creation of a new Telangana with or without Hyderabad (the latter option, of course, raising another problem concerning which city would be the capital of the remaining Andhra Pradesh if Hyderabad went to Telangana), the creation of Hyderabad as a territory, the separation of other regions, and other possibilities that gained little favour. One sideshow was the so-called Chapter 8 that was not made public, on the grounds that it concerned matters relating to security. That immediately raised suspicions and Telangana factions in particular assumed that the chapter criticised them. A legal appeal saw the state’s Supreme Court rule that the chapter should be made public but that has yet to be agreed by the Union.

The latest show of force has seen mass resignations by Telangana-based legislators, mainly at the state level, supported by some of their other colleagues. That action was said to be caused by the Union’s continued inaction on the issue but is also obviously designed to force a decision. The Manmohan Singh government is now under increased pressure to do so, having said that Telangana would be the main priority after the cabinet reshuffle that has now occurred. Some Andhra critics, of course, suggest the reshuffle was so minor that a decision on Telangana need not have been delayed.

The Union government now confronts a major decision, probably a no-win one. It seems inconceivable that some major concession towards Telangana can be avoided. If it is refused, the turmoil will certainly continue and may escalate. If the concession is made, then other state regions will pursue similar recognition and, more worryingly, the ‘region within region’ push will proliferate all over India. This is a major issue affecting the continued strength of the linguistic-based states’ principle. As if that were not enough, the electoral prospects of the current national Government will take a hit whatever happens with some major figures, like Chidambaram, suffering a reputation dent.

How this all plays out is becoming increasingly interesting, increasingly significant and increasingly problematic.

 

Brian Stoddart

It is now approaching two years since Home Minister P. Chidambaram, clumsily, at least seemed to offer up the idea that the Union Government would sanction formal recognition of Telangana and carve it out of Andhra Pradesh, India’s first specifically linguistic-based state. All round uproar surrounded the announcement: Telangana supporters wanted immediate action, the Rayalaseema region inside Andhra Pradesh reprised its case; the all-Andhra groups protested. From the Manmohan Singh government’s viewpoint there was immediate political fallout because Andhra Pradesh provided a key electoral base for its very existence, and now several of those members were compromised by this development.

The immediate response was to hive the issue off to the inevitable inquiry, this one headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna who had earlier led investigations into the Mumbai riots and the Madras High Court riots. While his committee worked away, on the ground demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and the full range of oppositional political activities developed.

A further complication sprang from internal Congress problems in Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister K. Rosaiah was replaced by N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, to the frustration of Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy. The son of the hugely popular Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) who died in a helicopter crash late in 2009, Jaganmohan had anticipated his own elevation to power. When that did not happen he separated from the main Congress to form the YSR Congress, and earlier this year he and his mother won seats from that platform in by-elections. His mother, in fact, defeated his uncle in her electorate, underlining the deep and complex personal relationships running through all this.

The political complexities and deal-making intensified, with what were apparently ‘firm’ policy positions being reinterpreted, reframed, abandoned, contested or ignored as the political exigencies predominated. Telangana parties like the Telangana Rashtra Samithi joined Congress in 2004 in the belief that it had a deal on the creation of Telangana, but later left the alliance in frustration that the goal remained unattained. TRS leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao’s fast led directly to the Chidambaram announcement. The Telugu Desam Party, led by former Chief Minister and technocrat N. Chandrababhu Naidu also shifted stance on Telangana several times. The enormously popular Telugu movie star Chiranjeevi formed his Praja Rajyam Party with a pro-Telangana stance. Earlier this year, however, he met Sonia Gandhi and moved more towards the Congress camp.

Meanwhile, Jaganmohan Reddy toured the state ostensibly in sympathy for those whose family members committed suicide after his father’s tragic death, but also seizing opportunities to push his own political case that inevitably edged into the Telangana debate even if his specific policy stance remains elusive.

Further in the background but significant, nonetheless, lay the on-going Naxalite problems long an issue in upland Andhra Pradesh that cross into the Telangana areas, with the hugely troubled Dantewada district in Chattisgarh just over the border along the so-called ‘Red Zone’ corridor. This did not help a state government facing troubles on all fronts.

While this all bubbled away, pro-Telangana forces revisited all the old stations of discontent stretching back well beyond Independence. These included the idea that the logic of Telangana was never fully accepted, that the very creation of Andhra Pradesh was contingent on concessions to Telangana that were never observed and, crucially, that significant resource issue decisions always went against Telangana and favoured prosperous coastal Andhra regions. These refrains were joined, for the most part, by Rayalaseema forces, brewing serious discontent. In particular, the ages-old aggravation about access to Krishna and Godavari river water and attendant irrigation development disputes loomed large, Telangana consistently claiming to have been short changed.

Boycotts of government services, the forced halting of rail and bus services, mass protests, attacks on buildings, public clashes between the different factions and attendant police action stalked Andhra Pradesh for months. Osmania University has played a leading intellectual and active role in Hyderabad, with political scientist Professor M. Kodandaram chairing the Telangana Joint Action Committee. For the past eighteen months the campus has seen mass demonstrations, processions into Hyderabad, police intervention and teargas episodes.

Earlier this year the Srikrishna Report appeared and inevitably satisfied no-one. Its essential wish was for maintenance of the status quo but conceded that other options were necessary. There was nothing new in the options. They included the creation of a new Telangana with or without Hyderabad (the latter option, of course, raising another problem concerning which city would be the capital of the remaining Andhra Pradesh if Hyderabad went to Telangana), the creation of Hyderabad as a territory, the separation of other regions, and other possibilities that gained little favour. One sideshow was the so-called Chapter 8 that was not made public, on the grounds that it concerned matters relating to security. That immediately raised suspicions and Telangana factions in particular assumed that the chapter criticised them. A legal appeal saw the state’s Supreme Court rule that the chapter should be made public but that has yet to be agreed by the Union.

The latest show of force has seen mass resignations by Telangana-based legislators, mainly at the state level, supported by some of their other colleagues. That action was said to be caused by the Union’s continued inaction on the issue but is also obviously designed to force a decision. The Manmohan Singh government is now under increased pressure to do so, having said that Telangana would be the main priority after the cabinet reshuffle that has now occurred. Some Andhra critics, of course, suggest the reshuffle was so minor that a decision on Telangana need not have been delayed.

The Union government now confronts a major decision, probably a no-win one. It seems inconceivable that some major concession towards Telangana can be avoided. If it is refused, the turmoil will certainly continue and may escalate. If the concession is made, then other state regions will pursue similar recognition and, more worryingly, the ‘region within region’ push will proliferate all over India. This is a major issue affecting the continued strength of the linguistic-based states’ principle. As if that were not enough, the electoral prospects of the current national Government will take a hit whatever happens with some major figures, like Chidambaram, suffering a reputation dent.

How this all plays out is becoming increasingly interesting, increasingly significant and increasingly problematic.

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