Originally Published 2011-10-10 00:00:00 Published on Oct 10, 2011
Today, the Government(s) should not be looking into questions like 'Why Telangana?'. It has lost the luxury of thought process already. Instead, it should be looking at the when and how of it.
'Telangana' by default?
Self-immolations, fasts, bandhs and 'rail rokos' no more tell the whole story - or, so it would seem -- at least in the case of the incessant protest for a separate Telangana in Andhra Pradesh. With political Delhi and the national media busying themselves with the 2-G scam knocking at the doors of the high and mighty more than in the past months, no one outside of the Telangana region seemed to be bothered about what was happening nearer home - until 'Team Telangana' took their battle to the national capital, over the week-end. The protests, shutdowns, and the near-withdrawal of public transport across the region, and the consequent hardships to the common man, were not acknowledged outside of the State.

For the State exchequer, this has also meant revenue-loss when it can ill-afford. Late last year when the State-wide agitation(s) for and against a separate Telangana was withdrawn it also owed to the realisation that the cumulative revenue loss in the previous months could affect salary payments for Government employees. No such threat may exist at present, as the current protests are confined to Telangana, leaving the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions in relative peace, but that is no guarantor that things are on the track. If anything, the reverse is the truth. Already, the effects of the protests have spilled over to neighbouring States. The protests at Singereni upsetting coal-supplies to Ramagudam thermal power-plant, Tamil Nadu, which is already reeling under long hours of power-cuts, has now got an added cause for worry, owing to a fall in the State's share from the national grid.

As is known, Telangana used to be the hotbed of left militancy for long, until they shifted focus towards neighbouring States, particularly in the North. Yet, throughout the revived mass movement for a separate Telangana a couple of years back, independent analysts have indicated the hand of the Naxalites in the violent streaks of the mass movement. Unlike in the past, this time round, the demand for a separate State has been accompanied by mass resignation of Ministers, MLAs and MPs from the region, cutting across party lines. There have been protests outside the homes of Ministers and legislators for them to quit. Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) founder K Chandrasekhara Rao has reiterated their resolve to keep the protests peaceful.

There is also no indication that the aim of the TRS and others involved in mass protests is anything but to keep the movement peaceful and lawful. While the protestors' sentiments and sympathy for a separate State is among the causes, experienced analysts often refer to known instances in the past, when the Naxalites had infiltrated mass-movements of the kind in their freehold and 'encouraged' the politicians to follow their diktat - or, face the consequences. Many in the present generation may not have been victims or witnesses, but old-timers recall how the left militants in the State had targeted politicians and bureaucrats, torched homes and bombed public buildings and railway lines to prove their point.

All this have raised more questions than providing any answers to their uninvited yet unavoidable role in the creation of a separate State, or their own role in a future Telangana, if it came to that. This is more so, considering the traditional left militant thinking that aims at acquiring direct political power, and not stopping with proxies. There is also the unmistakable presence of Naxalites across Central Indian States abutting Andhra Pradesh, and any success for their cause, whatever the strategy in individual cases, should be a reason for greater national concern and worry. Thus, addressing the creation of a separate State is no more a stand-alone issue, as might have been the case even a year earlier. Denial at this stage could only worsen the ground situation, and could take Telangana to a time when the writ of the left militants ran in the region - including government administration and local political leaders of all hues.

Playing for time - and nothing else?

Over the past months, the Centre seems to have given the impression that it was only playing for time, and nothing else. This involves the Union Government as a constitutional institution entrusted with the task of governance, and the ruling Congress leadership, which is suddenly faced with the prospects of having to lose electoral support in one or more of the three regions in Andhra Pradesh as it exists today.

Weakened by the formal exit of Jagmohan Reddy, emerging rebel leader and son of his predecessor, the late Y S Rajashekhar Reddy, from the party, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy seems to be in (for) bigger trouble as Ministers and legislators from Telangana have been taking their turn on the demand for a separate State. Either they have been leaving the Government and the Legislature in droves, or seen exploiting the weakned authority of the Chief Minister, to sub-serve their other interests. If left unchecked, this trend in turn would weaken the party further. There is some respite for now, as Jagmohan Reddy seems to have slowed down in his attacks and protests against the Chief Minister and the Congress high command in recent weeks, which are independent of the Telangana issue, where he is yet to make his stand clear.

This does not guarantee anything beyond a point, but for now it is saying a lot in terms of providing a breather to the besieged Chief Minister. Yet, reports of senior bureaucrats and estranged ministers meeting Governor E S L Narasimhan more frequently than used to be has raised questions about the longevity of the present Government and the possibility of a brief, or not-so-brief intervention by the Centre, in the interim. It is anybody's guess if the Centre or/and the State Government is prepared to tackle further protests and counter-protests, as was the case late last year, when all three regions of Andhra Pradesh were affected, wholesale.

Fasting for fast action

The scene has since shifted to the national capital with TRS' Rao leading a team to New Delhi, for meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of various political parties, to press the demand for a separate State. The initiative was theirs, and until reports of his impending arrival in Delhi, the Centre did not seem to have done much on its own. If nothing else, the arrival of 'Team Telangana' should help break the impasse of the past weeks. After 18 days of protests in Telangana, the Centre too seemed to have woken up, with the core group of the ruling Congress Party holding a hasty, two-hour meeting. Union Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad, who is also the AICC General Secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh affairs in the party, too has submitted his report on the future course of action.

Azad's report, based on consultations in Andhra Pradesh, is for international discussions in the party, and is not decisive. The Government and the party are two distinct entities under the Indian scheme - and more so in the coalition era. Hours before 'Team Telangana' landed in Delhi Home Minister P Chidambaram told newsmen that he was doing everything to hasten the consultation process of the Government level. As he has pointed out, four parties, including the Congress, had to give their opinion on the creation of a new State. The others in the list comprised the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Jagmohan Reddy's YSR Congress and the Majlis Ittehadul-e-Muslimeen (MIM).

Earlier, when the Justice Sri Krishna report was out last year, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, heading the Group of Ministers (GoM) on the Telangana issue, had sent out a questionnaire to various stake-holders. A day after the Congress Party's core group meeting, Mukherjee reiterated the position that more consultations were needed, thus implying need for more time. These are all dis-jointed positions, whose collective contribution to breaking the deadlock seems minimal. The Centre needs to do more for a perceptible and sustained forward movement in the processes aimed at resolving the issue. For his part, Chandrashekhar Rao has dismissed demands for more consultations, saying that enough consultations had been held already, and they now needed a decision, instead.

With months having passed since the Justice Sri Krishna Committee submitted its report and no clear-cut action initiated, the mood in Telangana would not seem wanting to settle for anything less than a separate State - that too, here and now. Before emplaning for New Delhi on Friday evening, TRS' Rao has indicated that a separate Telangana may become a reality in two months. He has not made things easier for the Government(s) by claiming that the Centre was considering the wisdom of adding Anantapur and Kurnool districts to a proposed Telangana State. Thankfully, or otherwise, the woeful lack of interest in the Telangana issue in the rest of the country has ensured that his statement remains recorded and at times reported - but has not registered.

People from the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of the State are even otherwise opposed to the division of the existing State in any form there has not been any public protest against the current phase of pro-Telangana agitation. It is unclear if this mood would remain if the final decision is to grant a separate Telangana State. In end-2009, when Home Minister Chidambaram announced the creation of a separate
Telangana after the rest of the world had gone to sleep, anti-Telangana protestors had turned violent across the State. A year later, when TRS' Rao withdrew his indefinite fast for a separate State, pro-Telangana protestors forced him to revive the same, and indulged in mass violence. The hand of the militant Left was seen in this.

In the present context, any decision about the future of the State capital of Hyderabad will pose added problems. Forming a part of Telangana region, the city continues to be identified with all three regions - and has a large population from Coastal Andhra in particular. Of particular interest and concern in the matter should be the peculiar situation in which Hyderabad is a 'no free-zone' for education and employment for 'outsiders' even from within the State, but whose offspring could get that right through proof of residency for five years. Any decision on a new State should also address the issue of protecting this right, both in legal and constitutional terms and also on the ground, where mass movements and militant threats in the future should not upset the applecart.

The pro-Telangana movement faces multiple challenges. They have been able to keep the momentum of the protest high. In the past, after then pro-Telangana leader, the late M Channa Reddy, had climbed down from his position in the Seventies it took decades for Chandrashekhar Rao to revive the momentum. He and his party, as the identified leaders of the movement, also need to ensure that their protests remained as peaceful as is possible under normal circumstances. Frustrated as he was by the indifference of the Centre, first to the protests in Telangana, and later to their arrival in Delhi, Rao and his team staged a token fast at the Rajghat on Gandhi Jayanthi Day.

Rao used the occasion of the fast, to decry the Centre's decision not to decide, indicating the mounting pressures and added frustration. The Government was able to hold on to this position late last year, when agitations for and against Telangana brought the whole of Andhra Pradesh to a virtual stand-still for weeks, forcing the protestors to go slow. Such a tactic of 'tiring out' the protestors may not pay off this time round - unless the Centre is in a position to carry the moderate leadership of the movement with it, convince them, and they in turn are able to convince their desperate constituency. If nothing else, the Government should not allow the movement to slip out of the hands of the current, moderate political leadership.

Having downplayed the seriousness of the issue when it was still evolving and before it reached the stage where elected representatives had to quit their posts to join mass protests, the Governments may have created a situation in which 'Telangana' is already being felt, though not seen, in those parts. It is similar to the perceived indifference, disinterest and pre-occupation of the Government(s) contributing to near-similar situations evolving in other parts of the country, particularly in the North-East, over the past decades. In a way, the Government has handed down a fait accompli to the people and polity of the region. It is now being called upon to act/react to the situation of its own creation, where the stakes for the nation are much higher than is perceived and acknowledged - and goes beyond the creation of one more State in the Indian Union.

In the 2004 campaign for combined elections to Parliament and State Assembly, a whisper campaign was launched in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema that giving away a separate Telangana would mean that the more prosperous regions of Andhra Pradesh need not have to under-write the expenses in and on 'troublesome' Telangana anymore. It was also argued that the impact of left militancy too would be confined to their traditional stronghold that was/is Telangana. That might have been one occasion when the non-Telangana people in Andhra Pradesh might have been prepared to yield a separate State. That mood has evaporated, and post-Independence bonding of all Telugu-speaking people has once again become the driving force.

Today, the Government(s) should not be looking into questions like 'Why Telangana?'. It has lost the luxury of thought process already. Instead, it should be looking at the when and how of it - the latter implying how to carry the people of the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions with them, and convincingly so. Any other course would be fraught with the dangerous possibility of Telangana movement and region slipping out of the hands of moderate polity, whose consequences could be much more complex than it is at present - and more so in the past, when left militancy in the country was confined mostly to Andhra Pradesh, and particularly to Telangana region.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
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