It is an established fact that the political leadership in this country has been following the politics of drift in the settlement of regional issues, be it the Punjabi Suba movement, Gorkhaland or Bodoland.
And if it is forced to concede regional demands either due to threats of violence - most importantly fear of losing political power, it offers ad hoc solutions. The underlying thrust is to use every situation to promote narrow political interests rather than adopt a long-term approach towards its resolution. Ad hoc and deliberately delayed initiatives complicate the situations without in anyway altering or moderating the underlying forces.
In the present context, regarding trifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the political leadership is guilty of the same perverse wisdom as was witnessed in the mid-sixties when Punjab was trifurcated and the state capital of Chandigarh was given the status of a union territory. Since then the Punjab problem has persisted and Chandigarh continues to be the main bone of contention.
Persistence of the Punjab problem has set several chilling landmarks in terms of violent movements. For several years, the state has suffered terrorism and masked authoritarianism. If right kinds of lessons are learnt, the people of Andhra Pradesh can do very well without achieving the chilling landmarks established by purblind politics unleashed on the people of Punjab.
In mid-sixties, Chandigarh was given the status of a union territory after prolonged agitations and several fasts unto death leading to the death of Darshan Singh Pheruman in 1969. Chandigarh was awarded to Punjab in 1970 with a promise to be transferred after five years. It did not happen. Punjab was pushed into its darkest phase in the 80s. It witnessed violent killing of thousands of innocent people, suffered Operation Bluestar, and assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, followed by the carnage against Sikhs.
As a consequence, the Punjab accord was signed in 1985 between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal with a promise to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab by January 1986. It was believed that the accord would put an end to the violence. The transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab on January 26, 1986 was deferred on January 25 by citing the reason that the Mathew Commission had failed to identify the villages to be transferred to Haryana. However, the main reason was the narrow interest of the ruling party, that is the forthcoming elections in Haryana. Further, it was announced that the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab would be done on July 15, 1986. This award is yet to be implemented.
These developments are pointers towards one thing that is common with the present development in Andhra Pradesh. They are all coloured by fragmented ad hoc diagnosis. It is the tunnel vision that has complicated this issue. Each event or development or issue was considered in isolation. It should not be for each is part of a process.
Lessons from Punjab experience
What are the lessons from the Punjab experience? The first and foremost lesson is that ad hoc solutions, no doubt, may push the dispute on the backburner, but they have potential to produce tragedies for people. Freezing of conflicts leaves its sickening mark along the way. The proposition that Hyderabad will be capital of both states for 10 years is a fodder for re-emergence of identity conflict as has been witnessed in case of Punjab.
Second, the Punjab experience has shown that such a situation throws up another party to the conflict. Instead of two parties, that is Punjab and Haryana, a third party added to the conflict is the citizens of Chandigarh. The emergence of the third party that develops a vested interest in the status quo becomes a major hurdle in the resolution of the conflict.
As in the case of Chandigarh, a new identity of being a Chandigarhian has developed rather than being a Punjabi or Haryanvi. This is a consequence of its being a union territory where resources are allocated by the Centre leading to unevenness in the development, disparities and social divisiveness in relation to other areas. For instance, Chandigarh was allocated huge resources when other urban centres decayed.
This island model of development created differentiated opportunities for a privileged few. It has the highest number of per capita automobiles in the country. The culture of self-centred living has created anonymous neighbourhoods that are becoming increasingly vulnerable to crime. As a union territory, Chandigarh is a unique experiment in urban governance where the bureaucracy without any stakes, roots or much political interference, enjoys unquestioned powers and sufficient resources. It has produced all kinds of distortions. People's participation is discouraged by the bureaucratic set-up that describes it as interference.
The new identity formation and its disconnect with larger identity has led to de-stabilisation of regional forces and all kinds of social unrest, ranging from communalisation to criminalisation. Hyderabad may also experience a similar kind of identity formation process leading to activisation of communalisation and criminalisation process. Its own growth may also get stunted.
Another lesson is that states without a capital city lose a space that can act as a driver of growth. For instance, Punjab's growth has suffered a major setback for having no control over its own capital. It could not build another one because of the ongoing dispute. It missed the IT revolution because it did not have the advantages of its own growth pole. In other words, in the absence of its own central business capital it has suffered a major setback in the neo-liberal globalised economy. Similarly, without their own capital city and no control over Hyderabad both the states that is Telangana and Andhra Pradesh may suffer on the development front.
What should be done?
If the ruling class does not have a will to transfer Hyderabad to either of the bifurcated states, it will not happen in future also. It will only provide sufficient ground to identify assertions and violent upsurges. The worst sufferers would be the people of Andhra Pradesh.
However, as an alternative it would be politically prudent on the part of the parties to the conflict to agree to build their own capital rather than having a capital without their own control. Hyderabad may be declared as a global hub for the entire southern India. In any case, with the present arrangement, it is bound to develop a separate identity and emerge as a third party to the conflict.
(The writer is director, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh)