As their home state faces the possibility of being divided into two or, maybe three provinces, Mumbai’s Telugu speakers are deliberating whether the name of their largest representative body – The Bombay Andhra Mahasabha and Gymkhana – should reflect the proposed redrawing of political boundaries in the south.
The organisation, with headquarters in Matunga, was formed in 1928 to promote Telugu literature and culture. It has a membership of more than 2,500 Telugus with origins from all the three regions of Andhra Pradesh. Over the decades, the institution’s premises have been a venue for arts, sports and educational activities.
As the movement for a separate Telangana grew in the home state, its repercussions were felt in Mumbai. Around three years ago, when there was a proposal to rename the group as The Mumbai Andhra Mahasabha to reflect the change in the city’s name, there were suggestions that the new name should also take into account the other regions of their home state, apart from Andhra.
Pothu Rajaram, president of the organisation, said, “We had discussed this [name change] sometime back. There was a proposal to change the name of the organisation to Mumbai Andhra Mahasabha. Some members suggested Mumbai Telugu Mahasabha as the new name,” said Rajaram.
But as the trust tackled more pressing administrative problems, including delayed elections to the managing committee and reports in the Telugu press about mismanagement of the organisation, the issue about a name change was relegated to the background. Recently, as the political movement for a new state gathered momentum down south, the discussion about a new name has been revived. Even then, the subject was largely relegated to private conversations between members and has never found a mention in the official meetings. However, recently the organisation received a letter demanding that its name should be changed to take into account the probability that Telugu-speakers could soon be living in more than one state.
It is not clear who sent the letter, but some members said it was from the one of the groups spearheading the agitation for a separate state of Telangana. Ekkaldevi Kailash, a member of the managing committee, said, “The letter said that we should change the organisation’s name. We ignored it since it was not from one of our members. ”
Ekkaldevi said that the issue of name change could be brought up at the next meeting of the managing committee. But few members, it seems, are rooting for an immediate change in name. Dr V Chandrasekhar, a trustee, said that though the organisation’s founders were largely from the Andhra region, the current members identified themselves as Telugu speakers. “When there was a talk about a change in name, I disagreed; I said this is a Telugu association,” said Chandrasekhar. “We would not like to take sides in the issue. We do not want regional politics to affect our organisation.”
Some members are of the opinion that the old name should continue. “The divide is in Andhra Pradesh; there is no division here. We are all Pravasis [immigrants] from Andhra state,” said Ekkaldevi.
Another committee member Manthena Ramesh said, “They [Telugu speakers] may be divided over there [Andhra Pradesh], but we share a language. We are far away from the politics of Andhra Pradesh.”
Others feel that it is too early to think of name change, as it would take a long time before even Telangana becomes a reality. “Remember, only the ruling party has approved the creation of a new state. The bill for a new state is yet to be passed,” said trustee Tatikonda Bhoomeshwar. Similarly, the process of renaming the Andhra Mahasabha will also be a long-winded procedure. “The board of trustees has to pass the proposal; the general body of the trust has to clear it,” said K Ramesh Babu, secretary.