It is an irony of history that Andhra Pradesh, the first state to be formed on the basis of language in independent India, today confronts the issue of being divided again. The Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) spearheading the movement for a separate state seems to have distanced itself from the ruling UPA. TRS stalwart Chandrashekhar Rao has quit the Lok Sabha to give a fillip to the Telangana campaign that looked as if it was petering out. By openly challenging the Congress, which has been counting on the movement ending with a whimper, the TRS is bent on reviving popular aspirations for a separate state.
The ruling Congress in the state, which has been accused by the TRS of betraying the cause, may actually be confident of meeting the challenge. This confidence stems from the fact that the party had won in the recently-held civic polls despite the two allies opposing each other. Only time will tell whether Telangana will become a reality or not.
Historically, the Congress has been opposed to any state being formed on the basis of language. Bowing to popular pressure, however, an unofficial party committee comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramaiah had grudgingly conceded to the demand for a separate Andhra province, albeit with a rider — that the agitators must not stake their claim on Madras, the capital of the Madras Presidency. The fast-unto-death by the Gandhian, P. Sriramulu, shook the nation. The Congress had to revise its stance and Andhra Pradesh came into existence in 1953. Under a pact between leaders of coastal Andhra and Rayalseema, T. Prakasam became its first Chief Minister and Kurnool became the state capital.
The formation of Andhra Pradesh led to the demand for a Greater Andhra comprising Hyderabad state and the Telugu areas of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Mysore and Madras. The States’ Reorganisation Commission supported the cause of Greater Andhra as well as the formation of a separate state for the Telangana region. By now, the Congress leadership had accepted reality and was in favour of one state based on language. After a truce between the leaders of Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana region through an agreement, Greater Andhra came into existence with Telugu-speaking districts being merged into Andhra Pradesh on November 1, 1956.
But, by the late Sixties, the scenario had changed. The movement for a separate Telangana had started to gain momentum. The ‘separatists’ alleged that leaders from Andhra were violating the agreement and discriminating against people from Telangana. Chenna Reddy spearheaded the movement under the banner of Telangana Praja Samiti. The movement petered out with Indira Gandhi standing firm and weaning away leaders from Reddy’s outfit.
In the late Seventies, Reddy, the father of the Telangana movement, publicly stated that the demand for Telangana was over. But the truth was that the movement never quite died down. It was back with a bang when K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the TRS chief, who was with the Telugu Desam Party, quit the ruling party, accusing it of neglecting the Telangana region and its people.
So this time round, will the champions of a separate Telangana seriously press for a new state? Or will the movement simply be a vehicle for politicians to exploit the backwardness of a region? Cynics prefer the second scenario. With five MPs at the Centre, Chandrasekhar Rao could become a Cabinet minister and have another minister in the UPA government, and also share power in the state.
On the flip side, however, the subliminal theme of the Telangana movement has all along been rooted in the issue of development. Poverty and backwardness are bigger binding factors in Telangana than religion or even caste. Rao knows this well and sees a bigger role for himself.
He also has reasons to smile. His former mentor, N. Chandrababu Naidu, had promised to turn Andhra Pradesh into a model state and make it the hub of Indian IT and FDI investment. The former Chief Minister had spoken about the technology boom while farmers were committing suicide in his backyard. As a result, the Naxalites had virtually taken over the backward regions of the state. Today, Naidu talks in a different tone. He has virtually admitted his follies and wants to distance himself from the mantras of liberalisation. Instead, he is now talking about the ‘aam admi’ and getting cosy with the Left to take up cudgels on behalf of the common man.
The reality is that it is the issue of development that matters. Language can bind people in creating a new state but cannot hold them together forever. The growth of a sub-regional political force like the TRS is a logical continuation of the trend of regionalism that underlies the coalition era in Indian politics. Just as regional parties like the TDP found political capital in articulating the identity and needs of a state vis-à-vis the Centre, the sub-regional forces like the TRS question the validity of a statehood model that does not ensure equal development for all its areas.
It will be a mistake for the Congress, at the Centre and in the state, to try and deal with the TRS and the Telangana issue as something that just needs to be accommodated or outmanoeuvred. It must first address the basic development issues that the Telangana movement represents.