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Regionalism as a rage

The Telangana demand needs to be tackled. Putting it in on hold is no longer an option.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2009 22:47 IST

The Telangana issue, like Banquo’s ghost, simply refuses to go away defying all political attempts to keep a lid on it. And now, it’s back with a vengeance. With Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao in a critical condition and violent agitations on the streets, it will take all the skill of the top Congress leadership to pull the crisis back from the brink. While many may dismiss Mr Rao as a one-trick pony, there is merit in the argument for a separate Telangana, especially given that other big states have been carved up into smaller ones for issues ranging from better governance to correcting a perception of neglect. The issue has already taken on ugly caste connotations in Andhra Pradesh, reinforcing the fact that the region has been getting stepmotherly treatment from the state capital. Successive regimes in Hyderabad have given Telangana short shrift resulting in a simmering cauldron of resentment on socio-economic lines that is now being seen through the filter of caste differentiations. The agitation has rapidly transformed into a platform for the region’s predominantly backward castes seeking their share of the pie.

Promises of looking into the genuine grievances of the region have routinely been forgotten by central emissaries, obviously in the hope that the issue would die down by itself. Well, it has not. This time around, given the extent of the unrest, it will be difficult to sweep it under the carpet. The Congress will, of course, factor in the political cost of any concession, since its government is in power in Andhra. The sticking point in any formulation will be the status of Hyderabad that falls in the Telangana region. One suggestion is to give Hyderabad Union Territory status. The other is that, given how interlinked the region is with the rest of the state and how underdeveloped it is, a separate state may not be economically viable.

These factors do not seem to have been taken into account by Mr Rao who has been seeking to make himself politically relevant again following his party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress has to make up its mind where it stands since the Telugu Desam Party has plumped for a separate Telangana, clearly to pander to populist sentiment. With the unrest resulting in the closure of colleges, the Congress leadership has to come to a decision. The TRS is hoping for some sort of assurance following which Mr Rao can break his fast and get a dialogue moving. It is a tough call for the Congress but one that can no longer be put off as the agitation spirals out of control.