In Telangana, the 40-year battle for a place called home

For generations, the people of Telangana have yearned for a separate state. They’re hoping this election will make it happen. Kuchi Venkat Lakshmana reports.

india Updated: Mar 19, 2009 01:03 IST
Kuchi Venkat Lakshmana
Kuchi Venkat Lakshmana
Hindustan Times

Ask the cyber geek. Ask the grandmother. Ask the jobless weaver. Ask the government school teacher.

They all want the same thing, and they have told themselves it is finally round the corner. Carved out of Andhra Pradesh, the separate state they have dreamed of for generations, Telangana.

In one village, a quiet SMS campaign is gaining strength.

“Every day, I send out thousands of messages, asking people to vote for a party that will support a separate state for our people,” says Taniparti Tirupati Rao, a 30-year-old school teacher at a government primary school in Tahinikondapur.

About 13 kilometres west, in Karimnagar — the heart of the Telangana movement in the Naxal belt of Andhra Pradesh — 60-year-old Nagarasu Sharada’s wrinkled face creases into a smile as she twists thick strings into rope.

“Good things will happen when we have our own state,” she says.

Around her, pigs shuffle about outside her tiny hut in the weavers’ town of Sircilla, 200 kilometres north of the state capital of Hyderabad.

“There are no schools here, no running water, electricity for just five hours a day. But just look at the road… world-class,” says Sharada, with a wry smile.

The road is pretty much the only thing the Andhra Pradesh government has built here in recent times.

It is world-class because it is meant to help state security forces tackle the Naxal menace in the surrounding forests.

For the 30,000 weavers who live in impoverished Sircilla, most doing at least two jobs to try and keep body and soul together, that road is a constant reminder of the state government’s priorities.

And it keeps the flame of separatism alive even 40 years after the people of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad first began to demand the creation of a separate state of Telangana.

Living in abject poverty amidst islands of relative prosperity, the feeling of being wronged and neglected by Andhraites — and their government — is everywhere.

Over 400 debt-ridden weavers and marginal farmers have committed suicide over the last decade in Sircilla alone, the highest for any town in the country.

“Government officials come here, telling us not to take our lives,” says Laxmaiah Saukarnam (65), as he slaves over a weaving machine. “But what about those who have died of starvation? Will the government ask us to stop dying too? Prices keep rising. So many of us cannot afford food. What else can we do but die?”

Saukarnam, a senior citizen, works 12-hour shifts, with a one-hour break for lunch.

His earnings: Rs 51 per day.

“Riches are taken from Telangana and the benefits given to the rest of the state,” he says.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has opposed the idea of dividing the state on the grounds that a separate Telangana would slip into the hands of Naxalites.

“This time, electoral politics may just enable people to realise their dream,” says Prof Kothapalli Jayashankar, former vice-chancellor of Kakatiya University in Warangal.

During the 2004 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the Congress had tied up with the regional Telangana Rashtra Samiti and defeated the TDP’s N Chandrababu Naidu.

This time around, the Maha Kootami (Grand Alliance) — a grouping of Naidu’s TDP, the TRS, the CPI and the CPI (M) — could spell big trouble for the Congress in this battle for the state’s 119 Assembly seats.

Naidu and other members of the Maha Kootami have given in writing their support for the creation of a Telangana state.

“It seems only the Congress is opposed to the idea,” says Jayashankar.

B Venkateswara Rao, former head of the Telangana Development Forum, agrees.

“People are angry with the stepmotherly treatment given to this region,” he says. “This land is our mother. We will never give up our fight on her behalf.”

First Published: Mar 18, 2009 22:58 IST