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The new epidemic

The mishandling of the Telangana issue by the UPA has sparked off many fresh statehood demands. All this can affect our federal structure, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2010 23:19 IST

By appointing a five-member committee headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna, the Centre has finally started the formal consultation on the question of Telangana and the future of Andhra Pradesh. This, however, has come very belatedly. Had the UPA 2 initiated such a process to begin with, when the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao was on an indefinite fast in early December, then perhaps, the large-scale disturbances could have been avoided.

The unilateral announcement made by the home minister at midnight on December 9, 2009, bypassing the Parliament, which was then in session, paralysed the state for many weeks. The inept handling of the issue contributed to confusion and aggravated the situation. The result was an escalation of tension among different sections of the people there.

The Congress’ prevarication on the issue of a separate Telangana is nothing new. For somebody like me, who had to relocate to Delhi to complete my schooling (following the loss of an academic year due to a very similar agitation), the happenings today appear ominous. Four decades ago, after a violent agitation that saw large-scale loss of property and the death of over 300 people in police firing, an agreement was reached to ensure the development of the Telangana region and eliminate its economic backwardness. The Constitution was amended by adding Article 371 D, ‘Special provisions with respect to the state of Andhra Pradesh’, which, among others, provided that the President “may by order... provide... for equitable opportunities and facilities for the people belonging to different parts of the State, in the matter of public employment and in the matter of education, and different provisions may be made for various parts of the State”.

Unfortunately, this constitutional provision has remained only in letter with the spirit acting in the opposite direction. In terms of all indicators of human development, Telangana rates poorly — within the country and the state (coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema). The areas of education and employment are precisely what reservations were supposed to be all about. This region requires a systemic intervention in crucial areas of public health, education and employment.

The betrayal of promises made to the people of Telangana resulted in simmering discontent that has, periodically, fuelled the demand for the creation of a separate state. It is the Congress, leading the governments both at the Centre and in the state, for long periods during these four decades that is primarily responsible for not redeeming the assurances made to the people.

For instance, following the resignation of the TRS ministers from the cabinet in UPA 1 and in the state cabinet, the then Congress Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy had announced that nearly one-half of the total planned investment in irrigation projects in the state, to the tune of Rs 46,000 crore, would be spent there. But during these years, little reached the region. Agrarian crises and backwardness are the reasons for large-scale distress suicides by the farmers in this region, ranking only next to Vidarbha which is also demanding a separate state on similar grounds.

Historically, it must be recalled that the Telugu-speaking people fired the first salvo, after Independence, for a linguistic reorganisation of the states. The martyrdom of Potti Sriramulu galvanised the movement for Vishalandhra. This soon found reverberation in the movements of Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra. It was the strength of these massive popular struggles that eventually led to the linguistic reorganisation of the Indian State after the integration of the princely states into independent India.

It is precisely this that put paid to all predictions by our colonial masters that independent India would never be able to manage its diversity and sooner rather than later, was bound to break up into different countries. The integration of the various linguistic nationalities and the creation of a pan-Indian consciousness is testimony to India’s celebration of its diversity. It is for this reason that this principle of linguistic reorganisation of the states should not be disturbed. It is this which gave flesh and blood to the very first clause of our Constitution that defines India as a ‘Union of states’.

Given this legacy, the argument that smaller states imply better administration is specious. The recent example of carving out Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, reconfirms that this does not automatically follow.

The central government’s unilateral announcement and the subsequent mishandling of the situation by the central government and the Andhra government, both led by the Congress, has now given rise to a large number of demands from various parts of the country for the formation of separate states. According to a recent count, there are over 20 such fresh demands.

This has serious consequences not only for the federal content and structure of the Constitution but also in unleashing potentially disruptive tensions. So, while this consultation process is on, people must maintain peace and not succumb to provocation. At the same time, it is the responsibility of the governments at the Centre and in the state, both headed by the Congress, to ensure that peace and normalcy are maintained.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.

The views expressed by the author are personal.