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As a chronicle of the ongoing Telangana agitation, Kingshuk Nag’s Battleground Telangana has much to offer: well-written, missing no issue and, more important, unemotional. Nag supports the creation of a separate Telangana state, ridicules the idea of Hyderabad city as a union territory and drives home the point that the decision to do so should be taken now. He takes us through the unhappy creation of Andhra Pradesh from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of erstwhile Madras State and Telangana, the resentment of the people of Telangana that led to the first agitation in 1969, the state through NTR, Chandrababu Naidu and Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and the movement since 2009. Aware that Telangana is an emotive issue, Nag steers away from opinion and sticks safely to facts. It’s a quick run-through of the issue for outsiders.
But now the troubling issues. The Telangana movement, says Nag, arises from its cultural divergence and its heritage of revolt. But to say that the demand for a separate state is because of its militant history is hitting at the very basis for the demand. In a patriarchal marriage, the wife is right whenever she wants a divorce. As Nag himself explains, the 1956 merger was one forced on the people of Telangana. But how do you explain their long-standing grudges—unequal political power; lesser share of funds in every sector, including education, health, irrigation and civil supplies; diversion of its surplus funds into the general kitty; cultural dominance which has led to an erosion of their language, food habits and other cultural markers; the virtual take-over of Hyderabad, erasing its landscape? Is it because of vested interests and realpolitik of the coastal Andhra elite? Nag makes no attempt to examine this.
Similarly, Nag misses the point of difference in the economies of the two regions. Andhra had the benefit of sustained irrigation for over a century-and-a-half. This generated huge surpluses which benefited both the local populace and the British. It is false to ascribe Telangana’s backwardness to a despotic Nizam and Andhra’s development to the British. The Nizam established the railways, High Court, several hospitals, the Osmania University, the Singareni collieries, industries, and maintained the centuries-old tank irrigation system. And yet Nag takes cheap swipes at both the Nizam and Chandrasekhar Rao of the trs. While there is no call for reverence, there is a need for objective assessment. In a decade of instant revolutions of the Babas and the Annas, it is no mean feat to keep a movement going, as Rao has been doing. He walks a tightrope between an autocratic Centre, a hostile state government, an exhausted populace and the grim shadow of the CPI-ML, and yet keeps the movement alive and peaceful.
Nag devotes a whole chapter to the issue of Hyderabad, central to the Telangana state. He suggests that Hyderabad be made a special administrative region within Telangana. In 1953, rejecting Andhra Pradesh’s demand to share Madras as its capital, Nehru said: “It is true that the Andhras have had an important share in building up the city and their cultural life is centred around it. But it is equally true that Madras city is the intellectual, cultural nerve centre of Tamil Nadu.” Substitute Hyderabad for Madras and Telangana for Tamil Nadu, and you will find the claim equally true today.