HAS Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowdas Independence Day announcement on separate statehood for Uttarakhand provided hope to Telengana Congress leaders as well that their long-pending dream may become a cherished reality?
Demoralised Congressmen are prepared to fight the issue in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. But as Keshava Rao, a former minister and one of the main leaders demanding a Telengana state, asks: "Is it possible to fight two-thirds with one-third representation in the legislature in a parliamentary democracy?" He accepts criticism that the Congress did not do anything concrete when it was in power, and stalled any worthwhile development here.
Voices of dissent go back to the days when Andhra Pradesh was formed on the basis of the Fazal Ali Commission report encouraging separate linguistic states. Incidentally, the commission suggested a separate Telengana in the same report, as the cultural divide between the regions is quite marked.
But timely intervention by Jawaharlal Nehru, assuring certain guarantees under the "gentlemans agreement" to safeguard the interests of Telengana, prevailed over the dissenters. Under his proposal, a regional committee was formed, armed with statutory powers to take up problems of the region with the government. As the committee became a parallel administrative wing, the then chief minister, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, raised objections. "How can there be a state within a state?" he asked. And so, the committees powers were diluted.
Then came the 1969 Telengana agitation, when the aggrieved leaders charged those in power with not honouring the agreement. But once again Indira Gandhi assured Telengana leaders of justice by agreeing to appoint the chief minister of the state on a rotation basis. Incidentally, the Telengana Praja Samiti garnered popular support soon after in the 1972 Lok Sabha elections by winning 11 out of 14 seats in the region.
But complaints of injustice by the locals have carried on. M. Baga Reddy, a prominent leader in the region and the Congress MP from Medak, details the allegations: "Look at the way they cheated us, either in providing irrigation facilities or industriali-sation. The two major riversGodavari and Krishnamay be entering the state through the region from neighbouring Maharashtra and Karnataka and mighty dams might have been constructed across them here, but there is no water to irrigate our parched lands. Thats our sad state of affairs." The Nagarjunasagar dam stands testimony to the allegations of injustice being meted out to Telengana. Not a drop of water has been made available to the locals for agricultural activity. Ironically, the district is said to have "fluoride-contaminated ground water", posing a health hazard to its people.
So, for the Telengana leaders, Gowdas announcement has come as a windfall and they are rallying round to rejuvenate their supporters on the "injustice done to the region by successive governments" plank. The Congress leaders declare their intention is not to whip up regional passions, as in 1969. Says Rao: "We can assure our Telugu brethren of the Andhra region that its not our intention to drive them away from the state capital or elsewhere in Telengana. Our demand is genuine under Article 3 of the Constitution, to enable us to develop the region, if a separate statehood is created."
To justify his argument, Rao provides statistics: "If there are about 14 lakh job opportunities in the state government and other PSUs of the Centre, only 1.8 lakh people are from Telengana. Similarly, of the 531 judicial officers, only 92 belong to the region. Of the 22 judges in the state high court, there are only two representing Telengana. Moreover, no one from Telengana could become the advocate-general, since the state was formed in 1956."
As far as the state secretariat is concerned, Andhras dominated over the people from the other two regionsTelengana and Ray-alaseema. So is the case with the State Electricity Board. On the educational front, of the 96,031 primary teachers, only 15,921 belong to Telengana. As against 30,999 primary education schools in Andhra, there are only 12,582 in Telengana. There are 232 degree colleges, as against 66 in Telengana.
And so, as the litany of woes keeps rising, it is to be seen if the current movement for statehood retains momentum or fades out like other agitations in the past.