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The Song Of Telangana

Fifty-seven years on, a people’s dream takes shape

The Song Of Telangana
K. Ramesh Babu/The Hindu
The Song Of Telangana
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

Joy erupted at Osmania University’s Arts Block in contrasting ways. It shone out of the triumphant, gulal-smeared faces of hundreds of students, and flowed freely through tears of joy. As the poker-faced Ajay Maken and Digvijay Singh announced the Congress Working Committee’s nod for India’s 29th state—Telangana—it was greeted by shouts of ‘Jai Telangana’ and enthusiastic hugs, and celebrated with motichoor laddoos, crackers and zooming bikes. This was the same battleground which has seen angry sloganeering, lathicharges, teargas shells, dharnas, stone-peltings and suicides. Today, it’s rife with hope, even if tempered with a large dose of caution. “The economics of a new state will of course have to be worked out,” says Manne Krishnak, an Osmania University Joint Action Committee leader. “But at last we have self-respect and self-rule.”

Respect restored. That’s the predominant feeling among the people of the region. “The people of Telangana have spent years at the feet of Rayalaseema and Andhra people,” says BTech graduate M. Rajnikanth Goud, who hails from Rangareddy dis­trict. “It is our day of independence.” The 23-year-old, who works in a small IT firm in Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad, says among the 50-odd employees, he is the only one from Telangana. “My language and culture were a source of office jokes. Even in interviews, Andhra employees would guess where I was from and insult me. Now, the IT sector will have more people from Telangana.”

More jobs, plum posts in the government and private sectors and better education. All this will now come their way, feel the Telanganaites, given that the region’s most developed city, Hyderabad, will be the joint capital for both states for 10 years, by which time Andhra Pradesh has to build one of its own.

And herein lies the heartburn.

“The people of Telangana have spent years at the feet of Andhra, Rayalaseema people. It’s our day of independence.”

Hyderabad’s transition to Cyberabad took place under the chief ministership of Telugu Desam Party supremo Chan­drababu Naidu from 1995-2004. It began with the IT boom and today HiTec City is home to IT giants like Google, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, TCS, as well as other biggies like Deloitte, Accenture, HSBC, Bank of America, Facebook and Amazon, among others. With the booming IT sector came high salaries, highrises, shopping malls and multiplexes, fuelling the real estate and retail sectors. A boom in the biotechnology, pharmacy and health sectors followed, leading to rapid growth between 1999 and 2008. With its superior infrastructure and thriving climate of opportunity, the 650 square kilometre metropolis came to be the dream job destination for youth from rural areas of both Telangana and Seemandhra.

Ravindra Goda, a government bank employee in Vizag, just cannot understand why Hyderabad should be gifted to Telangana when both “Seemandhra and Telangana have hel­ped develop it”. Niranjan Reddy, MD of advertising agency AIM Vyapti Advertising, hails from Kadapa (in Rayalaseema), studied in Vijayawada (coastal Andhra), and opened up his business in Hyderabad. Calling himself an “all-region” man, he says it is impossible to develop another capital in 10 years. “Investors wouldn’t know where to invest once there are two states. It’s like hitting the restart button.” He predicts a fall of at least 20 per cent in the retail and real estate sectors in the coming years.


No Telangana here An ongoing protest in Anantapur. (Photograph by AP)

A shared Hyderabad is causing some grief in Tollywood too. The epicentre of the Telugu film industry, the city boasts studios such as Ramoji Film City, Annapoorna, Rama Naidu, Saradhi and Padmalaya and is home to most Telugu stars and filmmakers. Though 50 per cent of Tollywood’s revenues come from what is called the Nizam territory (Telangana districts), the film ind­ustry is ruled by coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Daggubati Suresh, film producer and brother of star Venkatesh, rues that the Telugu people have lost their political voice. “Smaller pieces find it difficult to survive since there are no economies of scale. We’ll have to live with whatever’s given and hope the Telugu film industry stays united,” he says.

Telangana Joint Action Committee chairman M. Kodand­aram admits having a common capital will remain a bugbear. But the wei­gh­tier concerns of power generation and supply or of water-sharing will be easier to address, he feels, because previous committees have looked into them.

“Investors wouldn’t know where to invest once there are two states. It’s like hitting the restart button.”

It was Jawaharlal Nehru who had described the 1956 merger of Telangana with Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra as the marriage of a reluctant bride. The States Reorganisation Commission had advised against the move, on grounds that the people of Telangana would be swamped by those from the coastal regions. But Andhra Pradesh came into being, with a gentleman’s agreement of special safeguards for Telangana. Intermittent agitations for the honouring of those safeguards came to naught.

Finally, for a struggle which for long was also a fight against feudalism, it took an upper-caste Vel­a­ma, K. Chandrasekhara Rao, to set up the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in 2001, and his 10-day fast in 2009 for the Telangana agitation to pick up steam and force then home minister P. Chidamba­ram to make an announcement on Dece­mber 9 of that year and for the Congress now to give it shape.

Of course, the political expediency of the move is not lost on anyone. With opinion polls predicting a sweep for Jagan­mohan Reddy in Seemandhra and a TRS surge in Telangana, not to forget Narendra Modi’s impending visit to the state this month to try and open a BJP account, the timing was just perfect for the Congress to pull the Telangana rabbit out of the hat.


Thank you KCR offers prayers to goddess Telangana Talli. (Photograph by Anil Kumar)

KCR and his party, for one, are stumped. Statehood was their plank, and the Congress has thrown it out with this ace. Why, it had been banking on the electorate’s resentment against the Congress’s wavering stance on the issue. So, while he welcomed the announcement, KCR said he will celebrate only when the bill is finally passed in Parliament. The party plays coy on any talk of a merger, and its leaders such as Shravan Kumar and T. Harish Rao continue to bat for KCR, comparing him to Nelson Mandela and calling him Telangana’s ‘jaati-pitah’. “KCR is the true architect of Telangana,” says Harish Rao.

Jaganmohan may have lost some ground in Telangana, what with him asking 16 of his MLAs to resign a couple of days before the CWC meet over the united Andhra issue. However, political analysts say that having a steadfast stand will help Jagan win more seats in Seemandhra.

“In the districts of Telangana, there’s immense hope among Muslims that statehood will improve their lives.”

Telangana politics also has a caste spinoff. It complicates the scenario for the Reddy community, who dominated the state’s power elite for ages, by splitting their bases in Telangana and Rayalaseema. (The attempt to include Anantapur and Kurnool, both Rayala­seema districts, in Telangana was a bid to prevent this.) The new Andhra will be left as a battleground for the Kapus and the Kammas (whom Naidu’s TDP represents). However, the TDP may also pose a problem for the Congress with the support base it has among the 44 per cent OBCs in the 10 districts of Telan­gana. Despite voting patterns chan­ging over the years, this lot has remained with the TDP since the days of N.T. Rama Rao who brought several of them into leadership posts allowing them to take on forward castes like the Reddys and Velamas. The OBCs inc­lude castes such as Mat­syakarulu, Nayi Brahmins, Rajakulu, Shilpakalu, SC Christ­ian converts, Gouds and Yadavas, of which the latter two are the most articulate in the statehood movement. Forced, therefore, into a delicate balancing act, it was a tame Naidu who addressed the media a day after the Telangana announcement. The Telugus, he hoped, would remain united even if division was inevitable. He also asked for a Rs 4-5 lakh crore package to dev­elop a new capital in Andhra and sought national status for the Prana­hita-Chevella irrigation project in Telangana.


Circle of reason Telangana JAC leaders in Hyderabad on July 30. (Photograph by PTI)

The Muslims in Hyderabad have by and large accepted the decision, though the Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen had earlier been vocal in criticising the division of Andhra. “In the districts of Telangana, there’s imm­ense happiness and hope among Mus­lims that statehood will improve their lives,” says Siasat editor and TDP leader Zahid Ali Khan. Zafar Javeed, chairman of the AP Federation of Mino­rity Educational Institutions, says, “People cannot live in discomfort for long. When long-standing aspirations are fulfilled, minority Muslims would like to flow with the mainstream.”

Anti-division agitations, however, continued to rage in Kur­nool, Anantapur, Vijayawada, Guntur, Visakhapatnam, Kadapa and other areas, with leaders caught between the angst of their people and the firmness of the high command. Resignations have become the order of the day and Seemandhra is catching on the disturbing trend of suicides. Vijayawada MP Lagadapati Raja­gopal, a strong unity proponent, says the game isn’t over yet. “All the Seemandhra MPs will vote against the bill in Parliament and keep the state united at all costs,” he says.

The Congress’s eyes, however, remain firmly fixed on the fringe benefits. Telangana has 17 Lok Sabha seats and 119 assembly seats. Should there be a TRS-Congress coalition/merger, it can aspire to the magic figure of 60 assembly seats and 12-14 LS seats. And in Seemandhra, which has 25 LS seats and 175 assembly seats, the simple majority is 80. The Congress currently holds 97 seats here but with a Jagan sweep forecast, it would need to have a post-poll truck with YSR Congress.

Parakala Prabhakar, political analyst and author of Refuting an Agitation: 101 Lies of Telangana Separatists, says it is sad that the Congress has reduced the issue of statehood to a calculation of how many seats it would win. “Instead of looking at statehood on a linguistic principle, the Congress is simply redrawing the political map for seats in the 2014 elections,” he says. “Even Indira Gandhi—who cannot be compared to anyone in realpolitik—stood like a rock in the 1969 and 1972 agitations. But today, in the Congress, no one has the stomach to ride a storm, and therein lies the tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Telangana protagonists are keeping a keen eye on the five-month deadline set by Digvijay Singh. After all, they have been bitten before. As student leader Krishank puts it, “Flip-flops define today’s politics. One can never be too careful where the Congress is concerned.”

***

Poll Position: The Parties After The Telangana Announcement

TDP
Chandrababu Naidu’s seven-month-long padayatra has kept party flock together. But he has lost a lot of ground in Seemandhra with his letter of support for Telangana. Many United Andhra supporters feel had he stayed silent, CWC wouldn’t have given decision on Telangana.

BJP
Since it was BJP which first said it was going to give Telangana if voted to power, it has some support. Modi’s rising popularity is also going to reflect well for party. However, Telangana’s 12.4% Muslim voters would not want to have anything to do with the saffron party.

MIM
MIM has been trying to expand its base in some districts in Telangana; might just increase tally in assembly. The Owaisis retain might in the Old City. The MIM has had differences with the Congress and Akbaruddin Owaisi’s imprisonment over a hate speech only widened the gap.

Congress
The rebellion among the Seemandhra leaders might subside as even star batsman-CM Kiran Kumar Reddy now accepts that a division is certain. But it would be difficult for the ruling party to retain its numbers in Seemandhra unless it has some kind of a poll tie-up with Jagan.

YSR Congress
The resignation of 16 MLAs on the eve of announcement has made clear Jagan’s stand. The party is all set for huge gains in Seemandhra but in Telangana, it would be completely alienated. If the division does come through, Jagan would have to completely forgo the Telangana region.

***

Capital Talk: Possible Capitals For Seemandhra

Ongole
Headquarters of Prakasam district, it has lots of vacant land and good rail and road connectivity. Yet to get an airport but has a port. Known for its agriculture and granite industries. Among the minuses: no great infrastructure in place and no major rivers in the district. Ongole is a water-scarce city but it is being floated as a possible capital of the new state.

Vijayawada
Commercial and business hub of Andhra region. Located on the banks of the Krishna river. Fertile soil and so agriculturally rich. Known for its automobile parts, garment and hardware industries. Has an airport at Gannavaram and is close to Machilipatnam port. Just a 5-hour drive from Hyderabad, but is already developed to the maximum possible limit; expansion difficult.

Visakhapatnam
The beautiful, cosmopolitan port city is at the state’s eastern corner, along the Eastern ghats. It has steel, petroleum, fertiliser industries and a shipyard. The Eastern Naval Headquarters is located here. It has an international airport, and is well connected by road and rail. It has several engineering and management colleges, and Andhra University.

Kurnool
Previously, capital of Andhra State from 1953 to 1956. Lies on the banks of Tungabhadra river. Has quite a few colleges. Considered the gateway to Rayalaseema.

Tirupati
Houses the famous Balaji temple at Tirumala, one of the world’s richest temples and the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, a rich trust board. Touristy place, with high floating population. Surrounded by hills, making expansion difficult. Close to Chennai. Located in Chittoor district and education hub of AP. Well connected by air, road and sea.


By Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad

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