Doublespeak and manufactured rage?

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In the past couple of months, a previously unheard of movement has been gathering force in Andhra Pradesh. Telangana agitators rejoiced after the UPA government’s announcement that the region would be carved out of Andhra Pradesh as the 29th state of India. Soon, a largely apolitical counter movement for Samaikyandhra — a United AP — started gaining currency, in which employees of the government and private sectors started protesting the formation of a separate state.

This soon changed. Government and private employees were joined by cadres of parties, including the Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and a section of the Congress, in their campaign against the division.

On 3 October, the Union Cabinet prepared a note on Telangana, stating that Hyderabad was to be the capital of the newly formed state. The prospect of division and losing Hyderabad sent shockwaves across the Seemandhra (residual Andhra Pradesh) region, unleashing chaos on a scale, which neither the Union government nor the state Congress anticipated. Power cuts for days on end, a complete breakdown of the transport system with several trains being cancelled and hospitals with dysfunctional ICUs have all pushed the state to the brink of collapse.

At the time of this going to print, the 13 districts of Seemandhra have not had power for the past four days owing to the 70,000-odd workers going on strike against the bifurcation. Several hospitals in these districts have turned patients away, doctors have not been able to perform surgeries and power cuts have also meant that incubators have shut down, pushing up the number of deaths of newborn babies to alarming proportions.

The chaos is not confined to Hyderabad alone. The Visakhapatnam Port, the second largest in the country, went without power for 14 hours. At Vizianagaram, 650 km from Hyderabad, things got so out of hand that the administration did not only impose curfew for three days but had to issue shoot-at-sight orders on 6 October. Agitators have spared no one, not even ministers and politicians. Pradesh Congress Committee President Botsa Satyanarayana’s house was pelted with stones in the city where he has enjoyed immense popularity and power.

Having realised that this movement could influence electoral fortunes, the political class has joined the clamour, protesting the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Jaganmohan Reddy went on an indefinite fast in front of his Lotus Pond mansion in the tony Jubilee Hills area of Hyderabad until he was taken to the hospital in the late hours of 9 October. The Reddy-owned Sakshi TV and the Sakshi Telugu newspaper have been breathlessly campaigning against the formation of Telangana.

Not one to be left behind, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu has upped it a notch and camped in Delhi. In his speech in the capital, Naidu even pushed in a couple of Italian words, indirectly urging UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to address the chaos.

Two of the biggest reasons causing the people to agitate on the streets are the issues of sharing the waters of the Godavari and the writ over Hyderabad, one of the major IT hubs in the country. TEHELKA had earlier reported the first Seemandhra agitation in Hyderabad (The ‘United AP’ Cry Gets Louder; 12 September 2013), detailing the demands of the employees who had come to the city from all corners of the state.

“This is a political issue,” says Ashok Babu, president of the Andhra Pradesh Non- Gazetted Officers (APNGO), which is heading the agitation all over Seemandhra. “We’re pressuring Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy for a political solution. Since the Congress rules both the state and the Centre, they can defer, delay or recall the decision on Telangana.”

From the beginning, the APNGO and other associations have doggedly kept political parties out of their agitation, and justifiably so. Every party in Andhra Pradesh has swung both ways on the Telangana issue as they have seen convenient. In fact, as a response to the tension in Seemandhra, Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh, also in-charge of Andhra Pradesh, put out two letters written in the past by TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu and YSR Congress’ Jaganmohan Reddy, where they assent to bifurcation, albeit the latter chose to do so in a cleverly worded manner.

Whereas Chandrababu Naidu explicitly expressed his support, Jagan had stated that his party respects the “sentiments of the people of Telangana” and had urged the Centre to take a quick decision on bifurcation in a “fair manner” (see interview).

Today, even though both seem to be speaking with conviction against the creation of Telangana, their partymen are more indiscreet. “If bifurcation is to be a reality, which now seems likely, it’s obvious Jagan will be the CM of Seemandhra,” says a senior YSR Congress leader on condition of anonymity. “We do not want to let go of Hyderabad. Our cultural identity is rooted in this city. We’d be fine with the division if the people of Telangana did not take away Hyderabad from us.” The main issue here is obviously Hyderabad. Who gets the city and who loses out?

The Centre’s reaction to the Seemandhra protests has miffed the Telangana proponents. “What is the need for Digivijaya Singh to go out of his way to address the issues raised by these political groups?” asks student leader Krishank Manne, who has been at the forefront of the Telangana agitations. “We organised our movement for a separate statehood, not to give away everything to them, least of all, Hyderabad. What is really dangerous is the growing resentment between the people of the two regions.”

Kavitha Kalvakuntla, daughter of K Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), is even more candid. “We understand the concerns of the non-political agitators in Seemandhra,” she says. “They are worried about their future. But, why are Chandrababu Naidu and Jagan going on fasts? When the GoM sits on Telangana, they will want to push certain demands that will benefit them. They also want to be seen as protectors of Seemandhra and get some political mileage.”

On 9 October, a delegation representing Seemandhra employees met CM Kiran Kumar Reddy to try and work out a solution. How that will be arrived at is anybody’s guess at this point.



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