The Great Telangana Gamble

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State of euphoria Osmania University students take to the streets in Hyderabad to celebrate the decision granting statehood to Telangana. Photo: Harsha Vadlamani
State of euphoria Osmania University students take to the streets in Hyderabad to celebrate the decision granting statehood to Telangana. Photo: Harsha Vadlamani

At 6.45 pm on 30 July, the first shouts of celebration were heard in front of the University College of Arts and Social Sciences at Hyderabad’s Osmania University. Students who were glued to TV sets in their hostel began running towards the avenue in front of the college as soon as the decision to create a new Telangana state was made public by the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of the Congress, which leads the UPA coalition. Nearly 500 students, who owed their allegiance to the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), started bursting crackers, and throwing gulaal at each other, amid shouts of “Jai Telangana”.

The Telangana movement, which rode on the feelings of victimisation, discrimination, cultural differences and a strong ethno-nationalistic sentiment for the past 44 years, was finally close to fulfilment. However, the jubilation did not mask the reasoned cynicism of the students. The question almost everyone had on their minds was: Will things actually change?

“Sixty years of struggle. This is what we fought for,” said Krushank, a student leader of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of OU, struggling to catch his breath. MCA students Suman and Fatima, who were among the handful of girls at the gathering, were more cautious. “We are happy that we have a state. But we don’t know whether things will change on the ground. Political parties may benefit. But will things change in the society and Osmania?” they wondered. Perhaps, this scepticism of the grand narrative was the main reason why celebrations were muted in much of Hyderabad, a city that has been at the heart of the movement.

Telangana will comprise of 10 districts. Hyderabad, where businessmen and politicians from Andhra Pradesh have invested thousands of crores of rupees, will be the shared capital for the next 10 years, until a new capital for the residual AP is built. This came as a relief for pro-Telangana leaders and activists, who were anxious about the Congress’ plans of adding the non-Telangana districts of Anantapur and Kurnool and calling the new state Rayala Telangana.

For a movement that reportedly saw over 900 suicides and self-immolations in the past four years, the climax came much less dramatically with the Congress’ electoral considerations — a desperate attempt to avoid completely losing the region — taking more airtime and column inches than the movement itself.

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“You will find that elite Muslims and Hindus don’t like the idea of Telangana, whereas the poor seem to be in favour,” says Zahiruddin Ali Khan, managing editor of Siyasat, one of India’s largest Urdu dailies that is published from Hyderabad. “The movement has always been about setting the balance right. Despite being a tiny part of the population, the Reddys and Kammas, two of the upper castes, enjoy a lot of power and wealth.”

Meanwhile, in Seemandhra (the combined region of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema), protests, mostly instigated by political parties, erupted in the districts of Anantapur, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam, Chittoor and Tirupati. Schools and colleges in many towns along the coastal areas remained shut on 31 July, owing to bandh calls given by political formations such as the Seemandhra JAC, an amalgamation of parties fighting against the separation. Most Seemandhra supporters have questioned the necessity of Telangana, arguing that Rayalaseema has more poverty and fares worse in terms of social indices.

Even though the formation of the state will not happen until next March, procedures have been set in motion. Whereas leaders from Seemandhra are hoping for the prospect of a favourable resolution in the Assembly rejecting the separation (because Telangana backers don’t seem to enjoy a majority support in the House), proponents of Telangana are confident that matters will end at the Parliament — where a resolution can be passed under Article 3, granting statehood.

Even though many who have accepted the decision — like a section of the Congress, BJP and CPI — have welcomed the decision to keep Hyderabad as a common capital, BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu disgarees on that particular detail. “You can’t have a shared capital. That will be against the interests of the Andhra citizens who will have to cross a border to access their capital. The Congress needs to formulate an immediate plan for law and order in the city before anything else,” he says.

Whereas Hyderabad is the biggest bone of contention, there are other issues such as the massive administrative intricacies involving names, office spaces and dizzying challenges of allocation of resources and sharing of power within Hyderabad. Telangana will also have to deal with several issues such as sharing water with Seemandhra, which is dependant on the Krishna, the longest river in south India, flowing from Mahabalweshwar in Maharashtra for more than 1,400 km before meeting the Bay of Bengal.

“I think Telangana will benefit as it will have a bigger voice in keeping more water for itself as a state,” says Padmaja Shaw, an academic with the English and Foreign Languages University.

These issues notwithstanding, the industry and trade bodies heaved a sigh of relief. “Every year, Andhra Pradesh sees IT exports of worth Rs 40,000 crore. Over the past 10 years, there was a lot of uncertainty in the state. Thus confidence among investors was lacking,” says V Laxmikanth, MD of Broadridge Financial Solutions, a multinational IT firm. “We lost a bit of momentum in growth owing to lack of clarity. But now, I expect stability and hope that we will be able to better utilise the massive talent that Hyderabad and the rest of the state has to offer. I believe it is a step in the right direction.”

Ashok Reddy, president (global HR and corporate affairs), Infotech Enterprises Ltd, says the decision has brought a much-needed end to the prevailing uncertainty. “It’s an emotional issue and there could be differences. The industry is neutral and appreciates that there’s no ambiguity now. We hope that the governments that come up will be investment friendly,” says Reddy, who is also the chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries’ Andhra Pradesh chapter.

However, many state Congress leaders are a miffed lot and are threatening to quit if the party goes ahead with the plan to create a new state. “I’m personally unhappy about the Congress granting Telangana. But as a party member, I will abide by the decision,” says Pradesh Congress Committee president Botsa Satyanarayana.

But Congress Rajya Sabha MP V Hanumantha Rao, who hails from Hyderabad, is less charitable to the protests raging in Seemandhra. “If you compare both protests, people in Telangana made a lot of sacrifices,” he says. “Many people gave up their lives. The younger generation was emotionally involved in fighting against the injustice. Sonia Gandhi has considered all these aspects. I kept hoping that the sacrificing protesters were not martyred in vain. Sonia Gandhi has seen these sacrifices and understands the injustices. Now, both areas can develop together.”

Meanwhile, TRS leaders are busy charting their future course of action. “We have achieved what we wanted. Now the movement has to concentrate on social justice. We will have to make sure that backward castes get their due,” says Thirumani Kondal, vice-president of the TRS’ student wing. “(TRS leader) K Chandrashekhar Rao will not be the Telangana chief minister. We will have a Dalit CM.”

When Digvijaya Singh, the AICC general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, announced the creation of Telangana, he also mentioned that if the TRS comes forward with a merger proposal, the Congress will look at it favourably. Rao’s daughter Kavita hinted that the move could materialise soon: “My father had made it clear that we are ready to merge with Congress if the party gave us Telangana with Hyderabad as the capital.”

In 2009, the Congress did have a favourable view on Telangana, but the matter was brushed aside. As the 2014 General Election looms large and as opinion polls and surveys show that the Congress is at its weakest, the party finally decided to bite the Telangana bullet. Clearly, the Congress realises that without Telangana on the map, its chances of coming back to power at the Centre would be close to nil.

But the real story is slightly different. The first time the Congress had to seriously look into the Telangana issue was after the sudden death of the then chief minister, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, in a helicopter crash in September 2009. In December, the then Union home minister P Chidambaram had given a favourable statement, indicating that Congress was going to decide soon on Telangana.

Chidambaram was criticised even by his own party colleagues and the matter was put on the backburner. After much agitation, the home ministry announced the formation of commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice BN Srikrishna. The commission report took almost a year to be submitted. Even though, the commission did not come out with a specific recommendation, it was largely seen as anti-Telangana.

Meanwhile, YSR’s son Jaganmohan Reddy nursed ambitions of becoming the chief minister. The Congress wanted him to wait and offered him positions at the pcc level or at the Centre. But he wanted nothing but the top job. Low on patience, Jagan decided to rock the boat. He quit the party to start the YSR Congress. By 2011-12 Jagan’s new entity had started eroding the Congress party’s dominance in Rayalseema and Andhra regions.

In late 2012, the Congress carried out an electoral assessment. The findings were startling. The party was facing major losses in Rayalaseema and Andhra to the TDP and YSR Congress. The story was no different in Telangana. The Congress MPs were getting desperate. They told the party leadership that it was almost impossible for them to visit their constituencies.

Spirits in the YSR Congress camp are quite high, despite political pundits predicting a blow to its numbers if Telangana was separated. “The creation of Telangana will not hamper our political fortunes,” says senior YSR Congress leader Mysura Reddy, who is anti-Telangana. “We will win Seemandhra easily. We will also contest from the Telangana region.”

The TDP, too, is putting up a brave face.

“We respect the Centre’s decision. However, you will see that the tdp will gain massively in both the states,” party general secretary Varla Ramaiah. “The Telangana people will see through the duplicity of the Congress. We will have anti-incumbency factor working for us.”

Ramaiah goes on to claim that the TDP will side with neither the Congress nor the BJP, but instead will stick to a Third Front with the communist parties.

Sources within the Congress party reveal that a decision to create the new state was on the cards as early as the end of 2012. The party was waiting for an appropriate time to announce the decision.

In the past eight months, the basic job of the party’s national leadership has been to pacify, cajole and coerce the faction hailing from the non-Telangana areas to accept the Telangana decision. With crucial elections to both the Lok Sabha and the state Assembly less than a year away, the Congress deemed it fit to announce the creation of the new state.

Andhra Pradesh has 42 Lok Sabha seats out of which the Congress won 34 in the 2009 election (12 of them came from Telangana). After the state is divided, 19 seats will go to Telangana while Andhra will retain the other 23 seats. The Congress hopes to sweep 90 percent of the seats in Telangana. In the residual Andhra Pradesh, too, the party hopes that its stalwarts will pull off a win in their respective constituencies. As a Congress insider puts it, it is better to win half the seats rather than lose everything.

If the TRS merges with the Congress, the party will face virtually no electoral competition. In effect, this move has ensured that the Congress and the TRS will reign supreme in Telangana while in Andhra, the TDP and YSR Congress will divide the anti-Congress vote. Hence Congress is hoping to reap the benefits in both regions. How the elections play themselves out is a separate matter but this is the thinking prevailing in the Congress.

Two days days before the CWC gave the final go-ahead saw hectic parleys in New Delhi. The United Andhra faction led by the Union HRD Minister MM Pallam Raju, a four-time mp from Kakinada in Andhra, knocked on all doors to stop the split from materialising. Several Central ministers from the Andhra region joined his endeavour. These included JD Seelam, Panabaka Lakshmi, Purandeswari, and Chiranjeevi. The group first met Digvijaya Singh to put its view across. Their face-saving formula was to have a discussion on the recommendations of the Justice Srikrishna Commission’s report in Parliament. But they were snubbed. They were later granted an audience with Sonia Gandhi but by then it was too late.

“We will abide by the decision but we are worried about the developments. We have conveyed our concerns to the leadership,” says Raju. It was being said that Andhra Pradesh CM Kiran Kumar Reddy will resign before the announcement. After meeting Digvijaya Singh, Reddy said “the news of my resignation are all rumours.” Thus ending the last-ditch effort by the United Andhra faction.

The creation of Telangana has given hope to people in other regions who have been demanding separate statehood. The Congress mp from Nagpur in Maharashtra has shot off a letter to Sonia Gandhi demanding a separate state of Vidarbha in the northeast of that state. Congress mp Mukul Wasnik, too, raised the issue in the CWC. At the UPA coordination committee meeting, which unanimously decided in favour of Telangana, there were divisions initially. Farooq Abdullah of the NC went back in history on the pros and cons of division of states. Though he gave his nod, sources say he was not fully convinced.

Demands for to carve out separate states of Gorkhaland in the north of West Bengal, Bundelkhand comprising some districts in southwest Uttar Pradesh and northwest Madhya Pradesh, and Harit Pradesh in west Uttar Pradesh are gaining steam. This was discussed at the UPA coordination committee meeting but the consensus was that everything will be decided at the appropriate time.

The Congress has made its move. Now it’s waiting and watching to see how the other political parties counter this move electorally. The party feels that if demands for other states grow louder, it will trigger the option of constituting a States Reorganisation Commission, which would be only the second since India’s independence from British rule in 1947. But first the Congress needs to ensure that problems in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are ironed out smoothly.

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