The Telangana movement is driven by a solid student fervour. The United Andhra agitation has none. Sai Manish finds out why
JANA BAI, a tribal girl from Nizamabad district, is said to have set herself on fire during a TRS rally for the sake of Telangana, and suffered 80 percent burns in the process. Similarly, a 19-year-old from Mehdipatnam, Arige Saritha blamed Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah and Chandrababu Naidu for obstructing the carving out of a separate state in her suicide note. There is no doubt that the real drivers of the Telangana movement are the students, especially of Osmania University.
The United Andhra Movement, on the other hand, has no comparable student fervour. At Andhra University, Vishakhapatnam, the response to the anti-Telangana stir is lukewarm. Last week, students rallied behind the United Andhra Joint Action Committee not for a political cause but out of concern for campus matters: to oppose the selling of 250 acres of Andhra University land to private developers and to ask the ex-vice chancellor to vacate the bungalow he was occupying even after ending his tenure.
Venkat Rathod got a job as a physics lecturer on condition he also supervised the cleaning of classrooms
Same time, same university. A group of 15 OBC students hailing from the coastal region were sloganeering outside the arts college, demanding a reimbursement of fee as the government had announced a waiver after they made a full payment. “We will join United Andhra agitation later. Right now I want my fees back,” Jagdish, a backward class student hailing from Narsipattinam, a village not far from Vizag, told TEHELKA. With the protests in Osmania University and across Telangana gaining unprecedented momentum, proponents of United Andhra are trying hard to create new voices of dissent — but invariably proving unsuccessful in thwarting the Telangana agitation.
If further proof was needed that Andhra’s students are shying away from politics, it was again available, same time, same place. A bus-load of teachers led by a retired Andhra University professor Jacob Sastry were shouting ‘Jai Andhra’ on top of their voices. Sastry is the founder of the Samaikya Andhra Forum that he founded with like-minded teachers in a bid to “fill the total absence of voices, except a couple of students, for a United Andhra”. That day, his cause did not attract even a couple of students.
All attempts at enforcing bandhs in support of Samaikya Andhra (United Andhra), in fact, have met with a tepid response across the Seemandhra and Coastal region. On 8 July, calls for bandhs in Ongole, near Guntur just saw a handful of students taking out processions. On the same day in Guntur, a bandh call by the Samaikya Andhra Parirakshana Samithi went unheeded, with schools and shops remaining open. This is the city which many term as “Andhra’s alternative to Hyderabad” in the event of a bifurcation.
The United Andhra movement, therefore, seems to have become a playground for vested political interests that are putting up intellectuals and gullible students as fronts in a bid to protect business interests in the Telangana region. It stands little chance against the more focussed and grassroots-oriented Telangana movement. “Everybody knows that politicians Lagadapati Rajagopal, Kavuri Sambasiva Rao and JC Diwakar Reddy are the ones instigating a counter to the TRS-led Telangana movement. Although we are opposed to a separate state, these movements are not for a larger cause and do not merit us spoiling our careers for it,” says Bhaskar Mudda, a PhD student in Andhra University.
Moreover, students from the Andhra region usually have illustrious careers. Most of the engineering seats in India’s prestigious institutes are bagged by students from this region, with the renowned BITS, Pilani, even earning the sobriquet ‘Little Andhra’ of Rajasthan. Students from the coastal and Seemandhara regions have also been bagging a lion’s share of IIT admissions year after year. In fact, 40 of the top 100 students in the IIT Joint Entrance Exam this year were from Andhra Pradesh, with the topper Immadi Prithvi Teja hailing from the West Godavari district.
“Even youngsters from humble backgrounds in the Andhra region are making it to top-grade institutes across the world,” says social scientist C Lakshmanan. “In the face of impending prosperity, it has become even harder to inflame passions or rally young blood for a political cause — however great it might be. A bifurcation would make no difference to them.”
In contrast, a student from Warangal (in the Telangana region) flings a stone or a Molotov cocktail to secure his future. Like 28-year-old Venkat Rathod of Hyderabad’s Osmania University, who could be seen pelting stones at policemen stationed at the university gates. Unlike most of his co-agitationists, who are primarily arts students, he has an MSc in physics. “I went for a job to the Chaitanya Junior College as a lecturer in physics,” says Rathod. “Once they learnt I was from Warangal, they told me I would get the job on condition that I also take care of supervising the cleaning of the classrooms. For 6,000 a month, I was working 12 hours a day. Then one day I could not take it any more, quit the job, signed up for a media course and joined the agitation.”
Similarly, Jayprakash Ankam, a journalism graduate from Osmania University, was shown the door when he went for a job to a media house owned by a well-known media baron and politician. A triple gold medalist, Ankam says, “They told me they could not expect someone from Adilabad to do unbiased reporting for an audience that primarily constituted people from Andhra.” Feeling the odds were against him in the job market, he went back to university and enrolled for a PhD, where he gets a stipend. “All I can hope is that the new state is created and we will live without fear or favour in Telangana. I will do whatever it takes to achieve that,” he now says.
PRO TELANGANA students are not just raising an anguished cry against a flawed system, but a systemic bias against an entire community from a particular region. Violence, like burning vehicles, becomes a song of redemption. Many young people have died under mysterious circumstances, their bodies cremated or without any post-mortem, branded suicides by Telangana protagonists. Suicide notes have been recovered but their veracity never checked.
On the other hand, there is the indifference of students from the Andhra region, which stems from the comfort that history is on their side and that the benefits of the present will translate into a future that is yet inconceivable to their counterpart in Telangana. The Telangana student is distraught because the upper echelons in private companies take a jaundiced view of his credentials. Yet curiously, the Srikrishna Committee report’s pitch for a United Andhra is based on the waning influence of public employment in the state.
The United Andhra movement is like an exhumed body being administered electric shocks in the hope of a miraculous resuscitation. While there are more pressing issues at hand for students of Andhra University to protest about, their counterparts at Osmania, spearheading the Telangana movement, have relegated everything else to the background for a separate state. But sadly, despite having started off the Telangana agitation in 1969, students now risk being used as gasoline in the fire when four decades down the line, they should have been the torchbearers.
Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.