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Telangana Decision And After – Analysis

By N Sathiya Moorthy:
It is an irony of our times that the State that caused linguistic consolidation of free India should now be divided on a premise that has since been consigned to the nation’s post-Independence history. Andhra Pradesh was born after ‘Potti’ Sriramulu gave his life in a fast-unto-death. The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) that was a product provided for merging the erstwhile Nizam’s State into Andhra Pradesh, giving a go-by to the commitment at the height of the ‘Hyderabad Police Action’ that the latter could wait until after 1960 decide on the same.

Today, Telangana is becoming a reality, though the locals themselves may have forgotten the history that goes with it. Instead, the decades-old premise since has been based on perceived economic imbalance between what today is dubbed ‘Telangana’ and the other two regions of united State of Andhra Pradesh. Questions however have been flagged if residual Andhra Pradesh would retain the same name, or would it be rechristened ‘Seemandhra’, borrowed from the names of Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra regions.

Questions would also remain on the status of Hyderabad as the twin-capital of the two States for 10 years, as since announced without being declared a Union Territory a la Chandigarh, in the case of Punjab and Haryana. The specious argument that unlike Chandigarh which fell on the shared borders of the two States up North, Hyderabad falls well within Telangana should not be reason for conferring Union Territory status to the Twin City until after residual Andhra had created a capital of its own within the proposed 10-year period.

A sub-text of the question is this: which of the two States should be looking around for new Secretariat, Legislature and office buildings in Hyderabad after the creation of Telangana. If status quo has to be maintained in the interim, Telangana should be doing so. If the creation of Telangana is the status quo, then residual Andhra Pradesh should be doing so. Issues such as this could created complications flowing from current heart-burn in residual Andhra Pradesh in particular, if the soothing hands of the Centre does not go about it with abundant care, caution and utmost imagination and equal accommodation.

This apart, residual Andhra Pradesh would have to choose a new capital, for which there could be contenders. Vishakapatnam has been the port-city that Hyderabad is not. But pressure on realty in the city could make it less attractive. The claims of Vijayawada were pressed in the past. As if to neutralise contention and competition between the two, suggestions had also been made to make Vizianagaram, the historic capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, as the capital of residual Andhra – but none had pressed it too hard. Other imagined and imaginative claims have included one in the name of Kurnool, which was the interim capital of the Andhra State formed following Sriramulu’s death.

It is another matter that Kurnool is still in the basket along with Anantapur for possible, if not probable transfer to Telangana. Public opinion in Kurnool (and Anantapur apart), ‘Andhraiites’ are now being asked to give up not only their present capital but also erstwhile capital. As old-timers would recall, already they had to give up their claims on Madras (now Chennai) when Andhra was carved out of Part-A, Composite Madras State. Madras was both a port-city and the capital of Madras State, rechristened from the pre-Independence name of ‘Madras Presidency’. Instead, they had to settle for Tirupati in return – and have not been worse off for the settlement, if it could be called so.

A compromise may have to be arrived at before long, but that too will require political consensus across residual Andhra Pradesh. The only consolation is that the reorganisation efforts in the past has thrown up various options and possibilities, like dividing the political and judicial capital between the merged regions (Kerala: Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi), or having separate summer and winter capitals (Jammu and Kashmir), or having Legislature sessions in the other region (Maharashtra: Mumbai and Nagpur). In this case, some new methodologies may be considered, but a solution in the case of a contest may not be easy to resolve, either.

Politics and polls

Now that Telangana is becoming increasingly a reality, the politics and poll predilection of the players concerned need not be overlooked either. The nation waiting on the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to pronounce a verdict on the creation of the new State could have reminded party elders of the good old times when a political party used to decide on the fate of the nation, no questions asked. Yet, the times are different, and so are the circumstances. The CWC’s decision was limited to the creation of a new State, and its success hinged entirely on the support it hoped to get in Parliament, particularly from the Opposition BJP, which favours small States as a matter of policy, too. In deciding on Telangana during the run-up to parliamentary elections across the country and Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress high command seemed hoping to sideline, or at least neutralise the hold of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) in the region. At a time when the party is expected to suffer huge electoral losses across the three regions of existing Andhra Pradesh, which otherwise has returned the highest number of 33 MPs in a total of 42 for any State in the country for the Congress Party in the Lok Sabha, the new State cold rope in the TRS to its side, if on a later day the Congress finds itself at not so an advantageous position.

The creation of the new State is a more complex affair than projected by Congress spokespersons after the CWC had taken the decision, endorsed before hand by the coalition partners in the ruling UPA combine at the Centre. While an Assembly resolution is ‘not binding’ on Parliament, which alone needs to pass a resolution in the matter, that too only through a simple majority in both Houses, the political cost and the social unrest that may precede and follow any Assembly resolution against the current proposal could have its own consequences. Whether under the circumstances, the opponents to Telangana would move the Supreme Court too would remain to be seen. The mood of the Supreme Court remains unfathomable at tje moment.

Clearly, the TRS does not want to jump to conclusions and act on its prior commitment of merging with the Congress at the creation of Telangana. The party has since said that merger would fructify only after such creation, and not just on a promise to the effect. Will it mean that the TRS would contest the upcoming elections in the company of the Congress, particularly in Telangana, which accounts for 17 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, and 117 of the 294 Assembly seats in the undivided Andhra Pradesh? Does it also flow that the TRS would continue to maintain its separate identity, so as to keep its post-poll options open, viz the BJP at the Centre, and the TDP / YSR Congress at the State-level? If Telangana does not become a reality pre-poll, by maintain its separate identity, the TRS could also apply pressure on the post-poll government(s). Or, so seems the present thinking and tactic.

Shared voters, image problem

In residual Andhra Pradesh, Jagmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress is expected to do well in elections, as against the Opposition TDP of former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. The Congress seems hoping that the party rebel would have little choice but to align with the party at the national-level, as he shares the same vote-bank as the political parent, whose voters are averse to identifying with the BJP rival. At the State-level, this could imply a political deal of sorts. Jailed Jagmohan Reddy may emerge as chief minister with Congress backing, but there again the recent Supreme Court verdict on jailed politicians contesting polls may have to cause a rethink on the part of the CBI, before the YSR Congress may be encouraged to move in that direction.

The TDP also suffers from the ‘image problem’ from the past. In power in the State at the time, the party was seen as playing hide-and-seek on Telangana when a dependent BJP-NDA Government at the Centre created the new States of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal (since rechristened, Uttarkhand) in the North, in 2001. If nothing else, the TDP Government at the time did not want a huge law and order problem on hand, particularly when Andhra Pradesh was slowly but surely getting rid of its image as a Naxalite-infested State. It would still be a difficult decision for the TDP to make, though prima facie, not having to hope for any electoral gains in Telangana at least for now, it would be tempted to protect its turf in residual Andhra Pradesh.

For the BJP, apart from the acknowledge policy on small States, the party seems hoping to make electoral gains, if not now, but over the coming years and decades. The logic is based on the premise that a new Telangana could witness the dominance of Muslim politics, as never before seen in South India at a State-level. This, it is hoped, could trigger ripple effects over time, contributing to the consolidation of votes on communal lines. That is still a far shot, though for the present, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the only Muslim party with a hold in Telangana region, is avowedly opposed to the creation of a new State.

More States, new SRC?

It is only to be expected that the decision to create a Telangana State could trigger the revival of pending demands of the kind from elsewhere in the country. While the one for Gorkhaland and Bodoland may generate quick momentum on the ground, it is the one for dividing Uttar Pradesh into four States that could cause legal and constitutional problems. As may be recalled, the State Assembly had passed a ‘unanimous decision’ to the effect as far as 2001, and questions may be asked before the Apex Court, for instance, how the proposal could be side-stepped so very completely while another, for which the ‘opinion’ of the Legislature is yet to be obtained could be fast-tracked.

Interestingly, among the four States sought to be carved out of Uttar Pradesh, the demand for a Bundlekand also involves the merger of parts of Madhya Pradesh. It could create more problems than solving. As may be recalled, Madhya Pradesh was bifurcated only a decade and more back, to create Chattisgarh, and reducing the size of the State even more may become questionable in more ways than one. Such a course, if adopted, could also revive totally forgotten demands of the original Telangana protestors, for instance, to include the ‘Hyderabad-Karnataka’ and ‘Hyderabad-Maharashtra’ regions in the promised State.

Otherwise too Mahrashtra has been facing bifurcation demand for long, with Vidharbha wanting to go separate. Along the Maharashtra-Karnataka border, the demand for merging Marathi-speaking areas with the former has not ceased since the linguistic reorganisation decades ago. Within Karnataka, for instance, there has been an off-again-on-again demand for a separate ‘Kodagu Nadu’, for the Coorgi tribes, who are proud of their culture and perseverance. Why, even in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which prides itself on a language-based culture and politics, PMK founder Dr S Ramadoss had once demanded bifurcation, between the North and the South, to make for better-administered States. His real reasons may have been more to do with politics and elections than with administration and efficiency.

It is not unlikely that the demand for the setting up of a new State Reorganisation Commission (SRC) comes up in the course of what promises to be a national discourse. It is equally not impossible for more than one party at the national-level to promise one in their manifesto for the upcoming parliamentary polls. To some that will be a promise that has to be kept. For others, it could put an immediate end to a problem, if allowed to fester, could eat at their vote-share on the one hand – and/or the nation’s basic structure, on the other. Either way, it could be a call that not many parties and Governments could resist beyond a point.

Where from here, now?

Political reactions to the decision on the creation of a Telangana State have been on expected lines. That does not preclude the possibility of rebellion from within in various parties, starting with the Congress ruling at the Centre and in undivided Andhra Pradesh. The public mood in the State, post-announcement, has been eerie at best, and how it would be played out on the streets of ‘residual’ Andhra Pradesh remains to be seen. The last time, when then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram made a midnight announcement on the creation of Telangana in 2009, the street-protests in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema were worse than those witnessed in Telangana for the birth of a new State.

The entire State came to a complete stand-still for weeks together that the revenues to the State Government too dropped substantially, threatening to stall payment of salaries and other dues to vendors and contractors within a couple of months. Whether residual Andhra Pradesh would now witness protests of that magnitude is as yet unclear – but the political and electoral consequence of the kind could well be imagined. So would be the possible ripple-effect that the Telangana decision may trigger in other regions of the country where similar demands are pending for long. The run-up to parliamentary polls might be the best time that those spearheading such movements could have hoped for, either to gain politically and/or electorally, and to obtain commitments of the kind from national and regional parties seeking their support.

It is an acknowledged fact that Left radicals in Telangana region had been at work, but independent of the TRS now, and the Telangana Praja Samiti (TPS) of the late M Channa Reddy earlier, for the creation of a separate State, which they might want to ‘call their own’. Media reports had claimed that Left radicals were at the forefront of revived students’ protests for a separate Telangana during 2009-10, even forcing TRS leader K Chandrasekhara Rao to continue his fast after he had formally withdrawn it. Leftist militant strategists were also believed to have been at work during the period, drawing out the tactics for the non-TRS protestors at the time.

‘Dhandakaranya Plan’

There is another lesson that the creation of small States might entail. It is true that the creation of Jhrakhand and Chattisgarh were not the product of the low-intensity Maoist presence in those regions. If anything, those new States would provide for better administration, reaching the doorsteps of the local population early one, was among the hopes that had existed at the time. It is not to be. The creation of these two States has only increased Maoist militancy in the region as a whole. The fact also remains that most of the Maoist leaders in these States had migrated from Telangana, particularly after the Andhra Pradesh Government began combining developmental plans with combing operations.

It thus remains to be seen how the creation of a Telangana State, with its borders touching Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Orissa, not to leave out ‘residual Andhra Pradesh’ would impact on the morale and methods of the Maoists in the months and years to come. Would they be viewing it as yet another step closer to their ‘dream’ of ‘Dhandakaranya Plan’, capable of further exploitation along the perceived North-South and East-West corridor across the country., too, also remains to be seen. So would be the combined efforts of the Centre and the States concerned, which when taken together covers the country as a whole, if not immediately, to neutralise that effort. Telangana could thus well be a starting-point of a different kind even as it is the end-game of a political demand for a separate State.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
By Observer Research Foundation

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