Carving out a separate state of Telengana out of Andhra Pradesh is finally approved by the Congress high-command. UPA allies are not opposed to the decision either. Demand for a separate state of Telengana goes a long way back in the history of independent India. A paramilitary operation by the Indian government freed Hyderabad state from the rule of Nizam in 1948. Around the same time, Telugu speaking community of the then Madraj state started demanding for a state of their own. The agitation movement achieved a different dimension when Gandhian social and political activist Potti Sriramulu died on 16th of December, 1952 in a fast-unto-death programme in demand of a separate state for the Telugu speaking people. The Jawaharlal Nehru government was forced to form a state consisting of the Telugu speaking regions of pre-existing Madraj state.
People from Telengana region were demanding for more representation in administrative, political and academic circles of the newly formed state. But, as a matter of fact, most of the chief ministers and other highly placed personalities of Andhra Pradesh have been from the coastal areas. In this context, under the leadership of Chenna Reddy, another agitation movement in demand of another state called Telengana started unfolding.
Why Telengana Now
Creating Telengana at this juncture is significant in many ways. The decision is politically motivated and tilted to Congress’s favour. Rise of Jaganmohan Reddy and sectarianism within the state congress has weakened the century old party’s organizational reach in Andhra Pradesh. In the wake of the 2014 general elections, Congress high-command is expecting a sudden increase in their share of votes in the Telugu speaking Telengana. It holds 12 out of the 17 parliamentary seats in the region and with the possibility of Chandrasekhar’s Telengana Rashtra Samiti being merged with Congress after the creation of Telengana, AICC is aiming at forming another state government. But a section of Telengana Rajya Samiti activists led by Chandrasekhar’s son K.T. Rama Rao is avowedly anti-congress. And in Seemandhra (non-Telengana region), public anger is swelling because they are not ready to share Hyderabad as the capital of the newly-formed state. Will Congress be able to reap a rich dividend by acceding to the half of a century old demand? The answer is not blowing in the wind.
Telengana as a Catalyst
But a different kind of wind is blowing across the nation. From Ladakh-Leh in north-west to Karbi Anglong in east, the decision of granting Telengana is acting as a positive catalyst to a number of agitation movements involving demand for separate states all over the country.
Mayavati, once chief minister of Uttar Pradesh passed a resolution in the state assembly to divide the state into four separate states: Bundelkhand, Purbanchal, Awadh Pradesh and Pashchim Pradesh. Gaining political advantages was the motive for the BSP chief.
In the 1961 census, Bundelkhand region in the Hindi speaking heartland registered a nominal number of Bundeli speaking people. After 30 years, the census registered a massive growth in the number. This growth average was greater than the average of population growth in India as a whole. Most of the Bundeli speaking people hid their original linguistic identity in 1961 because they thought that rapid development would follow if they carried a Hindi speaking identity. All the prime ministers of India up to 1991 had been from the Hindi heartland. But Bundelkhand, still, features as one of the most underdeveloped regions of India. Consequently, demand for a separate state of Bundelkhand filled in the air.
Announcement of Telengana has revamped a number of statehood demands like Bundelkhand across the nation. Demand for a separate state for Gorkhas in northern Bengal has been a sensitive issue since the eighties. A deal brokered by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi granted a large degree of autonomy to the Gorkha community and Gorkha Hill Council was formed. Following this example, within a few years, Bodos in Assam, who were demanding a separate state, gained certain degree of autonomy. With the announcement of Telengana, agitations and violent movements are brewing in Karbi Anglong once again.
A similar kind of demand has been on the ethno-political agenda in Bidarva region of Maharashtra. In Ladakh-Leh region of Jammu & Kashmir, accession to greater autonomy and creation of a separate police administration for the region have led to strengthening the demand of a separate state.
Political Parties on Statehood Demands
The Jawaharlal Nehru government in the 1950s was forced to form a commission on redistribution of state-borders. Clash between ethno-political ideologies in the then Madraj state and ethnic aspirations in a newly liberated nation resulted in the decision. But Congress has been apprehensive of creating smaller states for decades. The irony lies in the fact that Congress regimes have formed most of the smaller states in India. With its nod to Telengana, Congress has contributed to a tradition.
On the other hand, BJP, on principle, has been for the creation of smaller states.
Among the left parties, towards the beginning, CPI (M) used to support movements and agitations involving ethnic identity. But from mid-seventies onwards, especially after coming to the power in West Bengal in 1977, the party is opposed to the idea of smaller states. CPI (M) has vociferously resisted the movement for Gorkhaland and after the announcement of Telengana, Sitaram Yechury, the party’s politbureau member, has asked the centre to disclose the basis and formulations on which it has declared the decision.
When the idea of India as a nation was being developed towards the end of the nineteenth century, anti-colonial sentiments were at work. In 1947, British administration left behind a divided subcontinent dotted with innumerable independent princely states. Handiwork of Sardar Patel, Nehru and their associates gave India a proper federal shape. If India of the 21st century cannot solve the problems involving ethnic or linguistic identity, its democratic structure will be at stake. I expect that this land of diverse languages and cultures will soon find a solution. But is our political class capable of handling the issue sensibly, refraining from scoring political brownie points?