Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Telangana -- the problem, the controversy that simmered forever

New Delhi: Telugu is the common factor between Telangana and Andhra and nothing else. It remains a puzzle to the rest of the country as to why a people who are united by language, and by implication culture, are so much at odds with each other. The rift between the two Telugu regions is political and economic, as well social and and cultural.

The Telangana disrticts were once part of the greater Hyderabad state which was conjoined to the Indian Union after ‘Police Action’ in September 1948, and which included Kannada and Marathi-speaking districts which had been respectively merged with Karnataka (then Mysore) and Maharashtra (then Bombay) states in 1956.

The Telugu-speaking districts of Seemandhra were part of the Madras state when it was made into a new Andhra state in 1953 after the death of Potti Sriramulu in December, 1952 after a 52-day fast demanding a separate Telugu speaking state. Andhra state with its capital at Kurnool (now in Rayalaseema) and with its high court in Guntur was in existence between 1953 and 1956 when it was merged with the Telangana districts to become Andhra Pradesh on November 1, 1956.

Andhra was the first linguistic state in post-independent India, and it had its political origins in a Nagpur Congress party resolution of 1920 where linguistic states were envisaged. Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was not in a favour of linguistic states but the emotions were so surcharged and there was violence after Sriramulu’s death, that he was forced to yield to the idea of liguistic states.

At the time of the merger, there was a Gentleman’s Agreement between the leaders of Andhra and then truncated Hyderabad that the merger would be reviewed after five years as there were reservations on the part of the Hyderabad (Telangana) leaders about the new state. That is why, some of the Telangana opponents have been arguing that the formation of Telangana is not a creation of a new state but a demerger.

There was an agitation for Telangana in 1969, which was begun by students in Telangana but which was later led by Dr. M. Channa Reddy. The agitation lasted for a year and 400 students were killed in police firing. Then prime minister Indira Gandhi stood firm and refused to agree to a separate Telangana but a package was worked out for Telangana as a compromise formula. Channa Reddy went on to become the chief minister in 1979 of Congress (I) which Indira Gandhi had formed after she broke away from the Congress a second time in 1978 in the aftermath of the infamous Emergency of 1975-77. He refused to entertain the idea of a separate Telangana and relished the idea of being a chief minister of a united Andhra Pradesh.

The Telangana issue reared its head once again when K.Chandrasekhara Rao, president of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) , broke off from Telugu Desam Party in 2000. For the last 13 years, he had stuck on doggedly to the demand. In the run up to the 2004 election, Congress had decided to align with TRS to dislodge Naidu and his TDP, and Congress promised to consider the creation of Telangana and promised a second state reorganisation commission (SRC). But it did not form the promised SRC, and it took up the issue seriously only in its second term when it came back to power in 2009.

Chandrasekhara Rao, who was a minister in the first UPA government, resigned from the government because of the Congress’ tardiness to act on the promise of Telangana. In 2010 he went on a fast-unto-death, and it triggered violent protests in Hyderabad and Telangana. At the end of all-arty meeting in December 2009, then home minister P.Chidambaram announced that the process of formation of Telangana has been initiated. In 2010, the government set up the Srikrishna Committee to consider all aspects of the Andhra-Telangana issue, and its report was finalised at the end of the same year.

In its characteristic manner, Congress put it on a back-burner through 2011 and 2012 and got into a bout of unusual decisiveness in July 2013 when the Congress core committee followed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) had decided to form Telangana. It became clear that the Congress wanted to go into Election 2014 with Telangana as a trophy.

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