A lesson from Chandigarh for Telangana

By Raamesh Gowri Raghavan

A major issue preventing the formation of Telangana is the wrangling over Hyderabad. People of Telangana have made it clear that they want Hyderabad to be the capital of the state. Those from Seemandhra who have a huge emotional and financial investment in Hyderabad, would like to see it becomes a Union territory at the least, if and when Telangana is formed.

Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and Haryana, is a city to draw some lessons from. It came into being in the 1950s as a capital city for the Indian part of the Punjab. After the reorganisation of 1956, when PEPSU state was merged into Punjab, it became the capital of a gigantic north Indian state. Then came 1966, when the state was split into three. The areas of the Kangra Valley were merged with Himachal Pradesh, and the Hindi-speaking districts of the south became Haryana.

Now I have no idea why Patiala (the former capital of PEPSU) or Amritsar (the traditional capital of the Sikhs) or Ludhiana (a major industrial city) or even Ambala (a major military town) were not chosen as the capital of Indian Punjab. Perhaps it had to do with all that nation-building and ‘temples-of-modern-India’ zeitgeist of the heady 1950s. Creating a major new city did sound like a way of showing the world India was as modern as anyone else.

(Personally, having lived there for a short while, I think it is a very boring city with dull architecture and little or no local flavour, unlike the gallis of dirty old Delhi or the gudas of Hyderabad).

In 1966, the successor states of Punjab and Haryana both laid claim to Chandigarh. The centre, unable to decide, came up with the solution of making it a union territory and the joint capital of both states. Apart from a few bureaucrats who were appointed to govern the new territory, this solution made no one happy. This was to be an interim solution, till Haryana found itself a new capital and vacated its claim on Chandigarh. It has been 45 years since this ‘interim solution’ was put in place, and no resolution seems in sight. Nevertheless, it is recognised that Chandigarh will ultimately goes to Punjab.

Haryana has in fact built itself a new city south of Chandigarh – Panchkula, where many of its government offices are located. But it still seems to be holding out for a better deal. At one point, it was even discussed that the Jat-dominated towns of Abohar and Fazilka in Ferozepur districts be handed over to Haryana, and in lieu Chandigarh would be merged with Punjab. I have lived in both these towns, and the sentiment to join Haryana wasn’t very strong.

The difficulty is that these towns are not contiguous with Haryana. And Haryana does not seem to accept this solution anyway. It has a dispute with Punjab over the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal (SYL), which complicates the matter. Punjab refuses to transfer water from the Satluj basin to the Yamuna basin through this canal, citing the needs of its farmers. Haryana, parched as it is, has managed to use the SYL issue to hold Punjab to ransom over Chandigarh.

Meanwhile Gurgaon has become the biggest and richest city in Haryana. It has a well-educated population, a large industrial base, and its politics increasingly dominate the state (like Mumbai’s politics dominate Maharashtra’s). So I wonder why Haryana doesn’t let go of its Chandigarh baggage, and establishes Gurgaon as its capital. It will have the advantage of being an hour’s drive (through the dense Delhi traffic) to the national capital, apart from being close to the most thickly populated areas of the state.

So will Seemandhra become the new Haryana? If Hyderabad becomes a Union territory, it is likely to remain one till the Union of India lasts. It will leave Telangana vulnerable to blackmail, and new disputes will be found to prevent a transfer of Hyderabad to Telangana. It will discourage Seemandhra from building a new capital, or allowing Vishakhapatnam, Guntur, Kurnool or any major urban centre from becoming the new capital. Why not Kurnool, capital of Andhra state from 1953-56, or Penukonda, the capital of the Aravidu dynasty or even Guntur, the site of Vengi, where once the Andhra Chalukyas ruled? Why not Tirupati even, with its modern infrastructure and easy access to Chennai’s international airport? Instead, we will see the circus of a whole lot of MLAs trooping in convoys across a different state to reach Hyderabad, their extra-territorial capital.

Bureaucrats will clearly approve as it will creates a whole new bunch of posts for the purpose of administering the new Union territory. But the legacy it will leave behind for the common man will be that of a new Chandigarh in the South.

[From The South Reports]

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