There was a time in Andhra Pradesh when buses used to frequently fall into lakes and rivers. The same was true of train mishaps too — one accident was followed by many. Likewise, this seems to be the season for ‘balanced verdicts/opinions’. We had one on Ayodhya some months ago and now the Srikrishna Committee report on whether or not Andhra Pradesh should be divided.
After 10 months, numerous visits to the state and examination of voluminous documents, all that the five erudite members of the panel came out with are two options that this writer, or for that matter, any ordinary mortal, in the state could have suggested any time: keep the state united or divide it into two. The people of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh are happy that unity has been suggested as the first option while those from Telangana can say that after all their claim to a separate state has also been found to have merit as the second alternative.
If we read the 461-page report, we are no wiser than we were in December 2009 in the wake of the Rt Hon’ble P Chidambaram’s announcement on creation of Telangana and his subsequent retraction. In fact, I am left puzzled by the inherent contradictions in the report. Option I of the report, maintenance of status quo (the panel itself has rejected it), points out that there would be pressure on lawmakers in Telangana to quit if a separate state is not given and there is a likelihood of the Maoist movement too picking up, riding on popular disenchantment in the region. Option V which suggests bifurcation also says that a small state could lead to internal security issues because of the anticipated growth of naxalism and that MPs/MLAs of the other two regions would come under pressure to resign. How do we read this?
Now, I come to the most preferred Option VI: keeping the state united by creating a statutory council to take care of the interests of Telangana. It is flawed because it is based on a failed experiment and was in fact the origin of the mistrust between the two regions, as stated in the report itself. Such a council existed for almost 15 years following the merger of Telangana and Andhra but had little role to play in regard to crucial decisions. Similar was the fate of the other guarantees that formed part of the ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ at the time of merger, an aspect on which there is no disagreement.
As one bureaucrat put it to me on Friday, a statesman like Jawaharlal Nehru could not ensure effective implementation of either the agreement or the constitutional safeguards provided for Telangana. Leadership is, after all, about inspiring confidence and there are not many in Telangana who believe that the pygmies in power, both in Delhi and the state, now would have either the conviction or broad-mindedness to do them justice. In fact, things have come to this pass only because so little was done to deal with the genuine grievances of the people of Telangana for many years.
The only element and perhaps the most contentious one in the whole issue is the status of Hyderabad. At one level is the huge economic interests that the moneyed gentry have developed in Hyderabad (including those from Telangana) and who are naturally worried over the erosion of the value of their capital (stock market players will understand this) in the event of separation. At another level is a more genuine apprehension of students about losing access to high quality education and profitable employment which definitely needs to be addressed. If we had statesmen politicians on both sides of the divide, these issues would be resolved. But, as I said earlier, we do not.
Now that the Srikrishna report is out, I go back to the notion I have always held: that this is essentially a political decision for Delhi to take. The thinking in Delhi, aided by the inputs from Hyderabad, appears to be that the ‘T’ issue would cool down over a period if only students and other politically conscious sections are handled ‘deftly and firmly’, to borrow a phrase from the report.
It is true that support for a separate state was not so pronounced before December 9, 2009. But the picture has completely changed since then and the clamour for a separate state has percolated deep down to the village level, whether it is based on perceived or genuine injustice — which is why I am not getting into figures and facts. I have my own doubts if the genie of separation can be put back into the bottle and the absence of violence in Telangana, as we saw after the Ayodhya verdict, should not be mistaken as a sign of acceptance of whatever Delhi does.
For a variety of reasons, studied by any number of researchers, regional demands are growing. Among politically conscious and educated sections, it is born out of a desire for greater democracy, empowerment, access to power and control over government purse strings. On the other hand, the disadvantaged sections see in smaller states an opportunity to break the domination of upper castes.
All said and done, the undisputed fact in Andhra Pradesh today is that a mental divide has already happened and animosity is only growing with each passing day, which is not a good sign. None can be comfortable with the question that a government employee, who settled in Hyderabad 40 years ago, was asked the other day: Do you belong to Telangana or Coastal AP?
Looking at it politically, I am inclined to come to the conclusion that Palaniappan Chidambaram has signed the death warrant for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh on December 9, 2009. The argument that is reportedly put forth by the party’s national leaders that grant of a Telangana state would make it difficult for them to convince the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra or the DMK in Tamil Nadu is an aspect they should have thought of before that midnight announcement. But how many times has the Congress gone terribly wrong in the recent past is a count we are fast losing.
Electorally, even if the Congress gives a ‘T’ state, the benefit might go to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in Telangana while it would face people’s wrath in the rest of the state. If it does not, it would be decimated in this region while Jagan Mohan Reddy would ensure that the Congress’ goose is cooked in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. However, a key Congress functionary remarked that the leadership is for now interested in only ensuring that it remains in power for the next three years and not looking beyond 2014. Perhaps, the writing on the wall is becoming clearer now itself.
About the author:
G S Vasu is the Resident Editor of The New Indian Express, Andhra Pradesh, and is based in Hyderabad