Are We Condemned To Repeat History?

By Sujai. K

The current generation in India looks at history as a list of milestones without knowing the details behind achieving those milestones, running the risk of repeating the mistakes of their forefathers. Are there lessons to be learnt from our histories?  Are we missing out on the most important lessons by not paying enough attention to our past?

Indian history is replete with precedents which can guide us in making mature decisions.  It is unfortunate that Srikrishna Committee spent nearly eleven months in this region but did not make efforts to understand the underlying theme of this mass movement. It is also sad that this committee did not look at the precedents from Indian history to address the issues of this region.

Unlike what many Andhras would like us to believe, there was indeed a precedent where a region having the capital city wanted to become a separate state and eventually won the statehood with the capital city. The conditions of those times are so uncannily similar that it is surprising that this Committee given such a huge responsibility on deciding the fate of thirty-five million people did not look into the historical documents to check on these precedents.

Samyukta Maharashtra Movement

During the time when Andhra State was being merged with Telangana in 1956, there was another clamour for a separate state, being voiced by Maharashtrians in Bombay State. They started Samyukta Maharashtra Movement demanding a separate state for Marathi speaking people, away from the business class community of Gujarathis.

At that time, the city of Bombay was an internationally renowned city.  Built by British, it was a bustling financial and trading center,cosmopolitan in character, home to various groups and identities, not very dissimilar to Hyderabad of present times.  Gujarathis laid claim to the city, saying that they invested heavily into the city, built the city, and that they have a heavy presence in the city, that Marathis were in minority in the city, that their community would not be secure if Marathis were to get hold of the city, and they almost succeeded in wean this city away from Maharashtrians.

Today, nobody doubts the economic viability of Bombay (Mumbai), or nobody doubts if it does indeed belong to Marathis.  Nobody doubts if Gujarathis in Bombay are safe or if Bombay lost its gleam or charm or its cosmopolitan nature.   Bombay thrives as a great Indian city, belonging to every Indian as much as it belongs to Maharashtrians.  And yet, 50 years ago, this city faced the same onslaught from Gujarathis for grabbing it for themselves  the way Hyderabad faces it from Seemandhra settlers.

The only difference why things worked out relatively easier for Maharashtrians and city of Bombay is that Gujarathis did not put up a fight to further their selfish interests as stiff as Seemandhras currently do; and also because Maharashtrians did not have to a put up with an intellectually dishonest and intellectually inept set of recommendations like that of SKC Report.

City of Bombay

Quite similar to what is unfolding in today’s Andhra Pradesh, the city of Bombay became the bone of contention between Maharashtrians and Gujarathi community living in Bombay.  While the Maharashtrians claimed Bombay as a part of Maharashtra, ‘economic and political elite’ living in the city expressed unfounded fears that Bombay would lose out and decline under the leadership of Marathis who were seen as unsophisticated people of ‘rural hinterland’.  Gujarati industrialists formed ‘Bombay Citizens Committee’ and lobbied for Bombay’s independent status.

In 1955, a political leader from Bombay wanted the city to be constituted as an autonomous city-state to preserve its ‘cosmopolitan character’, and said “Maharashtra will not get Bombay for the next 5,000 years.” Thousands of Marathi protestors converged at Flora Fountain to march towards Council Hall but were stopped by the police who killed 15 people.  But the pressure from Gujarathi businessmen prevailed.  Bombay was given a Union Territory status under the central rule in a clear departure from the recommendations of States Reorganization Committee (SRC) report.  In 1956, massive agitations took place in Bombay in which nearly 80 people were killed by the police.

An organization called Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti was formed out of an existing outfit, which led the movement.   After four years of struggle, Maharashtra state was formed on 1 May 1960 with Bombay as its capital, ending the Union Territory status for the city.

Though we take it for granted now that Bombay always belonged to Maharashtra and it seems logical why it is so, back then many ridiculous arguments were raised by Gujarathis and other elite in the city that held sway for a certain period of time.   Here’s an analysis of the arguments from nearly 50 years ago.

Ground for the exclusion of Bombay from Maharashtra

24. The arguments urged in favour of separating Bombay from Maharashtra are set out below:

(3) The Marathi-speaking people do not form a majority of the population of the City of Bombay.

(4) Gujarathis have been old residents of Bombay.

(5) Bombay is a trade centre for vast areas outside Maharashtra. Therefore, Bombay cannot be claimed by Maharashtra. It belongs to the whole of India.

(6) It is the Gujarathi speaking people of Bombay who have built up the trade and industry of Bombay. The Maharashtrianshave been only clerks and coolies. It would be wrong to place the owners of trade and industry under the political dominance of the working classes who form the bulk of Maharashtrians.

The arguments of the present day crisis in Telangana are not really different from those of this past.  Andhras and non-Telangana elite of Hyderabad claim that Telangana people are a minority in Hyderabad, that Hyderabad is built by energetic, hard-working, enterprising Andhra and other elite settlers, calling Telangana people, drunkards, lazy and labour class.

In that past, Bombay remained a part of Maharashtra.  Sanity prevailed over irrationality, greed, and arrogance.  Intellectual maturity prevailed over intellectual dishonesty.  Maharashtrians should thank Providence that they did not have an adversary like Seemandhras.  They should consider themselves lucky that they didn’t have to put up with intellectually inept people like Srikrishna Committee members.

Here is the argument that is presented on why Bombay remained with Maharashtra and not with Gujarat or as a Union Territory.  These arguments prevailed and led to a successful state called Maharashtra and a successful city called Mumbai thereby setting a precedent.

Bombay is part of Maharashtra because of geography

…how could Bombay be not to be a part of Maharashtra? This is an incontrovertible fact of nature. Geography has made Bombay part of Maharashtra. Let those who want to challenge the fact of nature do so. To an unbiased mind it is conclusive proof that Bombay belongs to Maharashtra.

Bombay is part of Maharashtra even if Marathis are minority in Bombay

…assuming that (Marathis form a minority in Bombay), what of it? What conclusion can be drawn from it? Does it defeat the claim of Maharashtra to include Bombay? Ever since the British became the masters of India, India has been one country with a right to free movement from place to place. If people from all parts of India were allowed to come to Bombay and settle there, why should theMaharashtrians suffer? It is not their fault. The present state of the population cannot therefore be a ground for excluding Bombay from Maharashtra.

Are Gujarathis Natives Of Bombay?

…the Gujarathis did not come to Bombay to trade on the basis of free and equal competition with other traders. They came as privileged persons with certain trading rights given to them exclusively by the East India Company.

Bombay will remain an Emporium of India

35. That Bombay is an emporium for the whole of India may be admitted. But it is difficult to understand how it can be said that because of this, Maharashtra cannot claim Bombay. Every port serves a much larger area than the country to which it belongs. No one, on that account, can say the country in which the port is situated cannot claim it as a part of its territory. Switzerland has no port. It uses either German, Italian or French Ports. Can the Swiss therefore deny the right of Germany, Italy or France, the territorial rights of their ports?  Why then should Maharashtrians be denied the right to claim Bombay merely because it serves as a port for Provinces other than Maharashtra ? It would be different if the Province of Maharashtra were to get a right to close the Port to Non-Maharashtrians. Under the constitution, it will not have that right. Consequently, the inclusion of Bombay in Maharashtra will not affect the right of non-Maharashtrians to use the port as before.

Gujarathis–owners of Trade and Industry of Bombay

38. But who have built up the trade and industry of Bombay seems quite irrelevant to the decision of the issue whether Bombay should or should not be included in Maharashtra. This argument based on monopoly of trade and industry is really a political argument. It means that the owners may rule the workers but the workers must not be allowed to rule the owners. Those who use this argument do not seem to know what they are up against. The one thing they are up against is whether this argument is to be confined only to the City of Bombay or whether it is to have a general application.

Will Gujarathis be discriminated in Bombay?

(i) That Maharashtra is not the only place in which such a situation can arise. It may arise in any province. In Bihar the land in which coal is found belongs to the people of Bihar. But the coal-owners are Gujarathis, Kathiawaris or Europeans. Is there no possibility ofBiharis making a discrimination against Gujarathi and Kathiawari coal-owners? Are the coalfields of Bihar to be excluded from theProvince of Bihar and constituted into a separate Province in the interest of Kathiawari and Gujarathi coal-owners?

(ii) The constitution of India has noted the possibility of discrimination being made against a minority and has made more than ample provision for preventing it. There are fundamental rights. There are the provisions against discrimination; there are the provisions of payment of compensation, and there are the High Courts with the inherent rights to issue high prerogative writs both against individuals and Governments to stop any harm, injustice or harassment being done to any citizen. What more protection do the Gujarathi traders and industrialists of Bombay want against the possibility of discrimination?

The aim behind Greater Bombay

65. This doubt regarding viability of Bombay Province is heightened by the indecent haste shown by the Government of Bombay in creating Greater Bombay by including within the limits of Bombay the adjoining parts of Maharashtra. It seems that the object of including such area cannot but be to make Bombay viable. What else can it be? So long as Bombay remained part of Maharashtra it did not matter to Maharashtrians In which administrative area a portion of Maharashtra was included. But when Bombay is to be a separate Province it will take a long time to make Maharashtrians part with their territory to make Bombay greater and viable.  What is more important is the scheme of greater Bombay casts responsibility upon the Linguistic Provinces Commission to decide whether they could, with justice force Maharashtrians not only to submit to the demand of the Gujarathis to give up Bombay but also to submit to their further demand to hand over a part of territory of Maharashtra to make Bombay a viable Province. The Commission cannot escape this responsibility.

66. Maharashtra and Bombay are not merely inter-dependent, they are really one and integral. Severance between the two would be fatal to both. The sources of water and electricity for Bombay lie in Maharashtra. The intelligentsia of Maharashtra lives in Bombay. To sever Bombay from Maharashtra would be to make the economic life of Bombay precarious and to dissociate the masses of Maharashtra from its intelligentsia without whose lead the masses of Maharashtra will be nowhere.

It is said:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

George Santayana

Srikrishna Committee Report recommends Option 6 which if followed would be nothing but a rerun of the disastrous history of the last fifty-four years once again in Telangana.  The report prescribes ‘constitutional guarantees’ for the region of Telangana without realizing that this region was merged with Andhra state in 1956 on a set of constitutional guarantees enshrined in Gentlemen’s Agreement and protected by Article 371 D of Indian Constitution. All of them stand failed.   The report also prescribes a ‘regional council’ not realizing that the choice of words has an eerie similarity with the one in 1956 called ‘regional standing committee’.  This smacks of intentional and malevolent arrogance- that one could actually condemn people of Telangana into repeating an inglorious history of servitude, suppression and discrimination.  In no other modern nation would you subject the victim to the same suffering from which he seeks redress.

Srikrishna Committee Report then recommends Option 4 and Option 2 which if followed would convert Hyderabad city into a Union Territory, thereby depriving this region of its prized possession, going against all precedents Indian history prescribes.  One of these options strips many lands from Telangana and adds it to this Union Territory including the most vital irrigations projects thereby exacerbating the injustice done to this region.  Both these options try to recreate the failed experiment of running Bombay as Union Territory.

In short, Srikrishna Committee Report egged on by the greed of certain Seemandhra leaders and activists condemns this region to repeat the grave mistakes from our Indian history.

Fortunately for Telangana, its activists remember their past quite well and therefore are not ready to be condemned into repeating it.  Just because the Srikrishna Committee, composed of a judge, a bureaucrat, an economist, and a social scientist and now a days referred to as ‘a bunch of bullshitters’ chose not read their histories, Telangana people are not ready to be punished for their ignorance.

They reject the SKC Report and its recommended option and instead choose to follow the precedent set by Maharashtra in 1960. They chose to form a separate Telangana state with Hyderabad as its capital.

Hyderabad belongs to Telangana

There are some precedents available from Indian history- one of them is the story of Maharashtra and the city of Bombay.  The region which demanded separation was eventually given the capital city.  Experiments of trying to make the capital city as a Union Territory failed.   The claims made by the traders, industrialists and businessmen that they own the city stand discredited.  The unfounded fears that people living in the city would be targeted have disappeared to make Bombay a truly cosmopolitan city of India.  Many Gujarathis continue to migrate to Mumbai and it is now the home of even Ambani brothers. The fears that the city would decline, that it would lose its sheen, because it would be run by the unsophisticated and rustic people from the hinterland have vanished and instead Bombay thrives as financial and business capital of India.

The verdict is pretty clear.  Bombay belongs to Maharasthra in spite of all opposing arguments.

Indians should learn from these lessons.  Hyderabad will be part of Telangana.  Any attempt to make it a Union Territory to deny the people of this region this capital city is bound to fail.  Hyderabad will be home to people of all regions and will retain its cosmopolitan character even if the state is run by the so-called ‘unsophisticated’ people of Telangana.   It will continue to thrive as a modern city inviting businessmen from the world over.

Recently I saw a large poster in Hyderabad facing the Hussain Sagar Lake.  It reads:

Hyderabad belongs to Telangana.  Telangana belongs to India.  Hyderabad belongs to all Indians.

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