Telangana tangle: 50 years of simmering discontent

Pic: Osmania University students praying the police to permit them to conduct a rally to Martyrs Memorial on Nov 1st, 2011

By: Mridula Chunduri

The Telangana issue erupted most violently in the months of September and October 2011, when close to 500,000 state government employees went on an indefinite strike in support of their demand for a separate state.

The strike, which started on September 13, continued for 42 days paralysing life in wide swathes of the state. In Hyderabad, normal life got crippled, transport and communication services disrupted, schools and colleges shut and exams deferred.

The estimated loss to Andhra Pradesh from the strike was around Rs. 10,000 crore. However, even after the strike ended, no solution was arrived at yet.

Time has transformed the cry of “Jai Telangana” from being one that celebrates distinctiveness to one that called men to battle. Ignorance, avoidance and politics added the necessary push to make matters worse.

Sunder Raj, a miner in Karimnagar district, said, “Our jobs are not at risk but we have many Andhra officers and our Telangana people are not getting promotions. It is all Andhra rule so we don’t want it. We want our Telangana. We can take care of our resources. It can come only through people. Politicians play their own games and that is why it is getting delayed.”

The issue of Telangana has in some form or the other been there from even before Independence. In 1946, the people of the region revolted against feudal landlords. In 1969, it was for lost employment opportunities. Today it is for the sake of identity.

Tirupti Reddy, a teacher in Medak district, said, “When Telangana and Andhra merged, our 7,000 jobs were taken over by the Andhra people. We are not getting the jobs and it has become difficult that is why we are doing this. They have gone up from 7,000 to 2 lakh and their children have all also become locals. So we have to fight.”

Today, the “Jai Telangana” slogan resonates like a mantra across the 10 districts of the region. From Facebook users to drought-hit villagers, Telangana has united to put forth their demand for separation.

Whenever there has been a substantial uprising against the government, it was by the people of Telangana region who revolted.

Though political parties have made all the right noises at the right places, it was the people who decided to take on and pinch the government where it hurt most.

The strike in September-October was merely a continuation of the heightened state of affairs in 2011. The entire year had seen some form of agitation or other. February saw a 16-day non-cooperation movement by hundreds and thousands of government employees.

February and March saw Assembly sessions being boycotted for weeks. Even Parliament session was disrupted for several days by Telangana representatives. In March the call also went out for a Tehrir Square like Million March in support of Telangana demands.

The administration clamped down hard. Thousands were detained but thousands more evaded police barricades to agitate on the streets of Hyderabad.

In July 100 out of 118 Telangana MLAs in the state, 12 out of 15 Telangana ministers, 13 out of 17 Telangana MPs in Lok Sabha, a Rajya Sabha member and 20 MLCs resigned protesting delay in the formation of Telangana state.

In 2011, there has been renewed hope that finally the tangle can be resolved. It is a hope that Telangana would give them a better future that made people take to the streets, take salary cuts, accept delay in education.

It is merely another indicator that Telangana has never been a willing collaborator to the union of Andhra Pradesh. Even in 1956 the first state reorganisation committee recommended against the integration of Telangana with Andhra.

Folklore says that the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru even conceded the demand for Telangana when he was believed to have said: “We have married an innocent girl to a naughty boy. If they cannot live together they can separate.”

It was this promise of separation that was to fuel the unrest of the future. The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana region with Andhra state, despite the common language between the two.

The commission proposed that the Telangana region be constituted as a separate state with a provision for unification with Andhra state, after the 1961 general elections, if a resolution could be passed in the Telangana state assembly with a two-third majority.

However, following a Gentleman’s agreement, the central government established a unified Andhra Pradesh on November 1, 1956. In the years that followed the formation of Andhra Pradesh, there was a growing feeling of marginalisation in Telangana.

Discontent with the 1956 Gentleman’s agreement intensified in January 1969, when the guarantees that had been agreed on were supposed to lapse. The first rumblings of discontent were heard within the campus of Osmania University in Hyderabad.

Arrogant leadership deepens fault lines

Andhra Pradesh came in to being on November 1, 1956 and for the next almost 12 years the state projected a picture of unity. But it was only calm on the surface. There was simmering disgruntlement that first made its presence felt in December, 1968.

B. Narsing Rao, a veteran Telangana activist, said, “Denial of employment, denial of services, denial of important person in judiciary. It has taken 60 years for a Telangana man to become an advocate general in the Andhra Pradesh High Court. Now that shows the whole attitude, shows the entire arrogance of the Andhra leadership and that is why all these factors together were the cumulative effect of the 69-70 agitation. And the movement erupted.”

The students of Osmania University took out a rally in support of Telangana. It was alleged that some anti-Telangana factions, along with the police, broke up the march and several students were injured.

Between 1969 and 1972 there were rallies, protests, strikes and police firing. By March 1969, an organisation had come into being to lead the agitation, the Telangana Praja Samiti.

Then chief minister Brahmananda Reddy urged people not to be misled by the separatist slogans. He said that, with the limited resources it has, the government was doing everything in its power to develop backward regions of the state. The situation deteriorated in April, 1969 when students were killed in police firings. In those 3 years all the fault lines that divided the state of Andhra Pradesh was laid bare. And, 600 people died in firings at that time just because the chief minister behaved like a demon.

Reddy played an important role in aggravating the situation. He just would not listen. He used force. The Congress party was vertically split. Telangana Praja Samithi Chenna Reddy took over. It did shake the state again, but then prime minister Indira Gandhi power played a game.

Water, the core issue

Telangana has always been a victim of Congress party power politics. But there is an opinion that the issue of Telangana is more basic, like food on the table and fresh clean water to drink.

“Water, water everywhere not a drop to drink,” this oft-repeated cliché resonates across Telangana despite the fact that river Krishna flows through the region. Different districts of Telangana might want a separate state for different reasons, but at the core of it all is water.

Vattipalli, on Sagar Road, meaning the road that leads to the famous Nagarjuna Sagar reservoir. But people here complain that there is no potable water. They claim that the entire region is dependent on ground water and because of high fluoride content in the ground, people here suffer from fluorosis.

Tiruptamma, a villager, said, “Because of water we became like this. We cannot walk, we have leg pain, joint pain, shoulder pain. People who can live for 100 years are becoming old very early in life. Why, because of flourosis. Politicians keep saying they can do stuff for us but for us we want Krishna water.”

If polluted water is the problem in Nalgonda region of Telangana, no water is the issue with Mahabubnagar, the largest district in the region.

R. Vidyasagar, a former chief engineer of Central Water Commission, said, “A district which has three rivers — Krishna, Tungabhadra and Bhima… This district is severely dealing with drought. Every year 14 lakh people migrate. Had the 174 tmc of water planned in projects by the Nizam government implemented in the present rule, that district would have been the rice bowl along with East Godavari instead it is a begging bowl.”

Dried crops are testament to the drought. Farmers sow corn, rice and cotton and then wait without hope to reap the crops. When that fails, they hope for a separate Telangana to solve their problems.

Neereti Narsimha, a farmer, said, “There is no water here. All the area is dry area. If we get Telangana, we can stop the water. There is no rain, 85 per cent no rain. No ground water. Everything has dried up. We have losses of (Rs.) 15,000 per acre. All loses.

Everything is lost. So we are all going to labour work. From each house two to three people go. There is no work here. We have to go out and find work.”

No rain, no ground water, no irrigation. No water means, no money. No money, no development and subsequently no employment and that is the reason why thousands of people from Telangana region have been migrating to Hyderabad, Mumbai and even Dubai in search of livelihood.

Kanakayya lives in Desirajpalli village of Karimnagar district. He is one of those who migrated to put food on the table back home in Telangana. Now back again in Karimnagar, he has been trying to make ends meet.

“Five years no rain, no water, so no means to support family so had to go to Dubai. Now I don’t have job, no water. My children need a better future. Our lives are over. Smaller state will help us. We can get our water, we will get jobs. We need Telangana,” Kanakayya said.

However, the people of Andhra are not buying this argument. They insist that Telangana is not all that backward and only a united stand would help develop the entire region.

Chelisani Srinivas, a pro-Andhra activist, said, “Unless issues of water, Hyderabad are solved, we cannot give Telangana. If all this is not settled according to our liking, people of the coastal region will not keep quite. We will revolt.”

Political betrayal dividing Andhra unity

It is not just water. There is also the question of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh that falls right in the middle of Telangana. If Telangana was to separate, Andhra would lose Hyderabad with all the millions that has ever been invested in the city.

Ashok Babu, another pro-Andhra activist, said, “No question of forgoing Hyderabad. How can a new state have an existing capital? We are not asking for a separate state, so we need not develop our own capital. They should.”

After the agitation of the early 1970s the question of a separate state of Telangana had gone on the back burners till it was again brought to the forefront when the BJP promised Telangana if they came to power.

In 2001 a new political party was formed under the leadership of K. Chandrasekhar Rao. The party, named Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), had a single point agenda, formation of a separate state.

For the next eight years KCR and his party TRS survived on the fringes of the political world. There was some support but never enough to influence the course of history… that is till end of November 2009…

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when the TRS chief embarked on his fast unto death. But he was arrested on the outskirts of Karimnagar. Now, KCR might not be a universally popular politician, but his arrest angered fellow Telangana people. Before long the movement was out of the hands of politician.

For the next 11 days, while KCR under arrest physically weakened as he refused to eat, more and more people started taking up the chant for a separate Telangana state. Bandhs were common, road blockades and dharnas a must in every district every day. It was that a dam had broken and the people of Telangana scented victory that suddenly seemed within reach on December 9, 2009.

That was the day when Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced that the process for the formation of Telangana state would be considered upon introduction and passage of a separation statement by the state assembly of Andhra Pradesh.

However, by December 23, Chidambaram had done a U-turn and the tangle of Telangana remained untangled and the people angry.

Disappointment has led 80-year-old freedom fighter Vanga Gali Reddy from Medak district to sit on a fast from 9 am to 5 pm every day. He has been doing this for over since the government’s U-turn on the Telangana issue. Because, on the issue of Telangana, he brooks no compromise.

“There was a by-election… chief minister was P.V. Narsimha Rao, who was from this region. He tried to get my support for a Congress candidate. But I told him very clearly, I will support only those who will fight for separate Telangana and made sure our Telangana Praja Samithi man won,” he said.

Across Telangana, there are many who, like octogenarian Vanga Reddy, protests today, for a separate future tomorrow. But there are also many people and many political and practical hurdles that stand against the division of Andhra Pradesh.

For now, the union still stands though there is a divide in how history is commemorated. For those, who want Telangana, November 1 is the anniversary of betrayal. For those, who stand for union, it remains the day Andhra Pradesh was born.

Courtesy: India Today

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