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Telangana: An Exchange

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Telangana supporters burn an effigy

“Total bandh today! Every shop has closed. They must give Telangana now.”

– Are you pro-Telangana?

“Yes, Yes, Jai! Telangana! We have waited too long; for forty years, fifty years, they are not listening. Now we are united – we must have Telangana”

– I’ve been hearing these sentiments quite often. Why do you think Telangana should be a separate state?

“Yaar – so many reasons! The Andhra people, they don’t give us the water, the irrigation – every river begins in Telangana, but they give us only 13% of water and 87% goes to Andhra and Rayalseema.”

– But then shouldn’t you be protesting for equal water distribution?

“Sir, sir, very quickly let me tell you. I will give you one example. In 1956 they had the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ when Andhra and Telangana became one state. They said whenever there is an Andhra Chief Minister, there will be a Telangana deputy. They did not do this. We have no educational facilities here. Andhra people think we are dumb, stupid. Andhra has only 9 districts and more than 90 universities! In Telangana there are 10 districts but only 30 universities! They give us only a  fraction of the power generation, even though we have the most population. Andhra does not allow us to develop. We get no investement, no money – what do they think?”

– If you asked for these things, don’t you think you would get them?

“No way, yaar! How long we are asking! The Andhra politicians will never listen to us – that is why we must get our own state.

– But you must admit they are listening at least somewhat to you now. Telangana leaders are participating in high-level meetings!

“Yes, but that is only because we made them!”

– “Well then, let me ask it like this: If the Andhra government were to build universities, dig irrigation, allow a Telangana chief minister – in short, if they addressed all of your grievances, would this movement dissolve? What do you think would end these strikes and riots?

“We will accept nothing but Telangana. We have been mistreated for too long. The only solution is Telangana.”

– Do you think that such an absolute stance might make negotiation difficult?

“No, yaar – here, please listen, let me tell you just one example. We need Telangana for our self-respect! The Telegu film industry is all Andhra. They use Telangana accent as a joke. They only make villains from Telangana.  They take our self-respect! When it was independence time, we Indians had to chase the British out to get back our self-respect. Just like that, we in Telangana must break from Andhra to regain our self-respect. It is like Gandhi said: ‘Do or Die'”

– I think he used it in a different context. Don’t you think the Telangana movement works to an opposing aim to Gandhi’s? He wanted to keep India together. Do you think maybe this movement increases the regionalism here; makes people of themselves more as a member of their region than India? I mean, if Telangana gets statehood, a lot of other regions will want their own state as well.

“I don’t think that would be bad. Let them split the states up! Andhra, Telangana, Rayalseema – then the UP states can all be broken up, and the Madhya Pradesh states as well. Why not? Smaller states means better development. You’re from America – your country has only 30 Crore people and you have 50 states. Here we have 130 Crore people! Why shouldn’t we get more states?”

– If that’s the case, isn’t this something that should be decided all at once? Like, they have a session of parliament or whatever and declare once and for all how many states there should be and who should get them? That way everyone gets independence at once, and it’s done officially. Don’t you think that by doing it piecemeal like this it creates more problems than it solves?

“No, No, sir, please, please listen, we have waited 40 years for Telangana. Let them have their meeting after Telangana is independent. This much at least they owe us.”

– Well, I would think that monopolizing the central government’s time like this doesn’t let them solve the real problems of India. If you lived in Bihar or Orissa, you would wish you lived in Telangana, even with its problems. You know what goes on in those states – it’s basically slavery.  And look at the pollution around you. Look at the overpopulation, the masses of poor. Wouldn’t you want these problems solved?

“Yes, and they will be! Once we are free of the Andhra government we will have much less poverty here, we will be able to rule ourselves.”

– But that doesn’t help the Oriya farmer.

“They are poor because they don’t have resources, they have nothing there. Why should Telangana also be poor when it has coal mines, copper, tin, and two massive rivers? India will always have these problems; poverty, corruption, bonded labor – but at least we can make them lesser in our Telangana!”

– Do you really think the problems will be fixed, even within Telangana? You said yourself that Indian politics will always be corrupt. And so long as Sonia Gandhi exercises absolute power over the Congress Party, there doesn’t seem a likelihood for reform. I mean, think about it: Maybe Telangana can keep Congress out for the first few election cycle,s but once a Congress leader gets in, it’ll be the same situation as it is now. Look at what all of the Members of Parliament are saying now: “We must wait for Sonia ma’am’s approval – we can take no decision without her.”

“This may be true, but we can do nothing about that. At least now we will have our own Telangana. If we can remove 10% corruption, then this will be worth it.”

– Even if it means increasing corruption elsewhere?

“Yes, even then. We will stop at nothing to achieve Telangana. We are willing to pay any price.”


Written by pavanvan

January 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

6 Responses

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  1. […] original here: Telangana: An Exchange « The Reasoned Review Share and […]

  2. wait, how would creating telangana increase corruption elsewhere?


    January 2, 2010 at 3:50 am

  3. By encouraging more demagogues to agitate for their own secession, by tacitly ignoring the effects of corruption in other states, and by perpetuating Sonia Gandhi’s supremacy in the Congress Party.


    January 2, 2010 at 8:39 am

    • That’s a weak argument. The reason why this guy was protesting for Telangana was, as he said, to make things somewhat better for his people. If we assume that his opinions are fairly representative of most of the protesters’, it is just as plausible that the potential encouragement of other groups’ secession will be based around making things somewhat better in the new states, as it would be based around encouraging demagogues. Thus the reasons behind the agitations in Telangana, if they prove successful, could be taken as a good example for other potential states and the movements behind them. Demagogues may or may not be encouraged as well, and they may or may not play a significant role in potential agitations in other areas. We don’t know. This shows that the effects of the creation of Telangana cannot be argued authoritatively to cause more corruption simply due to their potential to encourage demaogoguery. That argument is speculative at best, and it overlooks the positive demonstration effect, centered around an increased national awareness of legitimate concerns, that the creation of Telangana could have. This positive effect could outweigh the negative effect, in terms of corruption. The fact that it could outweigh the negative effect of emboldening demagogues is enough to demonstrate that the Telangana protests’ “encouragement factor” is by no means clear-cut in terms of its effect on corruption elsewhere.

      “Tacitly ignoring the effects of corruption in other states.” This is like saying that if I give two dollars to a homeless person, then I’m tacitly ignoring the effects of poverty among other homeless people to whom I didn’t give any money. It isn’t feasible for the federal government of a huge country to undergo an instant creation of many new states. These things have to be done piecemeal largely due to the sheer volume of grievances, and at certain points in time, it will seem as if one state is getting more attention than the others. This doesn’t mean that the effects of corruption in the other states are being unduly ignored, any more than the effects of corruption are being ignored when the Indian government does anything unrelated to corruption.

      The third argument’s corollary is that any use of Sonia Gandhi’s power perpetuates her supremacy. For example, support for any of the UPA’s positions since Sonia gained what you call absolute power would perpetuate her supremacy, and would thus help increase corruption in India, by your logic. Sonia Gandhi’s power over her party is bad – it is in stark contrast to the Nehru years, when the CP had strong institutional support all over the country, with regional leaders, and at least a semblance of a mass base. But just because her authority is illegitimate doesn’t mean that all uses of that authority are necessarily illegitimate, and would thereby increase corruption in other states. The use of Sonia Gandhi’s power in the Telangana case wouldn’t enhance her power in any meaningful way, since as you say, she already has absolute control over the party. Her power may be perpetuated in a symbolic manner – but if this comes as a result of making an independent Telangana a bit less corrupt and a bit more democratic, the symbolic (virtually meaningless) perpetuation of her power should not be an important concern.

      Anyways, saying that creating an independent Telangana would increase corruption elsewhere in India is a lofty statement with weak supporting evidence.


      January 2, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      • Perhaps, then, I should elaborate. In the post, I asked “Even if it increases corruption….”, etc. The hypothetical form was intentional, for, as you say, we don’t actually know what the effects of an independent Telangana would be. The point was that this protester had internalized his nationalism to the extent that he would be willing to pay literally any price. To be fair, he said as much implicitly with his “those states don’t have resources” response to Orissa, etc. and explicitly later on in the conversation.

        The Telangana protesters may be agitating to make life better for their fellow man and all that, but I think we can be reasonably sure that the leaders, at least, are doing this purely for political power. A new state means a new Chief Minister, a new cabinet, a new legislative assembly and more seats in Parliament. K.C. Rao, the ringleader, has publicly made clear his intentions to become Chief Minister of the new Telangana. Even if you object to the phrase “demagogue”, I think it should be clear that this extra-legal method of appropriation is disruptive at best and destructive at worst.

        I would dispute that the federal government of a “huge state” is not capable of convening an official meeting on the matter, inviting delegates to make their case, and going about this with some semblance of order. Here, nobody knows what they’re doing! Congress says “yes” one day, then qualifies it, then goes back and says “yes”, then says “uh… let’s talk about this”. The KCR cadre jerk from strike to strike with violence in between.

        Meanwhile the universities are shut down along with most major businesses, and the central government has become completely paralyzed. There has to be a better way of doing this. I agree that the Telangana movement may have some benefit if it prompts a closer look at the policy of India’s states, but if it just precipitates more of these chaotic episodes in other states, I cannot see that it would have done much good.

        I do not think I was trying to say that all exercises of Sonia Gandhi’s power are inherently bad, I was merely attempting to point out the grand farce of every Congress MP lining up at the press meets to say “We must wait for madam’s decision”. I also think it’s unlikely that, given the current power structure of India, an independent Telangana will necessarily be any more “democratic” than it has been under Andhra Pradesh. Obviously I have no idea what kind of leader K.C Rao will be, but if Telangana ends up under Congress rule, which, given the BJP’s recent decline, seems likely, they will merely have changed the names of their rulers. The patron-client system of Indian governance still remains.

        In practice, many protesters have admitted this to me, but then qualified their actions with the “self-respect” argument described above.

        I guess I didn’t mean to really argue that Telangana would necessarily “increase corruption in other states”, I just threw the hypothetical out there, and received a pretty absolutist response.


        January 2, 2010 at 8:11 pm

  4. If the “increasing corruption elsewhere” statement is acknowledged to be simply one possible effect of the creation of Telangana, then I agree with the statement. And yeah, it is unfortunate that the protester has such stubborn views that he didn’t care about the hypothetical possibility of increasing corruption elsewhere.

    “I would dispute that the federal government of a “huge state” is not capable of convening an official meeting on the matter, inviting delegates to make their case, and going about this with some semblance of order.”
    – India is capable of going through these processes with an official meeting, and delegates, and order. That’s not what I was arguing against. What I was arguing against, on the grounds that it is unfeasible, is going through these processes for a number of states all at once. This is simply because of the number of groups vying for statehood, which seems to me to be too extensive for the federal government to deal with at once. Yes, it would be nice, in terms of policy coherence, for the federal government to take care of all statehood claims at once, but I highly doubt that this is possible in India.
    I think that the creation of a smaller state in Telangana, regardless of our speculation on Rao and the Congress’ potential ability to control it, will likely result in less corruption there. This is just because it is generally easier to control corruption in smaller jurisdictions. The arguments that the protester made about better democratic representation have some weight to them, also. So I would predict that an independent Telangana will be a little bit better off in terms of democracy and corruption control than the area was when it was under Andhra Pradesh’s control. Whether these benefits will outweigh the costs caused by the tactics used by Telangana supporters is another question.
    You’re right that the creation of Telangana, by itself, will do next to nothing to change the power structure in Indian politics. I just think that some benefit will come from having an independent Telangana.


    January 6, 2010 at 10:47 am

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