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Telengana Epilogue

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Round one of the Telangana dispute has finished, but the struggle is far from over. Citizens of Andhra, the state from which Telengana just won secession, are in a furor, and nightly demonstrations scar their major cities. Angered citizens have already destroyed 30 buses, and incredibly, 79 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have threatened to resign. Having promised a state to Telangana, the central government now must deliver one, yet it must also answer to its Andhra constituency. No consensus seems possible.

The government has promised that the transfer “will not be in haste”, and clearly the thing it most desires now is time. Meanwhile, cities in Andhra have completely shut down, and there is already talk of a hunger strike to protest a Telangana state. Further complicating the issue is Rayalseema, a neighboring area, who now says  it also wants its own state. The situation is quickly devolving into absurdity.

Hyderabad is an problem for which no one knows the solution. Previously the capital of the consolidated Andhra state, it has been the site of massive capital and human investment. The city has four 5-star hotels, a brand-new airport (which happens to be the largest in India), a massive convention center to European standards and a diminished, though still booming, IT industry. Unfortunately, the city lies square in the middle of Telangana, and separatists have already begun chanting the slogan “Not Without Hyderabad!”. Some vague discussion can be heard of turning Hyderabad into a “Union Territory”, effectively a double capital, but geography should render that plan unfeasible.

Even optimistic forecasters believe it should take at least one year for the new state to become official. Detractors secretly hope Telangana will be mired in legislation and perhaps never happen. But in any case, the Indian government will be spending much time and resources on this issue for years to come.


Written by pavanvan

December 11, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Telangana Denoument

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Hyderabad heaved a sigh of relief today as the general strike and demonstration at the legislative assembly did not happen. Congress leadership has indicated that they have drafted a bill to create a separate Telengana state, K.C Rao has ended his hunger strike, and the city is once again jerking along in its regular rhythms.

Over the past decades India has seen tremendous balkanization, of which this Telangana dispute stands as yet another symptom. Winston Churchill, that magnificent racist, once opined that “India is no more a country than is the Equator”, and while events have later discredited that remark, the ghost of his sentiment has been present throughout. After independence every language group wanted its own state, and once that had been arranged, further interest groups began agitating for their own homeland. Telangana will be the fourth new state created this decade. In developments like these one can very clearly see the divisions still plaguing India today, the “communal sentiments” (as residents like to call them), and the way in which the Indian government operates.

The Telangana issue has stuck in Indian politics for 40 years or so, and its recent resurgence can be attributed mainly to climate change (or “drought”, for you non-believers). Over the years, Telangana has seen its share of water rights gradually diminished, as irrigation projects led by neighboring Andhra have diverted water away from the Telangana countryside. Several years of light rainfall eventually brought this issue to a head, after which one saw emotional speeches by Telengana leaders, hunger strikes, city-wide boycotts, and riots.

Such breakdowns of law and order betray a lethargy on the part of the Central Government, an unwillingness, or at least a perceived unwillingness to take these grievances seriously. One does not declare a fast unto death, sparking riots, police beatings, and paramilitary operations, if one believes he has a decent chance of being heard without these things. So in one sense this episode betrays a failure in the Indian decision-making process. After all, it is clear that the Telangana grievances, though quite real, could still be addressed without the creation of a new state. But it was precisely because the Telangana supporters were convinced their voice would not be heard via the usual channels that they resorted to demonstrations and violence.

Central leadership finally acceded to the protesters’ demands this morning, validating, perhaps, their violent methods. But this is the way in which things happen in India – one generally cannot achieve a result without loud demonstrations. This also indicates the severe strain of emotionalism which runs through Indian politics. Telangana supporters, when asked, will point to drought and jobs as the overriding reasons for their dispute, but the matter goes deeper than that: they know, in their hearts, they “deserve” a Telangana state, and no compromises, no palliative alleviations will suffice. It speaks to the lack of “national identity”, to the general identification with smaller social groups: state, religion, caste, political party, and who knows what else.

But even more than that, this little episode exemplifies the sort of issue that can mobilize large crowds in India. After all, to an outsider (such as myself) it is a matter of profound indifference under which administrative district Telangana happens to fall. The overriding problems facing India as a whole, systemic corruption, massive income disparities, an exploding population, etc., could never elicit such as response as Telangana did. Increasingly, such problems are coming to be seen as somebody else’s mess – namely, India’s: a country with which fewer and fewer identify.

Addendum: Former Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy’s untimely death in a helicopter crash this September can explain the precise timing of this movement. A formidable politician, adept at keeping a lid on disputes like these, his absence left a wide diplomatic hole. Reddy’s successor, a self-inflated septuagenarian named K. Rosiah, was not equal to the task of satisfying the Telangana supporters.

Written by pavanvan

December 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm