Dispassionate opinions, free from regional or political bias, are hard to come by in Andhra Pradesh at a time when tempers are running high over the State’s bifurcation. B. P. R. Vithal has made a studious effort to provide insights into the causes of the Andhra-Telangana dispute without taking sides or passing judgment.
The title of his book is apt since South India’s largest State has been rocked by agitations and crises with normalcy being an exception than the norm. As Vithal himself notes, the State was born as a result of the first fast-unto-death (by Potti Sriramulu) and its very existence challenged by repeated agitations.
A highly seasoned IAS officer who was at the helm of the State’s Planning and Finance departments for a long period, Vithal had a ringside view of the separate Telangana and Andhra agitations that shook the foundations of Andhra Pradesh between 1969 and 1973 and culminated in the imposition of President’s rule.
H. C. Sarin, one of the advisers to the Governor during President’s Rule, asked Mr. Vithal in 1973 to furnish a note on the issues involved in the two agitations. After a brilliant analysis of the prevailing turmoil, the noted civil servant avers that the situation is not much different today.
“The safeguards for Telangana were all based on the assumption — if not the admission — that Telangana was backward. Wisdom and consistency ... would lie not in now denying that assumption but in trying to show that, if despite these safeguards, the backwardness continues it is due to the ineffectiveness of these measures rather than the ill-will of the Andhras.”
The author notes that Andhra is often blamed for being the State which set off the process of linguistic reorganisation of States when, in fact, the process began with the partition of Bengal in 1905. Much after the partition was annulled six years later, Congress leaders such as Annie Besant opposed the linguistic principle.
Vithal begins his narrative with his own experiences in the aftermath of Sardar Patel’s Police Action against the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1948. He narrates the events during the communally surcharged atmosphere and how the Razakars sought to strike fear among the people, and, finally, the negotiations that culminated in Hyderabad’ s accession to India.
Nizam’s Hyderabad state, now Telangana (except the places in Maharashtra and Karnataka), and the Andhra state were brought together in a ‘Shot Gun Marriage’ in 1956 and the marriage started with a quarrel about the name. With his deep knowledge of the State’s finances, Vithal discusses what was then known as ‘Telangana surpluses’, that is the State’s own revenues derived within the region. The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), 1955, expressed the apprehension that the people of Telangana would suffer financially in a unified State as the incidence of land revenue and excise was higher. The existing Andhra State, which was enforcing prohibition, had a lower per capita revenue.
Packed as it is with numbers, the narrative here becomes a wee bit technical and slow. After the Telangana agitation began, the Government appointed a Committee headed by Supreme Court Judge, Vashisht Bhargava to determine the surplus relatable to Telangana which was expected to have been spent on the development of the region. It was found that all the major thermal stations were located in Telangana while all major hydro stations were in the Andhra region. In effect, while investments required for generation were being made by one region, the income derived from the sale of such power was being allocated to another region.
For students of the Andhra-Telangana tussle, there are useful perspectives into the origins of the Mulki Rules governing employment, the powers and functions of the Telangana Regional Committee besides the finances and economic development of Telangana. Telangana leaders were concerned with all the three issues while those from Andhra were mainly worried about the Mulki Rules which would limit their potential for securing jobs in the State capital. After much negotiation, the six point formula was evolved by the Union Home Ministry in 1973 addressing all the major concerns. Leaders of both the regions agreed to the formula. Without giving any prescriptions of his own whether the State should remain united or be divided, Vithal raises a number of questions that need soul-searching by present day leaders and those who allow their good judgment to be clouded by emotion. One such gem is: Andhras did not always speak Telugu and the Telangana people do not call themselves Andhras.
Another one goes like this: Although Telangana has been associated with the periodic agitations, there has always been an under-current of tension between Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra also. “Andhra Pradesh is the nation in a microcosm ... regional and class disparities will increase here, unless there is an active state-supported policy to help the weak, whether classes or regions” he notes.
(S. Nagesh Kumar is Chief of Bureau of The Hindu in Hyderabad)