For lakhs in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, with Hyderabad everything will go

“The Andhra rich send their children to America. We sent ours to Hyderabad. Where do we send them now?” That’s N. Rama Rao, a two-acre tenant farmer in Davajigudam village in Krishna district. “The jobs, the schools, the colleges, the hospitals — everything is in Hyderabad. If we lose that, we lose everything. Do you think we can send our kids to America?”

Rama Rao’s dilemma confronts lakhs of other families across coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema with members working or settled in Hyderabad. The possibility that many might have to return when Telangana State is formed frightens them. It’s an insecurity fanned by hostile words from leaders of the Telangana movement.

“What do they return to?” asks Sambasiva Rao, a small tenant farmer at Kesarapalli. “Most here are small tenant farmers in great difficulty. Farming is anyway in a mess. Divide the State, and there will be major conflicts over water.” And “what about the poorer ones?” asks Bappatla Veeraiah, back in Davajigudam. “Those whose children work there as painters, electricians, watchmen, security guards, canteen workers?”

Their concerns and fears are much the same as those expressed by the poor on the other side of the great divide: work and water. ‘Hyderabad’ itself is a proxy for jobs, income and security. Many poor families in Rayalaseema and coastal districts too have sent at least one member to seek a future in that city in the last 15 years.

“All our wealth is there,” is the refrain across the coastal districts and Rayalaseema. “Even Hi-Tech city is there,” says Sarat Chandra, an M. Tech student in Gannavaram. “Mr. Chandrababu Naidu [when he was Chief Minister] focused on developing that city.”

The division comes amid an acute agrarian distress. “Soon there will be no small farmers left,” says S. Pappa Rao in Krishna district. He owned three acres, but parted with two as dowry when his daughter got married. “It will be absentee landlords sitting in Hyderabad or America and over here landless and poor tenant farmers. The latter will be more like employees in pants and shirts than like farmers.”

Andhra Pradesh as a whole is among the States worst-affected by the agrarian crisis. The 2011 census shows a drop of over 1 million farmers in the State. But the number of agricultural labourers has risen by over 3 million. Many losing farmer status have likely joined the agrarian underclass. A farmer in Andhra Pradesh is three times more likely to commit suicide than anyone else in the country, excluding farmers.

A massive rise in tenant farmers brings its own issues. “We get 25-30 bastas (bags of 75 kg each) of paddy from an acre,” a group of tenant farmers tells us in Krishna district. “And we pay a lease rate of 18-25 bastas from that to the landowner. How long can this go on?” Agricultural labourers have it worse. “There are 20 days’ work now, and then no work for months,” says K. Jejakumari. “All prices are up,” she says. “But not our income. Vegetables cost two-and-a-half times more than they did a year ago.”

“Telangana will kill the Delta farmers,” says an angry S. Venkatappaiah. He’s a small farmer at Unguturu in Krishna district. “There will be no water for cultivation.” (In Rayalaseema that fear extends to drinking water).

“Things are already bad,” says 76-year-old Beemavaruppu Subba Reddy at Telaprolu in Krishna district. He has been “in farming for 60 years.” Electricity rates “have risen 100 per cent in a year. The main supports for small farmers have ended. The panchayat grants do not come because there is no government in AP. Now, with division of the State, water will go down, surely.”

In Siripuram village in Guntur district, John Syedulu, a seed salesman covering 30 villages, says the same things. “Hyderabad and irrigation.” Across Korrapadu, Dhulipala and Rajupalyam, the words recur: work and water. “All registration for the Andhra Pradesh Public Service Commission has stopped,” points out Mallikarjun Rao, a journalist in Rajupalyam. “Where those recruited will go is one question.” That sparks panic among thousands of job aspirants.

There is deep hurt among people in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema over Telangana. Their State has been broken up, and they will punish someone for that. Yet, there were no words of hatred for people on the other side of the divide. Even among those firmly favouring a united State. Their focus, like their counterparts in Telangana, is on work and water. And there’s an underlying sense that securing those could see the explosive anger over division abate.

“Ms. Sonia Gandhi thinks Andhras are fools who will go along quietly with everything,” says Venkatappaiah. “What we are seeking is a fair solution to those issues. Sadly, that isn’t there. In coming days, you’ll see more farmers take their lives.”