Legitimate socio-economic grievances can take problematical political forms. Decades of neglect and denial of opportunities, especially in education and employment, have left the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh underdeveloped and backward. This inescapable reality explains the militancy of the movements that surface from time to time for a separate State. The region, which broadly corresponds to the areas that were under the princely state of Hyderabad, continues to fall behind both coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema in development indices. Dams and irrigation projects have helped to some extent, but the rural hinterlands on the Deccan plateau have resisted attempts to boost agricultural productivity and income. Rural unemployment and poverty are rampant. Leaders of the Telangana region, including many from the time of the first major agitation in 1969, have sought to frame these deprivation and development-related issues in the language of regionalism — as wilful, oppressive neglect of an entire region by those in power belonging to other regions. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the party behind the current agitation, is of the same mould. Although the TRS fared poorly in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections earlier this year, its president K. Chandrasekhar Rao has now managed to rally support by going on a protest fast. Such is the volatility of Indian politics that the mass mood can change within months, especially when an emotive issue is worked up by clever political footwork. The mishandling of the students’ agitation by the police has clearly aided Mr. Rao’s cause.
Sound political diagnosis must of course factor in the mass mood but cannot be determined by it. In most cases, the real answer to problems of under-development and backwardness lies in big efforts aimed at development and progress. Aside from the unwisdom of breaking up South India’s largest State, a separate Telangana will fuel demands for a separate Rayalaseema, for a separate coastal Andhra, and, maybe, even for union territory status for Hyderabad — and there will be no Pradesh left. The problem of uneven regional and intra-State development is one of the major challenges rising India faces but there is little to suggest that smaller States will make for a more even process of development. Surely, regional imbalances can be corrected without recourse to bifurcating or trifurcating a stable and potentially prosperous State — which came into being through historical struggle and sacrifice and showcases the virtues of post-Independence linguistic reorganisation. For a start, the Regional Development Boards could be given more resources and more powers. Successive chief ministers have avoided resourcing the boards with sufficient funds, for fear of creating regional power centres and undermining their own authority. This must necessarily change. The diagnosis is right: Telangana is backward and cries out for rapid development and the regional autonomy needed for this. But the cure pressed by a succession of militant movements — a separate Telangana State — will do serious harm to the patient.