The Srikrishna Committee has accomplished its task with competence and professionalism. However, for the ruling Congress the road ahead is riddled with political landmines.
A crisis triggered by conflicting political interests can be solved only through political intervention. This realisation has so far inhibited any knee-jerk reaction to the option suggested by the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee that keeping Andhra Pradesh united with constitutional safeguards for Telangana would be the “best way forward.”
On the shoulders of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) now lies the responsibility of choosing among the two key options — a united State with a model for Telangana's development, or a bifurcation with Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana.
The adverse implications of bifurcation have been enunciated unambiguously. It would give a fillip to similar demands outside Andhra Pradesh. Also, it would be for the first time after the re-organisation of the States that a political demand to divide a State constituted on linguistic lines would have been conceded, by the creation of two Telugu-speaking states. The Committee wanted the issue of whether a region could be allowed to decide for itself its political status, to be viewed in the larger context.
What stands out in the Srikrishna Committee's report is its sagacity in debunking, on the basis of facts, certain dubious and time-worn theories that were in circulation. The report showed that Rayalaseema, a region rich in mineral resources, was more backward than Telangana. The growth in per capita Gross District level Domestic Product (GDDP) between 2000-01 and 2007-08 was 58.4 per cent in all of Andhra Pradesh, while it was 63 per cent in Telangana including Hyderabad, 60.3 per cent excluding Hyderabad, 58 per cent in Rayalaseema and 54.1 per cent in Coastal Andhra.
The Committee was pragmatic in acknowledging that the demand for Telangana was not unjustified. In fact, it did not flinch in saying that a separate Telangana state would be viable economically as its Gross Domestic State Product (GDP) would be above that of even smaller States such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, though this was a neutral factor in its decision-making relating to Telangana. Telangana's per capita income would in fact be a notch higher than the all-India average.
The Committee put the record straight on the extent of support in Telangana for a bifurcation of the State. Strong pro-Telangana elements existed in Warangal, West Khammam, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, southern Adilabad, Siddipet area of Medak, parts of Nalgonda and Mahabubnagar and some areas of Ranga Reddy. The most vociferous and agitating sections were students, unemployed youth, lawyers and non-gazetted government employees.
An appreciable segment of the population was neutral. It included the original population of Hyderabad; people living in villages bordering Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema; people from the ‘settler' villages in the Telangana heartland (migrants from Andhra); and the migrant population in Hyderabad. A large section of the tribal people, particularly those belonging to the hill tribes, even favoured a separate State of ‘Manyaseeema' comprising parts of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The Scheduled Castes, the Backward Classes and the minorities had their own aspirations for political space, economic development and reservation benefits. This incisive observation is borne out by the clear caste divisions witnessed among the Telangana joint action groups, including those on the Osmania University campus.
Also, the Committee placed on record what everyone knew but hesitated to articulate — the exploitation of educated youth by politicians, causing inter-regional and inter-community disaffection. The mismatch between the skills of many of the graduates with those required by employers, given the poor quality of private colleges (engineering colleges in particular), was resulting in graduates being able to find only low-paying jobs, or no jobs at all. Their frustration was being exploited by politicians, ascribing their problems to discrimination against the people of Telangana.
Addressing a genuine concern of the people of Telangana, the Srikrishna Committee advocated steps to strike a regional balance in making appointments to key posts such as that of the Advocate-General, and to positions in administrative tribunals. It wanted the government to provide fair representation to all regions while making choices for senior positions in the Secretariat and the Directorates, a safeguard not available in the Presidential Order of 1975.
The Committee, though, was not correct, politically or factually, on every score. Suggesting ‘Rayala-Telangana' as an option and then ruling it out was seen as a red-herring aimed to give the impression that it had reached its final conclusion after weighing all options. Not many people had treated this demand seriously and it was voiced by a minuscule section. The Committee erred in recommending a medical college for North Telangana; one already exists in Adilabad.
The question of the future status of Hyderabad apparently influenced the “optimal solutions/options” furnished by the five-member panel. It finds a mention in four out of the six options. A bifurcation of the State without Hyderabad going to them is not acceptable to the people of either region, because of sound economic reasons as well as sentimental factors.
The destabilisation of the economy of, or flight of capital from, or erosion of business confidence in India's fifth biggest city would be to the detriment of all regions of the present State, considering their economic inter-linkages with Hyderabad. In fact, the information technology industry in Hyderabad was connected more to the national (through investment) and global (through the market) economies than it was to the regional economy. The IT industry accounted for 15 per cent of India's software exports in 2008-09.
The Committee drew a distinction between the situation in Hyderabad and in Brussels, the Belgian capital. In 1968, riots broke out in Belgium on the question of who had the claim to Brussels as three languages are spoken in the country — Flemish, French and German. The capital region of Brussels was, therefore, organised as a separate bilingual capital region with a separate administrative set-up and jurisdiction. However, Andhra Pradesh by and large has a common culture.
A significant observation was that Telangana with or without Hyderabad was likely to experience a spurt in Maoist activity. The report did not furnish further details beyond saying that a note was submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs in a separate cover.
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram convened a meeting of eight recognised political parties on January 5, 2010, which paved the way for the constitution of the Srikrishna Committee. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) was one of them. It was well understood then that the Committee's recommendations would mark the way forward, though the final decision would rest with the Centre.
None of the parties to that decision, including the Central government, the Congress and the TRS, can now disown the report just because the ‘best way forward' is either not politically inconvenient or because sections or the whole of the parts are not in its favour. This is especially so of the Congress, which should not be influenced by the argument that the panel has no statutory backing.
Conscious of the opposition that its last option would inevitably encounter, the Committee noted that the initial reaction to it would be one of total rejection. It may fuel violent agitations in Telangana and put pressure on MLAs, MLCs and MPs to resign and lead to the demand for a Regional Council in Rayalaseema and the other backward sub-regions of the State.
The Srikrishna Committee has accomplished its assignment with competence and professionalism as claimed, but the road ahead for the Congress is riddled with political landmines. Exercising the option to keep the State united may mean erosion of its already weak base in Telangana. Dividing the State will not enhance its popularity as it has to contend with competition from N. Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party and from former Kadapa MP Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy in the ‘Seemandhra' region.
It can emerge from this zero sum game only through “firm political and administrative management” of the unfolding situation, as suggested by the Srikrishna Committee. High expectations rest on Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who has given every indication of being resolute in the face of pressure. Much is expected also from the all-party meeting convened by Mr. Chidambaram towards the end of January to discuss the 461-page report.