The Telangana region has had a chequered history of popular movements.
The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee report submitted to the Central government on December 30 marks a milestone in the history of Andhra Pradesh, which has had a turbulent existence. The Committee's recommendations will assist the Central government in determining whether the Telugu-speaking people will continue to live together in one State, or in separate states.
In the 54 years since Andhra Pradesh was formed, two rounds of violent region-based agitations rocked the State earlier — one in 1969 and the other in 1972. These threatened to tear apart the social and political fabric of Telugu society. But firm handling of the situation by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi prevented permanent damage being caused.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leadership in New Delhi will now be called upon to show a high degree of statesmanship in implementing the recommendations of the Committee. The future of the Telugu people, who number eight crore in Andhra Pradesh, will now depend on the UPA government's ability to take the right decisions without being swayed by emotion or letting narrow political considerations to come into play.
In a context of frayed tempers, the Centre did well in constituting in February 2010 the five-member committee headed by Justice Srikrishna. The former Supreme Court Judge has been known for his integrity and ability. He earned laurels for the inquiry into the Mumbai riots of 1992-93.
The Telangana region has had a chequered history of popular movements. The peasant revolt led by the (united) Communist Party of India from 1946 against feudal forces, and later against the Nizam of Hyderabad, is part of the region's lore. It was only after the Indian Army entered the then Hyderabad state in September 1948 that the rebellion subsided.
The Razakars, who were a part of the Nizam's army, had earned notoriety for their bid to suppress the movement. Hyderabad state (the Nizam's Dominions) was distributed in Telangana, and parts of what are now Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Around the same time, people in the Andhra region began a struggle for an Andhra Province. They pressed their case before Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The Congress constituted a committee comprising Nehru, Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramaiah, which favoured the postponement of the creation of linguistic provinces. However, it suggested the formation of an Andhra Province, provided the people of the region gave up their claim to Madras city. Neither this body nor the Partition Committee, headed by Madras Chief Minister Kumaraswami Raja, could mollify the people of Andhra. They expressed their resentment towards the Congress leaders by defeating them in the 1952 general elections. Of the 140 seats from Andhra in the Madras Legislative Assembly, the Congress got only 42. The CPI bagged 40.
At this juncture, Potti Sriramulu, a self-effacing Gandhian, began a fast-unto-death on October 19, 1952. New Delhi did not pay heed — until Sriramulu died on December 15, setting off a violent agitation. Four days later, Nehru announced in the Lok Sabha the formation of Andhra State, but excluding Madras city.
Andhra came into being on October 1, 1953 with Kurnool as the capital. Tanguturi Prakasam was the Chief Minister. After Nehru inaugurated the State, the Telugu people looked forward to the formation of ‘Vishalandhra' with Hyderabad as its capital.
As similar demands for the creation of States on linguistic lines were being voiced in different parts, the Government of India set up the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC). Justice Fazal Ali was its Chairman. In its report submitted in 1955, the SRC observed that “the creation of Vishalandhra is an ideal to which numerous individuals and public bodies, both in Andhra and Telangana, have been passionately attached over a long period of time, and unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, this sentiment is entitled to consideration.” Yet, it noted that “while opinion in Andhra is overwhelmingly in favour of the larger unit, public opinion in Telangana has still to crystallise itself. Important leaders of public opinion in Andhra themselves seem to appreciate that the unification of Telangana with Andhra, though desirable, should be based on a voluntary and willing association of the people…”
As differences over unification persisted, the Centre prevailed upon leaders of Andhra and Telangana to sort them out. Consequently, a 10-point ‘Gentlemen's Agreement' was reached. It was signed by political stalwarts from the two regions, including the Chief Ministers of Andhra (Bezawada Gopal Reddy) and Hyderabad (Burugula Ramakrishna Rao). A key provision was the creation of a Regional Committee for Telangana, whose recommendations would “normally be accepted by the Government and the State Legislature.” It went into the critical issue of reserving posts in subordinate services of the government in Telangana to ‘Mulkis'.
The ‘Mulki' issue had a history. A Mulki was defined as one who was born in Hyderabad or had resided there continuously for at least 15 years. The Nizam of Hyderabad issued a firman in 1919 laying down that only ‘Mulkis' were eligible for appointment to government service in the State.
The Agreement prescribed improvements in educational facilities in Telangana and set down that 40 per cent of the State Ministers should be from the region. Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy became Chief Minister of the integrated Andhra Pradesh in 1956.
Some 12 to 13 years later, discontent began brewing among Telangana officials and youth. This was fuelled by fears that the safeguards laid down in the Gentlemen's Agreement were not being implemented, the Mulki Rules might vanish, and people from Andhra region who were migrating to Hyderabad would corner the jobs.
The unrest provided the foundation for the Telangana movement in 1969. A movement started by students received support from Congress MLAs from the region. Marri Channa Reddy joined the fray and formed the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS).
The TPS split when the MLAs realised that Indira Gandhi did not favour Telangana. The TPS won 10 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana in the 1971 general elections, but the party was dissolved and its members joined the Congress. The agitation, which took the lives of several students, petered out in September 1971. Kasu Brahmananda Reddy resigned from his position to make way for P.V. Narasimha Rao, who hailed from Telangana.
In 1972, the Supreme Court upheld the Mulki Rules. This triggered the Jai Andhra movement in the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.
A political settlement was finally reached on Indira Gandhi's initiative. It was called the Six-Point Formula. Leaders of the two regions agreed to prevent anymore agitations, ensure development of backward areas and give preference to local candidates in admissions to educational institutions and in direct recruitment to non-gazetted posts in government.
A long period of Telugu unity followed. N.T. Rama Rao strengthened this further when he fought and won the 1983 Assembly elections on the plank of ‘Telugu pride.' That slogan was targeted at the Congress high command that was given to changing Chief Ministers frequently.
In August 2000, led by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, 41 Congress MLAs signed a memorandum addressed to the high command demanding a Telangana state. This coincided with the birth of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) floated by K. Chandrasekhar Rao. He did this after severing ties with the Telugu Desam Party led by N. Chandrababu Naidu.
The Telangana issue came to the boil again from November 29, 2009 when KCR began a fast alleging disparity in the economic development of the two regions of the State and failure by successive governments to implement agreements. He ended his protest 11 days later after the Centre decided to initiate the process of creating a Telangana state.
History has turned full circle. Violent agitations shook the Telangana and Andhra regions towards the end of 2009, threatened to derail the economy of the rapidly growing Hyderabad city and forced New Delhi to constitute the committee headed by Justice Srikrishna — which has just submitted its report.