Points of departure do matter. They determine not only where one arrives at but also one’s point of view. Ramchandra Guha in his article in The Hindu, “Living together, separately” (editorial page, January 30, 2013) sought to understand the urge for unity of Telugu people and the demand for an Andhra Province, somewhat arbitrarily, from 1914 onwards. However, instead of Swadesamitran’s reportage, if he had chanced upon a document showing the Nizam of Hyderabad ceding Telugu speaking territories to the French and then to the British he would have understood the Telugu Desa narrative in a completely different way.
Looking at history
His point of departure led Guha to flawed reasoning. Consequently, he missed the point that in their two-and-a-half millennia of recorded history, Telugu people from the coast, Rayalaseema and the Deccan regions were together except for a brief 150 years. Until about the late 18th century, Telugu people were under one suzerain power. Machilipatnam was the main port of the Golkonda kingdom. Their urge since the beginning of the 1900s, therefore, was for a reunion with their brethren across the political boundaries between the British and the Nizam. It was not a desire for separation from the Tamils, as Guha wrongly understood. If he had seen this point, he would then, as a historian, have found copious quotations from Swadesamitran reportage and the opinion of Tamil intelligentsia impertinent to the discussion.
If he had seen the well documented proceedings of the Andhra Mahasabha which worked in the coastal and Rayalaseema regions, and the Nizam Andhra Mahasabha which functioned in the Nizam’s dominion, he would have understood that the people and their cultural and social leaders tirelessly worked in tandem to undo the separation that occurred just a century-and-a-half ago. One could overlook this omission if Guha missed this huge historical development as a mere citizen. But as a historian he should have been a bit more diligent.
Guha picked up the impression from hearsay that the “Telangana movement is already 40 (and more) years old….” It might be useful for him to know that the last time people came out onto the streets in large numbers, briefly, to demand a separate Telangana State was in 1969. And for about 30 years until this current phase of agitation began, there was not even a whisper of a demand. Guha might find it interesting that when coastal and Rayalaseema regions demanded separation in 1972, those who agitated for a separate Telangana State were either quiet or vigorously worked for unity. Guha would have benefitted if he had cared to look at some of these details before making such sweeping observations on the age of agitations.
Growth in every sphere
That the present phase lacks massive support is clear from the electoral outcomes since the 2004 General Election. The latest by-election in Parakala where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) scraped through with a mere 1,500 votes could not have been missed even by a casual observer. Overall, the electoral outcomes give us a picture of uneven and unconvincing support for the present agitation. It is surprising that in spite of very clear evidence to the contrary, Guha is convinced that the “movement for Telangana is the oldest as well as the most intense.”
Guha writes that Telangana has “historically been neglected by the more powerful or richer parts of the State.” Again, a bit of care to examine the economic data would have helped him. Neglect, backwardness, exploitation and such other allegations and assertions were comprehensively proved to be wrong in the case of Telangana. Since the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana districts have registered phenomenal growth and development in every sphere of economic activity.
Language as unifier
Guha might have viewed linguistic states as having served the purpose of keeping the country united. It probably did that too. But it needs to be remembered that the reason behind choosing the linguistic state as the defining principle of the Indian Republic’s political architecture was not because any other type of political reorganisation would have threatened the country’s unity. That was not part of the discourse when the States’ Reorganization Commission went into the issue. It was chosen primarily because it was the strong aspiration of people speaking the same language to stay together in the same administrative unit. These aspirations found expression even during British rule and are not merely a post-independence phenomena. Opposition to the division of Bengal, and the creation of Orissa (Odisha) during British rule are enough to see the raison d’être of a linguistic state. From Bengal in the east along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, up along the coast of the Arabian Sea, up to Gujarat and then up till Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, India is politically organised broadly on linguistic basis. The force and vigour of language as a factor of unity among people is not unknown to history and historians.
When the linguistic state was never on the drop down menu as one of the options for preserving national unity, a judgment on whether it outlived its usefulness is out of place. Guha seems to dismiss the utility of linguistic state for reasons that have little to do with its existence.
Advocates of small States have a robust case, Guha feels. Perhaps as robust as those who advocate any other criteria for forming a state. But the difficulty with advocates of small states is that they refuse to bring any rigour to their criteria. Anything smaller than the existing State is small in their book. Is it small in area? Or in Size? Or in resources? And how small is small? For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which bats for smaller States wants Andhra Pradesh to be divided because of administrative convenience. But the TRS says that a separate Telangana state is going to be 12th largest State in the country.
‘Small states for administrative convenience and economic development’ argument will not run its full course and stop with making States small. Inevitably one day, sooner than later, we will have to face the question, ‘why not smaller countries for administrative convenience and economic prosperity’? Therefore, creation of small States may not be one way of addressing a problem, but a sure way of creating bigger problems. A much better way to address the problems that Guha might be exercised about is to seriously implement decentralisation and devolution of power: to State governments; to district authorities; to the blocks and mandals; to the panchayats; and the municipalities.
In this day and age, with revolution in communications, rapid travel and massive technological capabilities of data transfer, size no longer need limit effective statecraft and quality of governance.
We can all live together. And prosper together.
(Parakala Prabhakar is general secretary, Visalandhra Mahasabha, Hyderabad.)
Ramachandra Guha responds:
Mr. Prabhakar puts the case for ‘Visalandhra’ spiritedly and passionately. My response, like my original essay, may be dispassionate in comparison, since I have, as it were, no dog in this fight. Whether Andhra stays as it is or is divided into two or three states will not affect the way I live or work.
That said, there are a number of logical and historical fallacies in Mr. Prabhakar’s case. Here is the central one. If, as he claims, the “Telugu people” were “together” for “two-and-a-half millenia,” why were the best Telugu musicians in the Tamil country, so many great Tamil and Kannada writers in chiefdoms run by Telugus? The fact is that language as a constitutive feature of political identity is a very modern phenomenon. It originates in the late 18th century in Europe — where it led to the creation of nation-states based on a single language. In mid-20th century India we saw a further innovation — the creation of linguistic provinces.
Mr. Prabhakar could also consider the implications of his claim. If people who speak one language must necessarily be consolidated in a single political unit, as he suggests, why don’t we think then of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh merging now into Uttar Pradesh, so that the Hindi-speakers can feel together and secure?
Need for a second commission
I do, however, agree with Mr. Prabhakar that in every Indian state present and future, there must be effective transferrence of financial and administrative power to city, town, mandal, and village authorities. I also think we need a second States Reorganization Commission to provide enduring solutions.
The first SRC had a jurist, a historian, and a social worker. A second SRC must likewise exclude politicians (retired or serving), and could dispense with a historian too. A jurist like Fali Nariman, a social worker like Ela Bhatt, an economist like Jean Dreze — Indians of all political persuasions might, I think, trust an SRC composed of such qualified and entirely non-partisan experts.
(Ramachandra Guha’s books include India after Gandhi. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)