Those opposing statehood for Telangana are being oblivious to history
The demand for a separate Telangana state is passing through twists and turns. The protracted political process of claims, counter-claims, movement and countermovement, coupled with electoral calculations by almost all political formations, have complicated the issue beyond a reasonable and satisfactory solution. The issue is on a chessboard. Every political move is dependent on the move of the other, and does not address the basic problems or ask where the political process went wrong.
While a crisis of conflict of this kind calls for creative and constructive politics, manipulative politics has occupied its place. Politics, conceptually, is the science of analysing the problems of society and the art of solving them. This institutionalised form of collective power is an invention of society to resolve the contradictions that are thrown up in the course of change. Indian politics has remained premature, and too pragmatic, rendering the problem-solving mechanism difficult. The issue of Telangana and the way it has been handled is testimony to this.
After considerable procrastination, the Central government moved a step forward towards the formation of the State of Telangana. But it has been accused of not taking both regions (Telangana and Seemandhra) into confidence, not making efforts to bring about a consensus, and imposing a unilateral and arbitrary decision. Further, it is argued that whatever the decision, it should be fair and just to both regions, without suggesting what such a solution is. This is being oblivious to the historical process and the political failure to intervene at an appropriate time to avert the present situation. A blame game is on, forgetting that the seeds of the present crisis were sown at the time of the merger of the two regions itself. The fact that there was a Gentlemen’s Agreement at the time of the merger is reflective of the intrinsic tensions. After entering into the agreement on six conditions to fortify the merger, the leaders of Andhra Pradesh soon forgot the conditions. It is not only that the conditions were not honoured; legal battles were waged to subvert them. The Telangana people felt let down. Those who are more powerful believe that they are at liberty to do whatever they wish, forgetting that such violations lead to cumulative anger that flares up at one time or the other. It requires a deep sense of history and strong commitment to the unity of the people to avoid committing such mistakes. Rulers who lack vision always get trapped and start blaming history.
The issue of water
Apart from the violations, the model of development that the rulers of Andhra Pradesh opted for has these trappings. One of the major causes for the present crisis is the technological choice made in the name of the Green Revolution in the mid-1960s. This technology, which was essentially irrigation-centric, proved to be counterproductive to all drought-prone regions across the nation, accentuating the regional imbalances. Indian socio-political history would have been different if only there had been a simultaneous technological breakthrough in water scarce, dry land cultivation. If one believed that this policy choice was inevitable to meet food scarcity, agriculture in the backward regions ought to have been heavily subsidised. Farmers who were dependent for centuries on open well or minor irrigation started tapping groundwater beyond capacity, spending huge private resources on borewells and electric pumps without any subsidy on electricity which landed them in a debt trap. The situation was further aggravated as the State started withdrawing subsidies under the pressure of global economic forces as a part of structural adjustment. This was so disastrous that more than two lakh farmers committed suicide. There were no instances of suicide in the irrigated belt. All suicides took place in water-deficit regions, sharpening subregional consciousness. One can see the manifestation of this phenomenon in multiple subregional demands for statehood, based on the logic that political power is a correction for regional imbalances and distortions of development.
It is perhaps keeping in view such possibilities that the makers of the Constitution provided the simplest procedure for the formation of a new state. The flexibility built into the Constitution reflects not only the historical times but also a profound understanding of an evolving polity in a multiethnic, multi-linguistic, multicultural, multi-caste, and multi-class Indian society. Realising that it would be the backward and smaller regions that would demand statehood, approval by the State Assembly was not made mandatory. Referring the matter to the State Assembly is more a gesture to federalism than a constitutional requirement.
To pit Article 371D against Article 3, as is now being done, is more to litigate the issue than solve it. Article 371D is a provision made to divide the State into six zones to protect public employment for locals in the State of Andhra Pradesh. How can a provision meant for government employment in one State supersede a provision that forms a part of the basic structure of the Constitution? Article 3 of the Constitution acquired critical significance in the wake of the neo-liberal model of development that accentuated the subregional imbalances and shifted development from being state-centric to ruthless market force-driven, with no qualms about pursuing profit. The market would rather put up with any level of human sacrifice than concede democratic aspirations.
Claims on Hyderabad
It is in the very nature of capital that it always moves to greener pastures and already developed industrial-friendly urban centres, widening the gap between the rural and the urban, leading to claims and counterclaims on urban spaces, forgetting that a huge population continues to live in rural areas. Hyderabad was not the bone of contention in the 1972 Jai Andhra agitation. Since huge investment went into the city, neglecting agriculture in both the regions, Hyderabad has become a lucrative site. The farming community which suffered on account of this perverted development is not inclined to share the water or agree to the legitimate claims of a backward drought-prone region. Instead of fighting for reasonable prices for agricultural products, the focus is on more water for irrigation and the claims on Hyderabad. Both these claims widen the gulf rather than bridge it.
The leaders of the bigger region are using pressure tactics to stall the decision, forgetting that they are the cause of the crisis. Telangana’s political leadership too has to share the blame, whatever its present political position. Added to it is the process of globalisation, and an obsession with growth and expansion of the service sector at the cost of industrial and agricultural development, creating an illusion that everybody’s future is tied to the city. One should realise that this flawed development reduced the share of agriculture to a mere 13 per cent of GDP and of industry to 16 per cent. This is an economic volcano which may explode at any point. Rulers are looking for a fascist alternative which can suppress all democratic aspirations and pave the way for rapacious global capital and callous market forces. Subregional demands are a historic search of backward drought-prone regions for a way out.
This is the context in which the rise of subregionalism needs to be understood. Not that a separate state of Telangana is a panacea for all the problems of the region. But nor is keeping Andhra Pradesh together. The aspiration for statehood has been simmering in Telangana for a very long time. It got expressed violently in 1969 when 360 youth died in police firing. Indira Gandhi took a tough line at that point of time. Surprisingly, in 1972, the Andhra region wanted a separation. That was perhaps historically the right time to divide the State; it would have been a bloodless solution. This time, the Telangana movement has gone far deeper. Hundreds of young people tragically took their lives as a form of protest. As the movement was picking up, the political leadership of both regions took it very lightly, underestimating the political aspirations of a backward region. It has reached a point where the truth has to be faced. It is too late to think of alternative solutions. There is no single political force either in Andhra Pradesh or at the national level which can perform the miracle of keeping the people together or facilitate a friendly separation. That is the tragedy of Telugu-speaking people and the Indian political system.
(Prof. G. Haragopal is ICSSR national fellow, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad.)