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A State that must fulfil a higher purpose

R. Uma Maheshwari
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The creation of Telangana will have meaning only if it creates a new language of inclusive politics, or elseit will merely amount to another demarcation on the map

While creating a State called Telangana, the demand for which was first articulated and fought for half-a-century ago, has been smoother this time round compared to the botched attempt in 2009, it will be more difficult to construct or re-construct a new idiom in this new State. It will mean deconstructing the hitherto known and practised idioms of power, politics and the general socio-cultural ethos.

Idea of India

But that apart, some other issues come to mind in the context of ‘separate state’ movements anywhere in the country. The foremost is why there is such a sense of sanctity about the idea of India as we have come to accept today, if there is a universal idea of India? Or, to put it differently, is India merely about the number of States we have today, most of which were ‘made’ after independence along linguistic lines? Has the linguistic paradigm (with the language itself a more sanctified standardised version of the more dominant social groups) served well all the people in that state? When people talk about Telangana, what are they “relating to”? What are the metaphors that have been used for the region in the discourse on Telangana in the last two years? What suggestions do people make when they critique the idea of Telangana as a State, and what is the validity of these suggestions vis-à-vis the Indian nation as we have come to accept or assume or ‘get along’ with?

In 2009-10, a series of television programmes on the Telangana statehood question was organised and telecast by the Telugu channel, HMTV. The format was an outdoor, popular debate platform across Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh. It was also touted as the longest running live debates telecast on any television channel in Asia. The metaphors that people used — across regions — were fascinating from a sociological and historical perspective. It led one to wonder what it is that people identify with — a region, a regional culture, an administrative entity, or an abstraction at its best, called State? One never hears of patriotism to a State as one does to a nation or an idea of a nation. So it was interesting to see words of patriotism and jingoism about the Telugu State, Andhra Rashtram and a mother image of Telugu, the language, and a universalised language at that.

Most often, people spoke of “divorce” ( vidaakulu ), and fights between “brothers”. In Telangana as well as other regions, the question asked in every debate was why when a wife wishes for a divorce, should she not be given it? Why force her to live with an exploitative husband? The wife was always Telangana while Coastal Andhra always got the exploitative husband image. But this was just one of the many metaphors. In one debate after the other, what became apparent was the way people related to the idea of a region, and how they articulated it politically. Sometimes, it laid bare the paradox of it all. For, if people evoked a history of a region in terms of its culture, language, customs, ( bhasa , yasa ), festivals, even histories of dynasties (Kakatiya, Nizam) in a pre-modern sense of the term, they looked for its resolution in the post-independence category of a State in a democratic (necessarily democratic, for there were never any other possibilities expressed other than elections, Bill in Parliament, etc.) way.

Hence, what is a State? And where does the idea of a region encompass the idea of an ‘evolution’ or metamorphosis into a state? But there were also other aspects — that of Telangana having been a State on its own before it was forced to be merged into the Andhra Pradesh we know of, since 1956. Where these views were expressed — and they have been expressed most often in political and intellectual circles — the idea of the history of a place seemed filled with yet another kind of paradox. For, which history do the people invoke and how far back in time does it go? In this sense, is it the history of the Nizam, and the Nizam’s Dominions or is it farther back in time during the several chiefdoms and monarchies the region saw? Then, where does the history of Telangana begin and what does it encompass?

Deeper questions

These were my thoughts as I observed the movement. But there are even deeper questions, which go beyond mere Telangana statehood and could be seen as significant markers for other regions that have been articulating a demand for statehood, including in the north-east and elsewhere. The movement that became political articulation for a state started not with the idea of a politico-physical entity, that is State (with a capital S), but a historico-cultural, and very much located, rooted region. Wherever these demands have been made, the metaphors of resistance have close resonance to the idea of fighting against colonisation and domination of a people and culture that became marginalised. In Andhra Pradesh, the increasingly standardised Telugu-ness built over a period, post-Andhra 1960s, was no less responsible for Telangana people feeling marginalised.

Telugu cinema, All India Radio programmes (the radio plays, or even the programme called Paadi Pantalu with an overtly Rayalaseema tone to the conversations between a Peddiah, and a Chinamma) in Hyderabad, theatre, music and other platforms overplayed the standard dominant Telugu-ness, marginalising not just the Telangana language — it was usually referred to as a ‘mere dialect’ — or culture, but even agrarian systems. A water-intensive and paddy-cotton-focussed agrarian rhythm replaced dryland, rain-fed non-paddy agriculture. Food culture too changed drastically over a long period of this domination of one region (or two) over the other. The regions in question being coastal Andhra, specifically, with its water-based history and culture, and its industrial and outward looking history (since colonial times) and later Rayalaseema (with a primary upper caste group becoming predominant and holding power in successive governments). In the case of Telangana, there was a perceived feeling of a people’s cultural ethos — even though the people belonged to different castes and communities. There was an overarching Telangana identity they invoked, which lay in many such marginalisations —food culture, language, and an unequal economic development compounded the problem.

Will the creation of Telangana stall the Polavaram dam, which is obviously heavily tilted towards provision of water for industry and development in the coastal corridor of A.P.? Nearly 80 per cent of the submergence happens to be in the Telangana region (in Khammam district). Will the new Telangana state be about re-imagining a State far more inclusive than Andhra Pradesh state has been, in development of rural areas outside Hyderabad? Will it give the Dalits and tribal communities far more representation in constructing this new State? Will it revert to the agrarian regime that was indigenous to it? And bring to the mainstream the food culture that has now become a mere fad (jonna rotti, etc.)? And, at the same time, will it allow for diversity to be its mainstay rather than a monolithic universal economic ethic?

In the larger scheme of things, when states are created, they do not necessarily translate into representation and acknowledgment of pluralistic traditions. Will Telangana show the way for a pluralistic context instead of an overarching dominant caste and class based polity? If it is the latter, it will be far more difficult to construct a new idiom for this State, and it might just become another physico-political entity. Another number in our federal structure, another demarcation on our map of India.

( The writer is an independent journalist based in Hyderabad, awaiting publication of her book, When Godavari Comes: People’s History of a River )


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