The dispute between the Andhra and Telangana regions over Hyderabad brings in a sense of déjà vu. The agitation to regain the city, the politics of protests and the solutions proposed to resolve the conflict are reminiscent of the events that took place 55 years ago when the States were reorganised.
Contesting States easily agreed on the border and administrative issues but clashed over the capital city. Andhra and Tamil Nadu fought over Madras; Maharashtra and Gujarat violently wrangled over Bombay; and Haryana and Punjab battled for Chandigarh. Their disputes initially appeared impossible to resolve, but were eventually sorted out. The States that lost their claim moved on, built new capitals, and flourished. It is a story worth recalling, and even the unresolved case of Chandigarh offers an insight into the present.
The Central government found reorganising Bombay State after independence ‘the thorniest problem.’ The Dar commission set up in 1948 by the Central government to look into reorganisation of States, and the 1949 Congress high-power committee, composed of Nehru, Patel and Sitaramayya (JVP committee), recommended that Bombay city must be a separate entity and not part of any State. Nehru and his supporters argued that the city was multilingual and cosmopolitan, and it should retain that character. But the Marathi and Gujarati speaking residents of the State did not agree.
Agitations intensified in 1955 when the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) recommended a unified bilingual state with Bombay as the capital. Things turned worse when the Central government overlooked the SRC’s recommendations and declared Bombay a Centrally administered territory. Even proposals to merge Vidarbha State with Bombay State did not appease the protesters. Nehru’s personal appeal for “sweet reasonableness” did not work. Violent protests continued, claiming 27 lives in Bombay city and 12 in Ahmedabad.
The Central government dropped its plans for Bombay city but persisted with the idea of a bilingual state. On November 1, 1956, the composite state of Bombay, including areas of Saurashtra and Kutch, was inaugurated. However, the demand for two states — Maharashtra and Gujarat — continued.
The Congress, which did not do well in the following elections, realised that the bifurcation of Bombay was a political necessity. It proposed that Maharashtra get Bombay city and the new State pay Rs. 50 crore to Gujarat for building a new capital and balancing the budget. On May 1, 1960, Gujarat and Maharashtra were formed.
Jivraj Mehta, Chief Minister of Gujarat, complained that the bifurcation was forced on the Gujaratis, but decided to move on. He announced that his government would build a new capital in Gandhinagar, 15 miles north of Ahmedabad.
Bombay’s bifurcation created ripples in Punjab. The residents of Punjab wanted two separate linguistic states. They did not agree with the SRC, which said the line dividing the Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking regions was “more theoretical than real.” But the government, despite resistance, forced a bilingual state in November 1956.
Inspired by developments in Bombay, in 1960, agitators raised the pitch for bifurcation again. It took another six years of protests before the Congress government agreed to their demand and set up a three-member boundary commission. The borders of the two new states were quickly delineated, but deciding who should get Chandigarh, the new capital city built at Rs. 50 crore, was difficult.
The Commission’s majority opinion was to hand over the city to Haryana, but the Central government had other thoughts. It wanted to confer Union Territory status on Chandigrah and suggested that both States use the city as their capital. To Akali Dal, Punjab without Chanidgarh was unacceptable, and the pro-Haryana groups girded for strike, fasting and self-immolation. But, the Central government stood firm, went ahead and created Punjab and Haryana with Chandigarh as a Union Territory in November 1966.
Madras and Telangana
Protests in Punjab continued. In October 1969, Darshan Singh Pheruman, the 83-year-old ‘non-Akali leader,’ went on fast to regain Chandigarh for Punjab. After 73 days of fasting, Pheruman died. Following this, agitations intensified. By 1980s, the Punjab issue got even more complex. In 1985, it seemed that a solution was in sight. As a part of the Rajiv-Longowal accord, Chandigarh was assigned to Punjab and 70,000 acres of land was later allocated to Haryana in lieu of the city. This did not work. The government’s strategy that the Union Territory status to Chandigarh would provide time and help States agree one way or the other proved wrong. The dispute continues.
The case of Madras, on the contrary, was better handled, and the government showed greater clarity than it exhibited in Bombay or Punjab. Though it was a presidency town like Bombay, the government thought Madras would remain part of Tamil Nadu. It did not agree with the leaders of the separate Andhra movement who wanted Madras to be either split into two or made a Centrally-administered province. Even the death of Potti Sriramulu, a Telugu-speaking Gandhian who agitated in favour of Andhra, did not change the position. The new state of Andhra was formed in 1953, and Kurnool became its temporary capital.
In 1955, when the SRC reorganised territories, it did not add Telangana region to Andhra. Instead, it made the area part of Hyderabad State and wanted the residents to decide the future course. After the leaders of the two regions reached an agreement in 1956, Vishalandhra combining Andhra and Telangana was created with Hyderabad as the capital. History has now turned full circle in Andhra. The State faces bifurcation, and the fight over the capital has surfaced yet again. If the past offers any insight, dithering on intermediary proposals or delay in deciding the status of the capital may not help.