Thursday, December 10, 2009

Demand for Separate Statehood for Telangana

After facing great pressure, the Central Government has conceded to the demand for a separate Telangana State for which the process will be initiated and an appropriate resolution moved in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The decision was taken at a late night meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah after two rounds of consultations in the Congress core committee with Sonia Gandhi and senior cabinet colleagues. The Centre and the Congress were forced to take such a step after further deterioration in the health of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, whose indefinite fast entered the 11th day on 9 December and tension simmered in the entire Telangana region apprehending the worst.
Telangana region accounts for 119 of the 294 Assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh and 17 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. The TRS, which was formed in 2001 on the plank of a separate Telangana State by Rao after he quit the TDP, was part of the UPA after the 2004 elections. It parted ways with the Congress in 2006, saying the UPA was doing nothing on its demand. While in the 2004 elections his party won five Lok Sabha seats, it managed only two seats in 2009 and suffered severe erosion in the Assembly elections as well.

Why this Demand?
The main reason was that the Congress Party, which was in power at the Centre as well as in the state, was in the forefront of the demand. A political solution was facilitated in 1973 when it became clear that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was not in favour of a separate state. This time round, the agitation is led by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, although Congressmen of the region also appear to be supportive. But more significantly, the Opposition parties, notably the Telugu Desam and the BJP, have jumped into the fray. It is not yet clear if this complicating factor will lend the demand a decisive edge, especially since the condition of fasting Chandrasekhar Rao appears to be delicate. The Congress leadership appears to be in a fix. It would certainly like to call the shots in the Assembly of the new state, should its formation become inevitable. It has the strength from the Telangana districts in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.
In fact, the issue of a separate Telangana State has been hanging fire for the past so many years as successive governments at the Centre and in the State have been dithering over it. The region, with 119 out of 294 seats in the State Assembly, has long been neglected. Indeed, lack of development of this region is the root cause of the problem. The Congress fought the 2004 elections jointly with the TRS, promising separate statehood. However, as the Congress backtracked, the TRS parted ways with it. Former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was strongly opposed to Telangana. He felt that it would further trigger the demand for a separate Rayalaseema State, leading to the trifurcation of the State.
In addition, the historical poverty from the Nizamshahi period has persisted in the Telangana area whereas the wealth of the delta districts has grown, and many from coastal Andhra — the wealthy and the middle classes — have homed in on Hyderabad, offering competition in the economic sphere to the people of Telangana. Similar problems have dogged many States and have been dealt with reasonably. The risks attendant on small States should not be overlooked.

Dealing With Untoward Situation
However, there are two separate ironies in the situation. The first pertains to the idea of a hungerstrike culminating in the formation of a State. When the Andhra Gandhian Potti Sriramulu undertook a fast unto death in 1952 and made the supreme sacrifice doing so, the then Jawaharlal Nehru government was obliged to concede the demand of a linguistic state comprising the 11 Telugu-speaking districts of the erstwhile Madras state. Not doing so is likely to have produced an impossible situation. It is not wholly clear if the circumstances surrounding the Telangana demand now admit of a similar possibility, but the context has become troubled. It is perhaps necessary that the Centre steps in to ward off an untoward situation.
Moreover, at the political level, it might be beyond the ability of the three-month-old Rosiah government in Andhra Pradesh to tackle the demand. But an intervention by the Congress leadership could make it easier to address the demands of the regional development of the backward Telangana districts if the formation of a new State is to be headed off. The alternative is to accept the demand on terms that are acceptable on all sides. In that case too, the Centre might be better placed to play honest broker. The second irony lies in the twist of history. The time will better tell the story.

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