A tale of two States

Print edition : May 16, 2014

November 1, 1956: Andhra Pradesh Governor C.N. Trivedi administering the oath of office to Neelam Sanjiva Reddy (left) as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh at Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad. The author says the merger of Telangana and Andhra owed more to the “machinations, manipulations and pressures with business and political interests rather than the proposed linguistic ethnicity”. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Tanguturi Prakasam. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Burgula Ramakrishna Rao. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Bezawada Gopal Reddy. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

K.V. Ranga Reddy. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The author says unlike the Telangana Movement of 1969, a distinct feature of the present movement is the way it has transcended castes and communities, especially those involved in traditional occupations. Here, potters from Neerukulla village staging a protest for a separate Telangana, in Warangal on June 1, 2009. Photo: M. MURALI

The book argues that Andhra Pradesh was created only to serve the interests of Andhraites and asserts that the bifurcation of the State corrects a historical wrong.

IN the run-up to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, there was intense public debate over the factors that made the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government finally approve the division of south India’s biggest State. Did political expediency drive the Congress to take such a decision prior to the general election or did it sincerely give the final push in order to end a 60-year-old vexatious issue? How strong are the regional sentiments among the people of the two regions of the State —Telangana and Seemandhra? Were there any unifying factors at all that bound them together? Did caste play a role?

Even as these questions are raised and debated, often passionately and fiercely, Inukonda Thirumali, senior fellow at the Indian Council for Social Studies and Research (ICSSR), has come up with an interesting treatise. He has made a sincere attempt to explore the interplay of regionalism, caste and politics—first when the State of Andhra was carved out of Madras State; second, its merger with Telangana to form Andhra Pradesh in 1956; and now, when a strong renewed demand led to the demerger or bifurcation. Ironically, it was the Congress leadership and the regional satraps of the party who played a dubious role in bringing the two reluctant regions together, much against the recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) headed by Justice Fazal Ali, and, as the author demonstrates, went by crass political interests, using the project of grand “Vishalandhra of Telugus of all regions” as a facade. The formation of Andhra Pradesh had all the elements of a political drama, including jockeying for the Chief Minister’s post and a blatant resort to caste politics. Thirumali captures all the episodes with finesse although he should have worked on the prose more rigorously.

Political machinations

Thirumali argues that the two primary regions, Telangana and Andhra (he includes Rayalaseema in it), were merged owing more to the “machinations, manipulations and pressures with business and volatile community interests rather than the proposed linguistic ethnicity, which caused political instability in the State. Both became separate social cultural regions, therefore interests expressed and pursued were not on the same platform.” His argument is supported by a detailed reconstruction of the events that preceded the merger.

In one chapter, he elaborates how just before the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, then Deputy Chief Minister of Andhra State, aligned with Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, Chief Minister of Hyderabad State, by promising him the Chief Minister’s post in the new State. All that Sanjiva Reddy wanted from Ramakrishna Rao was to muster majority support against his rival group, led by Bezawada Gopal Reddy, the then Chief Minister of Andhra State. Both Sanjiva Reddy and Ramakrishna Rao formed a majority group among the Andhra and Telangana legislators to enable the formation of Andhra Pradesh and put in place a government.

But as soon as the State was formed, Sanjiva Reddy himself became the first Chief Minister, leaving Ramakrishna Rao in the lurch. He took the help of another Telangana stalwart, K.V. Ranga Reddy, in this effort, but denied him the post of Deputy Chief Minister as was agreed to in the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” entered into by the leaders of Andhra State and Hyderabad State before the merger. Sanjiva Reddy and Gopal Reddy had earlier come together to finish off Tanguturi Prakasam, the first Chief Minister of Andhra State, politically. As a consequence Prakasam was replaced by Gopal Reddy.

Given the political intrigue and historical background, Thirumali postulates that the very formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956 was on a shaky foundation, much like the way Andhra State was carved out of Madras, and was bound to fail one day or the other. For him, in a way, a historical wrong is corrected now. He argues that Andhra Pradesh originated not for reasons of linguistic unity or voluntary mass support but because of manipulative politics and false promises. “It was… to redress shortfall [shortcomings] of young Andhra [State] and take care of the leaders’ political needs and social ambitions.”

The young Andhra State was full of personal and communitarian conflicts without any financial base and therefore primarily concerned with its own survival, he says. Vested interests wanted to wrest power from each other. This led to the politics of Vishalandhra and the merger of Andhra State with the Telugu-speaking parts of Hyderabad State in the firm belief that it would not only solve the problem of the State capital and the financial crisis but also form a broader social and caste solidarity.

There is basis to the author’s argument because the SRC’s report too describes how the formation of Andhra Pradesh was looked at as a solution “to the difficult and vexing problem of finding a permanent capital for Andhra as the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad are very well suited to be capital of Vishalandhra”. Not only that, the report records the talk of “unified control over Krishna and Godavari rivers… eliminating the one independent political jurisdiction of Telangana”.

The SRC further found that Andhra State had a lower per capita revenue than Telangana, which had a higher incidence of land and excise revenue. Probing the causes for opposing Vishalandhra, it goes on to mention the fears of the educationally backward people of Telangana that they may be “swamped and exploited by more advanced people of coastal Andhra”.

Then and now

Thirumali sees a distinct difference between the Telangana Movement of 1969, when it consisted only of activists and politicians, and now and says it has transformed into a mass movement dictating its agenda to political parties. A distinct and encouraging feature now, he rightly observes, is the way the movement transcended castes and communities, especially those involved in traditional occupations, with enthusiastic groups forming their own Joint Action Committees and designing their own methods of protests. “The collective resolve is much stronger than even before….”

Interestingly, he links the awakening and tumult in these social groups to the effect of the vigorous economic liberalisation policies of the past two decades. The artisans and the “service castes” such as barbers, dhobis and weavers, whose population was more in Telangana, were losing their traditional occupations to the modernisation process of liberalisation. They felt threatened as they were becoming increasingly irrelevant, he argues. They joined the struggle not only to safeguard their own interests but felt that a separate, their own, Telangana State could take corrective measures. In a way, they emerged as parallel political organisations at the lower level of the political hierarchy. They challenged the existence of Andhra Pradesh and its leaders for adopting a policy of exploiting their labour and natural resources and leaving them at the mercy of the “rapacious moneyed capitalists”.

The author brings out the contrast in the two regions in other ways too. He says Andhra evolved as a mosaic of business-minded entrepreneurial communities who required Hyderabad for a stable political capital and the resources of Telangana for their sustenance. Eventually, “Telangana was plundered as an area and its people used as human labour for the Andhra entrepreneurs’ advantage and prosperity”. It thus became a State of peasant entrepreneurs with the support of the traditional elite in the interest of advancing their agrarian and business interests in combination with political power.

In contrast, the poor in Telangana organised as a cluster of caste/occupational/professional groups who were passive receptors of this Andhra agenda, because they did not understand the underlying meaning, he says. Educationally backward and ignorant, they thought the Vishalandhra movement, in which the communists played a big role, would usher in development and wipe out feudal rule, he contends. The author finds that the safeguards and guarantees for Telangana, such as the Gentlemen’s Agreement and the continuation of Mulki Rules (reserving majority of government jobs for the local population), made at the time of the merger, further widened the differences between the people of the two regions. Even in terms of legal and constitutional rights, they were not one because Andhraites could not seek jobs in Telangana because of these safeguards. Andhraites naturally nursed a psychological fear that they did not possess any rights in Telangana and Hyderabad and that they had to literally grab land, jobs and opportunities, which caused irreparable regional dislikes and antagonisms, making the province of Andhra Pradesh in reality a non-starter. Migration from Andhra and Rayalaseema to Telangana, as indicated by the decadal Census, only added to the problem.

For a large section of the people of Telangana, the observations made by the SRC proved prophetic because they saw its predictions coming true, which provided enough ammunition for the revival of the Telangana sentiment and agitation, culminating in the formation of a separate State.

Given the circumstances in which they were merged, Telangana and Andhra were never destined to bond together as a State. No sincere attempt was made to address the concerns of the people of Telangana and erase their decades-old, deeply entrenched feeling that following the “forced merger”, they were exploited, their resources were looted and they were discriminated against when it came to education, employment and irrigation facilities.

The author captures this mood vividly chapter after chapter, justifying the separation, unlike many columnists and contemporary commentators who, instead of probing its past and the root cause of the demand, perfunctorily see the Andhra Pradesh bifurcation issue as purely political, blaming the Congress for “dividing Telugus” to get mileage in the general election.