The birth of a State

Print edition : January 20, 2017
Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh narrates his personal engagement with the processes that led to the creation of Telangana State in 2014.

ANY objective assessment of the factors and events that led to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to form the 29th State, Telangana, on June 2, 2014, necessitates a look back into the linguistic reorganisation of States in independent India. Andhra was the first State to be created on a linguistic basis, from the Telugu-speaking areas of Madras State, on October 1, 1953. It came as a corollary to the commitment that the Indian National Congress made in its Nagpur session in 1920 on the linguistic reorganisation of provinces. But the Congress was not alone in this demand and neither did all Congressmen support it. There were, for instance, the communists, who believed in the importance of linguistic reorganisation in drawing people into a common anti-imperialist struggle. The Congress went back on its commitment after Independence.

In the first-ever book to emerge on the subject after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, Old History, New Geography, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh narrates his personal engagement with the processes that led to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014. As a member of the Group of Ministers (GoM) appointed specifically for the purpose, Jairam Ramesh, who was a Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh, focusses on the mechanisms involved in it but refrains from addressing the motives for the bifurcation, which remain contentious to date. The author describes the bifurcation experiment itself as a “self-goal” for the faction-ridden Congress.

The first part of the book, “Old History”, is devoted to the formation of Andhra State, which “was undoubtedly an agonising process and it could well have come three or four years earlier had Rajaji [C. Rajagopalachari] been more cooperative, had [T.] Prakasam been more accommodating and had [Jawaharlal] Nehru been less of a democrat and not been adamant about consensus”. Rajaji was a member of the Constituent Assembly and later the Home Minister in 1950-51. Prakasam, a veteran Congressman and freedom fighter from Krishna district in coastal Andhra, went on to become the first Chief Minister of Andhra.

The compelling difference between the creation of Andhra in 1953 and Telangana in 2014 lies in the reasons for and the processes that led to the formation of the parent state and the new entity. The common factor in both events is a Congress government at the Centre. While there was a linguistic basis for carving out Andhra from Madras State (in 1953) and the subsequent merging of the Telugu-speaking parts of Hyderabad State constituting the Telangana region to form Andhra Pradesh (in 1956), there was not any such rationale behind the formation of Telangana in 2014.

Telangana was merged with Andhra in the hope that the region’s concerns would be addressed with adequate safeguards. A little-known fact, Jairam Ramesh writes, is that the new State was supposed to be called Andhra-Telangana, as proposed by the States Reorganisation Bill. He offers three reasons behind Nehru agreeing to the merger of Hyderabad with Andhra. One of them was the desire to contain the rising influence of the communists. In the 1952 general election, the Communist Party emerged as the single largest party in Andhra, winning 41 seats, while the Congress secured 40 seats in the Madras Legislative Assembly. “Nehru may have believed that the communist threat could have been more effectively managed in a larger State,” he writes, adding that the communists themselves were in favour of a Visalandhra probably because of the caste background of their leadership. But they were never in favour of breaking up linguistic States as a solution to backwardness. They were proved right later. Harkishen Singh Surjeet, then general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote in an article in 2004 that linguistic States were the products of long struggles and a must for India’s unity as well as to preserve the weight of States in a federal set-up. He suggested autonomous councils on the lines of those created in Tripura and West Bengal as an alternative to the further bifurcation of States. The CPI(M)’s position has been consistent, including in the formation of Telangana.

Narrow political ambitions

Meanwhile, narrow political ambitions of Congress leaders fuelled the demand for retaining the status quo. Thus emerged the demand for a separate Telangana in the late 1960s. Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister then, ably handled it—an aspect that, the author says, some of her biographers never had “a worthwhile discussion” about. She was opposed to bifurcation. Jairam Ramesh accepts that factional politics in the Congress and socio-economic issues kept the Telangana issue alive. This included the complete violation of the safeguards that both Nehru (in the famed Gentleman’s Agreement) and Indira Gandhi promised to the Telangana region. Clearly these were aspects that the Congress could have controlled, but that was beyond its ken as the present bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh has revealed.

The book narrates the trajectory of the creation of both the parent state and Telangana with the help of archival records and current documents. The emphasis, however, is on the formation of the latter in which the author seems to have played a central role. There are attempts to downplay the role of the Communist Party of India in the run-up to the formation of Andhra against the backdrop of the Telangana peasant movement (1946-51) and the reasons for the principled opposition of the CPI(M) on the bifurcation.

Likewise, the period between the 1970s and the early 1990s when P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister is inexplicably condensed to less than two pages. The material reasons that gave rise to a “separate Telangana” movement or the naxalite influence that spilled over at the turn of the century are not explained adequately.

The narrative does not present a very flattering image of Nehru, though it is predictably sympathetic to the prevarication that he was accused of. The letters between him, Rajaji and Prakasam strangely reveal a caution-laden approach. If the Union government dithered in the formation of Andhra Pradesh, it was equally indecisive with regard to the creation of Telangana for entirely different reasons. The motives in both the cases were opportunistic. In the creation of Andhra Pradesh, Congressmen like Rajaji feared that the communists would have an upper hand in a unified Andhra (because of their influence and role in the Telangana peasant struggle against feudal oppression). But the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) supported the formation of a separate Telangana State for electoral considerations.

For instance, why would a government go against the recommendations of a committee set up by it that rejected the idea of bifurcation? The Justice Srikrishna Committee for Consultations on the Situation in Andhra Pradesh explained that “so far as the income change dynamics is concerned, the coastal Andhra region has moved over to a more equitable distribution of income where the deprived, the wage labourers and the S.Cs/S.Ts/minorities have gained income during the decades of 1990 and 2000, whereas these communities were not able to improve their household incomes in Telangana. This analysis provides credence to the fact that most of the deprived communities in Telangana are facing hardships and therefore are vulnerable to mass mobilisation with promises which may or may not be met.”

The bifurcation of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh followed the entry of K.C. Chandrasekhar Rao, or KCR, and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) on the national political scene in 2000-01. Interestingly, while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by A.B. Vajpayee oversaw the reorganisation of these States and reaped rich electoral dividends from it in the new States, the same could not be said of the Congress after the formation of Telangana. The book does not provide a deeper analysis of why this did not happen. Similarly, there is a fleeting reference to former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s disenchantment with the UPA at the Centre, but the reasons for it are not mentioned in the book.

A reference is made to the fast unto death undertaken by Potti Sriramulu, a freedom fighter, Gandhian and social reformer, for the creation of Andhra and to draw a parallel between it and the 21st century fast KCR undertook for a separate Telangana. The difference was that Sriramulu died fighting for the creation of a State on linguistic lines, while KCR’s fast was more about dividing a linguistically homogenous State on the grounds of neglect and backwardness.

Point of no return

On December 9, 2009, Home Minister P. Chidambaram declared that the process of forming the State of Telangana would be initiated. This was apparently the point of no return for the party. The movement for a separate Telangana gained momentum, and there were simultaneous agitations for a unified Andhra, separate Vidarbha, Gorkhaland and others. According to the narrative, “there appeared to be all round confusion”. Amid all this, Congress leaders negated the demand for a second States Reorganisation Commission. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which had opposed the formation of a separate Telangana in 2000, was now amenable to the idea of a new State.

A five-member committee set up by the Union government and headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna in 2010 favoured a unified Andhra Pradesh but with a “statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council”. What emerges from the account of Jairam Ramesh is that there were multiple flip-flops by the Congress, with Ministers voicing opinions that were at best attempts at obfuscation and buying time. With such confusion at the top level, it is little wonder that KCR’s movement emerged as the major beneficiary of the experiment.

Congress leaders from Andhra Pradesh were staunchly opposed to bifurcation. The leadership vacuum and policy that ensued gave way to a variety of identity politics that was hitherto unknown in the Congress’ history. The Congress hoped that KCR would in sheer gratitude merge his party with it. Its assessment proved to be wrong as evidenced by its dismal performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

It becomes amply clear from the author’s narrative that the decision to bifurcate the State had a fissiparous effect on the party itself, with several leaders from coastal Andhra “giving public expression to the firm opposition to the [Congress Working Committee] resolution”. The resentment was so great that a Congress MP from Vijayawada used pepper spray in the Lok Sabha on February 13, 2014, when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was introduced. The author narrates how “another MP, Modugula Venugopala Reddy of the TDP [Telugu Desam Party], broke the glass and microphone on the table of the Lok Sabha secretary general”.

Congress’ calculations

For some strange reason, the Congress remained optimistic of coming to power for a third time at the Centre in 2014 and also forming a government in the new State of Telangana along with the TRS. It, therefore, went about the process of crafting the institutional mechanisms that would be needed for the governance of the two States. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went as far as to declare a special package for the “successor state of Andhra Pradesh” that would have been deprived of Hyderabad, the epicentre of the skewed growth story of the State. Subsections were added to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act as well, providing for a special development package for the “successor state of Andhra Pradesh”, a description which the author says is more respectable than the description “residual state of Andhra Pradesh” which came into vogue later. The admitted inability of the Congress to find a resolution regarding the shared benefits of the Polavaram project between the two States is described in sufficient detail thanks to the author’s involvement in the matter.

Considerable space in the book has been devoted to the deliberations in the GoM, the run-up to the drafting and the ultimate passage of the Reorganisation Bill, the Polavaram project and the structures administering the project, the debates in Parliament on the Bill, and to an understanding of why the bifurcation was deemed inevitable and necessary. The socio-economic landscape of the State as a whole, the nature of the socio-economic grievances of the people, and the ability or inability of the political parties to address them are the areas the book could have discussed in detail.

As experience shows, the bifurcation of a State does not automatically result in the well-being of the people unless conscious policies of social and economic justice are adopted to eradicate historical injustices and inequities. The backwardness of a region cannot be addressed merely by enhancing finances and setting up administrative structures but by redistributing resources in an equitable manner. Deep and pervasive pockets of poverty persist in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Economic progress and employment opportunities often have a way of getting concentrated in urban centres; Hyderabad was no exception. In a paper titled “Andhra Pradesh: Political Dynamism of Regionalism, Formation of New States in India”, K.C. Suri, a professor in the department of Political Science in the University of Hyderabad, notes that the impetus for the separatist agitations between 1969 and 1973 did not come from the opposition parties but from factions in the Congress. It was a classic example of how regional identity and a sense of injustice (a present-day euphemism for self-respect) that prevailed among the people of different regions were put to political use, he writes. Also, the formation of Telangana State could be seen “as a result of the very process of development that different regions of India have witnessed over the past six decades, especially after the introduction of liberalisation reforms, with the hitherto backward regions experiencing rapid economic growth and the consequent perception that opportunities for further growth have been constrained by the entrenched elite”.

The author admits that the creation of the new State did not have anything to do with language or administrative efficiency. It had thrown up powerful leaders who governed a unified Andhra Pradesh and surely they could have ensured equitable and all-round development in the State, especially as there were friendly governments at the Centre. The logic of Telugu pride as one of the prime reasons for the popular support for a separate Telangana is perhaps weak. As stated by the author, the book is more about how Telangana was created and what decisions were taken in that process. It does not delve into the merits of the bifurcation or its impact, but only the mechanics.