Bitter memories

Published : Jun 09, 2001 00:00 IST

EVER since Hyderabad became the capital of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, a number of professionals, film personalities, traders and businessmen from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions have made it their home. The agitation for a separate Telengana State has caused apprehensions in them in view of the bitter memories of the 1969 Telengana agitation, which was marked by violence and the "go back to Andhra" call.

The roots of the agitation lie in a bitter power struggle in the Congress(I). After the 1967 general elections, Kasu Brahmananda Reddi became Chief Minister for a second time, while Dr. Marri Channa Reddy joined Indira Gandhi's Cabinet as Minister for Steel. Channa Reddy's election was set aside by a court on a petition filed by an Arya Samaj contestant, Vandemataram Ramachandra Rao, on the grounds that the Minister had appealed to religious sentiments at a meeting held in a mosque. Channa Reddy went in appeal to a Division Bench of the High Court and later the Supreme Court but lost the case. He was disqualified for six years from holding office.

Channa Reddy returned to Hyderabad a bitter man. Those were the days when an agitation for a separate Telengana State was taking shape as government servants who hailed from Telengana felt that they were being deprived of promotions by their colleagues from the Andhra region, who were integrated into the common cadre. Under the Mulki rules in force in the Nizam's old Hyderabad state, any person who had lived in Hyderabad for 15 years was considered a local. The employees from the Andhra region were thus to become 'Mulkis' by 1971. Employees from Telengana wanted quick action in order to ensure their promotions and to prevent competition from employees belonging to the Andhra region.

Channa Reddy took control of the Telengana Praja Samithi and changed the pace of the agitation. A controversy over Prof. D.S. Reddy's appointment as Vice Chancellor of Osmania University added a new dimension to the problem. Channa Reddy said that it was a "mistake" to have allowed the transfer in 1956 of the Telengana area of the former Hyderabad state to the Andhra State, which was constituted in 1953 districts with the Telugu-speaking areas of Madras.

The TPS soon gathered momentum in the districts. In 1969, at the height of the agitation, Brahmananda Reddi announced his resignation, triggering widespread celebrations in Hyderabad. But the next day the Congress Legislature Party rejected his offer to step down.

The agitation slowed down by 1970, but at the political level the TPS kept up the pressure. In the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, the TPS made its point when it won 10 of the 15 Lok Sabha seats from the Telengana region. It was clear that the time had come for Brahmananda Reddi to pack up. But he adopted an attitude of defiance, because the agitation had subsided and Channa Reddy did not look like a force any more. However, other factors forced Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to act. First, it was a tactless assertion by Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy, Finance Minister and a confidant of Brahmananda Reddi, on the floor of the Assembly that "no force on earth" could force the Chief Minister out as long as he enjoyed the support of the legislature. Secondly, Brahmananda Reddi provided wrong figures to Indira Gandhi about the collection of party funds. The Congress(I) collected Rs.5 per bag of rice sold by millers in Andhra Pradesh to rice-deficit States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Police officials across the four southern States simultaneously raided rice millers and traders to find out the extent of the funds collected, which was far higher than the figures provided by Brahmananda Reddi.

Brahmananda Reddi was summoned to Delhi in September 1971. Indira Gandhi told him: "Some people say you should resign." Brahmananda Reddi asked: "What is your view?" Then Indira Gandhi said: "I also feel you should quit." He resigned and P.V.Narasimha Rao succeeded him.

Soon Channa Reddy held an extended meeting of the TPS and dissolved the body. He was criticised as "betrayer". The "Sampurna Telengana Praja Samithi", which continued the agitation, failed to maintain the momentum. In the 1972 Assembly elections, the Congress(I), with the TPS back in its fold, won a record 218 seats, with 16 of its candidates winning without contest. The separatist forces failed to create any impact. This election was significant for another reason: none of the prominent Reddy supporters of Brahmananda Reddi was given the Congress(I) ticket.

Indira Gandhi put together a six-point formula to resolve the separatist question. This envisaged the division of the State into six zones. Government jobs below the first gazetted level and as well as seats in government colleges and universities were by and large reserved for "local" people from the five remaining zones had to compete for the 15 per cent "non-local" seats. This formula continues to be in force. Students from Andhra Pradesh are unable to compete in all-India medical entrance tests because to allow them that facility the Centre requires 15 per cent of seats in each medical college in the State to be set aside for meritorious students from all over the country, a condition the State cannot meet because of the six-point formula.

In 1971, Narasimha Rao started with a fund of goodwill, but he was indecisive: he made frequent trips to Delhi for instructions from the party high command. But when the Supreme Court upheld the Mulki rules, he stated that it gave "the finality" to the rights of the Telengana people. This sparked an agitation in the Andhra region for a "separate Andhra" as the people of Andhra protested against being treated as outsiders in their State capital. Narasimha Rao allowed his Cabinet to divide on the issue, with all the Andhra Ministers, including B.V.Subba Reddy and P. Basi Reddy, meeting in the chambers of the seniormost Minister, Raja Sagi Suryanarayana Raju, while the Chief Minister presided over a truncated Cabinet of Telengana Ministers. At a meeting M. Manik Rao, Minister for Municipal Administration, is said to have commented that "if Andhra Ministers want to leave, I will give them municipal lorries to carry their belongings." This comment created further bad blood.

The 100-odd Andhra MLAs met in Tirupati on December 31, 1972 and gave a call for an Andhra bandh and a 'no-tax' campaign. Narasimha Rao's continuance as Chief Minister became untenable, though his followers maintained that the "landlords of the Andhra region had ganged up to thwart the Land Reforms Bill Narasimha Rao had piloted in the Assembly." Narasimha Rao misjudged Delhi's mood so badly that he inducted eight new Ministers into his Cabinet on January 8, 1973 while a decision had already been taken by Indira Gandhi to put Andhra Pradesh under President's Rule. Harischandra Sarin, an Indian Civil Service officer, took over the administration. It was left to Jalagam Vengala Rao, who became Chief Minister in December 1973, to restore order in the State. Vengala Rao cemented the bonds among the Telugu-speaking people by holding the World Telugu Conference in Hyderabad in 1975.

At the height of the Telengana agitation in 1969, poet Sri Sri and eminent freedom fighter Vavilala Gopalakrishniah addressed an "integrationist" rally at Khammam even as agitators tried to disrupt it. Today, however, there is no one tall leader to speak up for the unity of the Telugu-speaking people.

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