Thursday, November 27, 2008

Telangana Movement Gains Momentum

By M H Ahssan & Javed Hassan

With support for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh reaching a feverish pitch across the broad political spectrum, it is no longer a question of if but when the Telangana region would be carved out into a separate entity as the 29th state of the Indian Union. Forces led by the BJP, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and others have pulled the rug from under the Congress, which won the elections in 2004 by promising a separate state for the people of Telangana. Now that the opposition parties led by the BJP have jumped on the ‘separate Telangana’ bandwagon, the TDP has made a u-turn after opposing the movement all along, leaving the Congress party in the lurch.

Adding a new twist to the political dimensions of the Telangana movement, NRIs from Hyderabad working in Saudi Arabia) told HNN in an exclusive statement that the changing scenario in the state has placed Muslims on the horns of a dilemma. The worrisome factor, said Syed Zia-ur-Rahman, an NRI executive in Riyadh, is the future status of Hyderabad—whether it will be hived off from Andhra Pradesh as a union territory or made a joint capital of the two states.

Amid these twists and turns, the Nava Telangana Party (NTP), the brainchild of former TDP leader Devender Goud, has sought to hog the limelight through his ‘Telangana Yatra’, which he undertook last month to mobilize support for his party. He has also launched his own website in the Barrack Obama style, with news bulletins in English and Telugu. Video clips show Goud canvassing for his party among the scheduled castes, farmers and the Telangana Employees’ Association which, according to the NTP web news, has joined hands with the party.

Throughout his yatra which wended its way through the Telangana region, Goud harangued his audience, heaped abuses on the TDP and the Congress, while his party workers went about pasting “Telangana State” stickers on buses, buildings and other public places. There were pictures of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to reinforce NTP’s message as the party of the downtrodden.

Not to be outmaneuvered , even the left parties and those representing the OBCs (Other Backward Classes) have veered round to the ‘separate Telangana’ movement which, they hope, would augur well for the future of that region. The theme of their political rhetoric is the same: they all want an end to the exploitation by the state leadership on the economic, educational and employment fronts.

The shift in the political landscape of the state has upped the ante against the Congress, which finds itself in a bind. If it goes along with Majlis Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM), which wants the Congress to oppose the ‘separate Telangana’ campaign, it risks losing vote during next year’s elections. On the other hand, if it chooses to go with the flow, it could alienate the Muslims. Although the TDP has counseled its ally to back the Telangana movement, the Congress leadership continues to dither for the time being. However, according to all available indications, it is a matter of time before the Congress High Command could cave in, setting the stage for the next big move.

There is a rationale behind all this political drama that is being played out, .both at the Centre and in the state capital. Andhra Pradesh goes to the polls towards the middle of next year, at a time when the Rajasekhara Reddy government is hamstrung by an anti-incumbency factor. Briefing the Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the situation facing his party, the chief minister is said to have stressed that an assembly resolution endorsing the proposal for the creation of Telangana could help neutralise this anti-incumbency sentiment.

With the TDP’s about-turn on the Telangana issue, the Congress is wilting under enormous pressure to scuttle the move. On top of this, Chandrababu Naidu is seeking electoral alliance with K Chandrasekhara Rao of TRS in the Telangana region. The ruling party thus finds itself vulnerable to the ebb and flow of the political tide sweeping across the state.

TDP’s change in its political stance came about when Chandrasekhara Rao left the TDP in 2001 and spearheaded the movement for Telangana under the banner of his own political party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti. Secondly, both the leaders were facing serious threat to their political survival. While the TDP was plagued by defections to the new party of popular film star Chiranjeevi, Chandrasekhara Rao found himself on slippery ground in the wake of a serious threat posed by Goud’s NTP.

Explaining its aims and objectives, Goud said his party will strive for the formation of Telangana state, for which action will be taken both at the political and street levels through agitations. "The party will take up the problems and issues of all sections of society, including the Dalits, tribal and Muslims", he pointed out. Goud, who had resigned from TDP on June 23 this year, said he was forced to launch his new outfit as the Congress and TDP were stonewalling over support to Telangana and its people.

These developments forced the hands of TDP President N Chandrababu Naidu in reaching out to CPM, CPI and TRS leaders for their support to his party's decision to back the demand for a separate Telangana state. Naidu's move is politically significant as the CPM, the CPI and the TRS are in the process of forging an alliance against the Congress and the BJP in the Assembly elections likely to be held in February 2009. "I spoke to the CPI and the CPM leaders as also with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader K Chandrasekhar Rao. I briefed them about our five-member core committee's recommendations on Telangana and that we are favouring separate Telangana," Naidu said, unveiling his campaign strategy.

Against this background comes the statement of MIM president and other Hyderabad State Muslim leaders who feel that by agreeing to the creation of the new state of Telangana, the Congress would be playing into the hands of the BJP, which has been advocating the Telangana cause ardently.

As things stand, MIM has very little space for political maneuvering given the fact that the TRS, a one-time ally of the Congress, ordered four of its MPs to resign in an act of brinkmanship to keep the heat on the UPA. The move coincided with similar resignations tendered by 16 TRS MLAs and its three MLCs from the Andhra Legislative Assembly and Council respectively. TRS wants the Telangana region to be carved out into a separate state—a pledge to which the Congress had committed itself in the 2004state assembly elections.

It took this line of action when the Congress failed to heed its ultimatum given earlier setting March 6 this year as the deadline for the bifurcation of the state.TRS president K Chandrasekhara Rao said the party will also launch a door- to- door campaign to explain the mass the betrayal by the Congress.

However, MIM, Jamaat-e-Islami and other Muslim organizations have distanced themselves from the Telangana movement due to their apprehension that Muslims may not get a fair deal under the new dispensation. They are also upset over being side-tracked during the ongoing political wheeling and dealing concerning the Telangana issue.

To quote MIM president Asaduddin Owaisi who spelled out his party’s stand on this issue, “It is not that we are opposed to Telangana per se. If a new state is formed, the tally of seats of our party in elections will go up. But we have to first ensure the safety and welfare of Muslims and other things such as the future of Urdu language. Whether these will be safe in Telangana is the issue.’’

As an indication of the shape of things to come, Owaisi cited the recent Vatoli incident when a family of six Muslims was hacked to death in a Telangana village. While MIM’s concern in this regard is understandable, the same factor had influenced their voting behaviour during the Legislative Assembly elections held in Karnataka in May this year. Although the BJP swept the polls and formed a government by engineering defections from the Congress, the status of Muslim representation in the BJP government remained unchanged—a Muslim minister in charge of Awqaf and minority affairs plus some political patronage here and there.

As a sop for the next year’s elections, they have been given some concessions in terms of education and employment opportunities. Furthermore, infrastructural facilities, such as laying new pipelines for water supply or replacing the leaky ones in some Muslim-dominated areas, were put in place with an eye on the upcoming elections. So the bottom line has remained the same. Whether it is the Congress or the BJP at the helm of affairs, some ad hoc cosmetic measures could always be expected as part of their strategy to tap into the Muslim vote bank.

Under these circumstances, continued Muslim opposition to the formation of a separate Telangana state would not be in the interest of Muslims, as it could provide ammunition to the BJP to further isolate the community. As the situation stands, almost all the political parties are now in favour of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, with the Congress expected to come on board anytime during the run-up to the elections. Surely, Muslims would not like to be seen as the lone dissenters under these circumstances.

As MP Asaduddin Owaisi put it, the BJP would emerge stronger if a separate Telangana State was created. “The so-called secular parties cannot match the BJP after creation of Telangana State. The future of Dalits, weaker sections and minorities would be bleak in separate Telangana,” he pointed out.

Yet, the fact remains that the conflict has assumed a caste dimension. Other backward classes (OBCs) are seeking to use the Telangana card to consolidate their political base across the state. This game of one-upmanship is part of their ploy to outmanoeuvre the politically powerful Reddys and Kammas who dominate the political apparatus of the state in spite of their small numbers.

Although TRS leader K Chandrasekhar Rao is a higher caste Velama, the banner of Telangana across party lines has been hoisted both by OBCs and Scheduled Caste leaders. Even the Nizamabad Congress MP Madhu Yaski Goud, an OBC, blasted the AP government for its soft-pedaling over the formation of Telangana.

Sarvey Satyanarayana, Congress MP from Siddipet and an SC leader, also spoke in a similar vein, while. other OBC Congress MPs like Anjan Kumar Yadav from Secunderabad are orchestrating their move to jump on to the Telangana bandwagon. Andhra Congress chief Keshava Rao also seems ready to toe the same line.

Another point that should be noted is that .BJP has mobilized Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in its campaign for the creation of Telangana state. "The party is organising a massive rally of Narendra Modi in Telangana in December. Modi has already proved his mettle by winning the Nano small car project for his state amid fierce competition from Andhra Pradesh and other states after the Tatas decided to pull out of West Bengal last month in the wake of stiff opposition from Mamta Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

Already, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani sounded upbeat recently when he told a massive rally during an electioneering campaign in Hyderabad that the people were now looking forward to the BJP for the creation of the Telangana state. To this end, Modi has been roped in for his pro-development image. Advani also pledged on the same occasion that the saffron party, if voted to power, would expedite the formation of Telangana state within 100 days.

In this context, actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi took the plunge with the launch of his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) that, he said, would support the formation of a separate Telangana State that existed from 1948 to 1956, when it was trifurcated by the States’ Reorganisation Commission along linguistic lines. "It is for the Central government to take a decision on creation of Telangana State. If it comes up with such a proposal, our party will not be an obstacle at any cost," he observed.

"I know the people of this region are overwhelmingly in favour of a separate state. I respect your feelings. If you are convinced that creation of a separate state will ensure rapid development, I am with you," Chiranjeevi said, emphasizing social justice as the main plank of his political platform.

Chirnjeevi observed: “It will be a party for backward classes, farmers, workers, women and youth. The party will work for development, modernisation and industrial revolution. Its goal will be 'santosh' and 'ananda' (contentment and happiness)," he said, adding: "I know your problems, pains and sufferings and will always stand by you. Let us strive for achieving it."

However, a cross-section of NRIs contacted by HNN in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, has dismissed these pledges as nothing more than a camouflage for masking their own high-voltage ambitions. Dr. Abid Moiz, a veteran NRI working as a nutritionist in the Saudi Ministry of Health in Riyadh, said: “In my opinion, no party is championing the cause of Telangana. Every party wants to gain political mileage by raising the Telangana issue.” Citing the case of Devender Goud who left the TDP to launch his own political outfit (TRS), he asked: “Why did they remain silent when they were in power? Why are they raising the Telangana issue now? Obviously, it is for personal benefit, the most important of which is becoming the CM.”

He also did not think that the separatist movement would serve the interests of the people, both economically and politically. “No. We live in a global village. We will not benefit from separating ourselves from others. Maybe, a separate Telangana will better serve government employees and, of course, politicians.”

On the question of MIM’s opposition to a separate Telangana since the 1960s, Dr. Moiz told HNN: “ They are of the opinion that the BJP's influence is widespread in the Telangana region, where the language widely spoken is Urdu. It is my personal opinion that when the states are carved out on linguistic basis, then this area should be made Hyderabad state with Urdu as its language. In the past Telangana was part of Hyderabad, whose official language was Urdu. Hyderabad was then split into three parts on the basis of language and these areas were merged with Kannada-, Marathi- and Telugu- speaking areas of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra, which subsequently became Andhra Pradesh. Then, what about Urdu?”

Urdu columnist-cum-photographer K.N.Wasif, who works for a Riyadh-based Saudi Arabic magazine, too, attributed the political fireworks to personal rivalries and high ambitions. He said Chandrashekhar Rao, founder of Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS), left the TDP to form his own party following some differences with Chandrababu Naidu , the TDP supremo. Meanwhile, there are two new kids on political bloc— Praja Rajyam led by Chiranjeevi, mega star of the Telugu film industry with a big fan following, and Devender Goud who launched NTP after resigning from TDP.

“He also claims that he will fight against the injustice meted out to the people from Telangana. He was a minister in the TDP government and is considered to be the right hand man of Chandrababu Naidu. Anyhow, he is a small -time leader and doesn't have a large following like Chiranjeevi, who poses a serious challenge for TDP. The Congress has yet to spell out its stand on the separate Telangana movement.”

Making a swipe at the parties, Wasif said the Telangana movement has always been led “by politically unemployed persons who are not sincere in their support for the cause. If at all a separate Telangana state is formed, it will be beneficial for some politicians but it will not be in the greater interest of the people of Telangana, which was always a backward area. After it becomes a separate state, it will become more backward.”

He said MIM had always been against a separate Telangana state since 1969 when the late Dr. Chenna Reddy spearheaded the movement on a mass scale. “Why MIM is against the movement is a big debate which I cannot discuss here.”

According to Syed Zia-ur-Rahman, Executive Director of Al-Ma’awiya Group of Polyclinics, separate Telangana was a burning issue in the last election for almost all
the political parties. However, it was TRS which spearheaded the upstage others who were also fighting for this cause.

Asked if the movement will safeguard the interests of the people , both economically and politically, Zia said: “I don't think so, because during the period of NTR many people from Andhra moved to the Telangana area. They are now holding top positions in the
government and business and controlling the economy of the state. Telangana is a very backward area with a poor educational background. They also don't have any resources, especially the Telangana Muslims, who are going to face a lot of challenges.”

Zia, who hails from Jangaon in Warangal district, said popular reaction there to the movement has been mixed, with mostly the Hindu electorate being in favour. However, some Muslims have also fallen in line without being aware of its future implications.

On the question of BJP’s support, he attributed it to the Hindu vote bank. “If they establish a separate Telangana, for sure they can form the government, as they do not have a substantial presence in the Andhra region.”

Zia observed that the separatist movement has always been opposed by MIM, “ because it is not in the interests of Muslims. Once they create a Telangana state, they will separate Hyderabad from Telangana like Delhi from UP. Alternatively, they could make Hyderabad the joint capital for Andhra and Telangana.”

The campaign for a separate Telangana state recalls a similar struggle during the 1990's when the late Chandulal Chadrakar set up a political forum, the Chhattisgarh Rajya Nirman Manch, to spearhead the drive for the formation of Chhattisgarh from 16 districts of Madhya Pradesh. The campaign, which was propped up by major political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, gained momentum as it coincided with other separatist movements for Uttarkhand and Jharkhand during 1998-99.

During that year, the BJP-led Union Government drafted a bill for the constitution of a separate state of Chhattisgarh. The draft bill was sent to the Madhya Pradesh assembly, which unanimously approved it in 1998, with some modifications. Thus, Chhattisgarh came into being as the 26th state of the Indian Union on November 1, 2000 by the force of circumstances that also triggered the birth of Uttarkhand carved out of Himachal Pradesh as the 27th state on November 9 and Jharkhand out of southern Bihar as the 28th state on November 15 during the same year. The BJP, which has installed its own candidates in Uttarkhand and Chhattisgarh as chief ministers, sees in Telangana a similar opportunity to don the mantle of leadership. No wonder, it has mobilized its political heavy weights to improve its fortunes in the polls.

The Telangana movement shares with these three states a common factor—under-development resulting from the exploitation of its economic and natural resources. As P.L.Vishweshwer Rao, Professor and Head, Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University, notes in his article: “No movement, no struggle has ever started from the top: from intellectuals, thinkers, political and other leaders, elected representatives and so on. Inevitably, the struggles begin from people - the people give expression to their suffering because it is they who are victims of status quo. The long-dormant hope in the people of Telangana was awakened with the announcement as statehood for Uttarakhand by the then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. Within a year it has gathered so much strength that politicians, realizing its potential have jumped on to its bandwagon”.

He elaborates that the Telangana region has the lowest literacy rate and minimal educational infrastructure in the state. As many as eight districts of Telangana out of 10 (including Hyderabad) figure among the most backward educationally. “Mahbubnagar has the lowest literacy rate, both among males (40.8 per cent) and females(18 percent). The entire Telangana, except Hyderabad city and Ranga Reddy Urban areas which are in Hyderabad, has lagged behind educationally. Not a single mandal of Telangana has the national literacy rate of 52.19 percent.”

It is against this background that that a move is under way to prevent the exploitation of Telangana-based college managements by their counterparts from coastal districts. Hundreds of colleges belonging to Telangana managements have reportedly crashed in the competition. For this reason, TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao has warned that colleges run by non-Telangana managements would be banned in separate Telangana.

In fact, the birth of Maoism in Telangana, is said to be partly an offshoot of exploitation by people from the Andhra region, some of whom obtained fake degree certificates to corner jobs in Hyderabad. They also used these tricks to remain entrenched in government positions which, in turn, armed them with decision making powers.

On the economic front, they exploited its rich mineral resources as well as the Krishna and Godavari rivers that are the major sources of irrigation for the entire state. Andhra farmers reportedly went even further by cultivating water-intensive crops depleting its water resources. They also preferred cash to food crops to boost their own income while jacking up food prices as a result of these misplaced priorities.

For these reasons, Telangana has been ranked among the most under-developed regions in the country with all its nine districts, excluding Hyderabad, designated “backward” by the Centre. These districts now receive special assistance from the Central government’s Backward Regions Grant Fund. Under these circumstances, the people of Telangana and its parties see statehood as the only viable route to development. Whether their bread will be evenly buttered for everyone remains a matter of speculation at this stage.

One of the strong points of Telangana , however, is its IT industry which gained prominence during the tenure of the former TDP Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naidu. Thanks to its highly skilled manpower base, Hyderabad carved out a niche for itself as India’s second Silicon Valley after Bangalore with its IT and IT- enabled services, pharmaceuticals and entertainment industries. It should leverage its strength in these sectors to create more job opportunities for the people and stimulate economic development to a new pitch.

It is a tribute to Telangana that IT bellwether Infosys of Bangalore has embarked on the construction of its second campus, spread over 447 acres, at Pocharam, near Hyderabad, with a total investment of Rs 1,250 crores. The ground -breaking ceremony of the Infosys SEZ campus was held at Pocharam village in the neighbouring Ranga Reddy district.

Chairman of the Board and Chief Mentor of Infosys Technologies Ltd. N R Narayana Murthy has said that their decision to locate the project in that village was taken in view of the high infrastructure facilities in Hyderabad to make it a premier IT destination.

The Infosys campus at Pocharam is expected to accommodate over 25,000 employees and will be completed over a period of 10 years under a three-phase plan. Work is in progress on the first phase, scheduled to be completed in a three-year period, with a seating capacity of 10,000 employees. The initial investment will amount to Rs 600 crore. Telangana can be justifiably proud of its track record in the IT sector as it looks forward to its future as a separate state.

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