The case for Telangana

Posted on January 9, 2011

By Manoj Mittia

If a woman who was forcibly married asks for a divorce on grounds of cruelty, can a court rule against it? Can a court rule that she cannot be liberated from her marriage, however bad, without her husband’s consent? That’s the kind of dubious logic the Sri Krishna Committee employed when suggesting, as its “second best option”, that the Telangana region (the erstwhile Hyderabad state) cannot be divorced from the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions (the erstwhile Andhra state) unless the latter agree.

The committee’s exact words were: “Separation is recommended only in case it is unavoidable and if this decision can be reached amicably among all the three regions.” Though its “most preferred option” was to keep Andhra Pradesh intact, the committee could not help proposing the split as the second best option because the creation of a separate Telangana, it conceded, would “satisfy a large majority of people from the region”.

The committee admitted the depth of sentiment favouring separation among the people of Telangana and acknowledged the validity of their grievance or “the felt psyche of discrimination and domination”. Despite its assertion that the region was not as backward as it was made out to be, the committee accepted that the “continuing demand… for a separate Telangana… has some merit and is not entirely unjustified”.

But it ignored — willfully or otherwise — where exactly this “continuing demand” came from. It failed to recognize it as a consequence of the forced merger that Telangana has been trapped in since 1956 and the widely perceived betrayal, in letter and spirit, of the promises made in the form of a Gentleman’s Agreement. Had the committee diagnosed it essentially as a demand for demerger on account of reneged promises, it would not have committed the folly of proposing the Telangana Regional Council as the keystone of its best option. For, the same council, with more or less the same nomenclature and powers, had been promised in the 1956 Gentleman’s Agreement.

There was little follow-up action.

Given the multi-disciplinary expertise at its disposal, the committee should have known better than to presume, that despite the trust deficit, there was a realistic chance of the people of Telangana agreeing to remain within the unified state on the basis of “empowerment” measures apparently designed to reduce the sense of discrimination. If the committee’s report has evoked widespread condemnation from the people of Telangana, it has a lot to do with the reluctance it betrayed in examining the implications of their elaborately documented position that Andhra Pradesh from its very inception was a forced union.

Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956 even after the States Reorganization Commission, while redrawing the political map of India, had rejected the proposal of immediately merging the Telugu-speaking parts of the then Hyderabad state with the then Andhra state. Bowing to pressure from Andhra leaders, the Nehru government disregarded the commission’s recommendation that “the residuary state of Hyderabad might unite with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in about 1961, if by a two-thirds majority the legislature of Hyderabad state expresses itself in favour of such a unification.”

The commission, headed by Justice S Fazal Ali, had arrived at such a conclusion because of its finding that there were misgivings about the unification proposal in Telangana. It said: “The real fear of the people of Telangana is that if they join Andhra they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and in this partnership the major partner will derive all the advantages immediately while Telangana itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising coastal Andhra.”

The Fazal Ali panel’s words have proved prescient because, for all the development work in Andhra Pradesh in the 55 years that have elapsed, the people of Telangana still nurse the feeling that they have been colonized. Hence, they are not impressed with the Sri Krishna Committee’s argument that, notwithstanding their feelings of exclusion, they should try out the new governance model in which they would be provided special safeguards. They are unwilling to settle for such affirmative action. Nothing but the autonomy of statehood would satisfy them.

The agitation is all about regaining control over their resources as they see that as the only way out of the unequal relationship between Telangana and Andhra. They want statehood even if it is not necessarily in the national interest, as pointed out by the committee, True, the split is very likely to cause a setback to the growth story of Andhra Pradesh in general and Hyderabad in particular. Worse, it might give a boost to the Maoist movement. The tough choice that the Centre is being asked to make is between the reality of growth in the unified state and the hope for greater equity in the Telangana state. But then, democracy is ultimately about people, not economics.

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