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The Telangana Movement In The Framework Of Power, Caste And Culture

In the western world, especially in Europe, it may not be so complex to distinguish between the nationalities of different people as it is mostly based on the identity of language. However, in the case of India, it can be too ambiguous as the country is a great mixture of various ethnicities, diverse languages and religions. Though after independence, the Indian government adopted a similar way to demarcate different states on the basis of language, this differentiation was too simple for a country like India.

Many regions which were too distinct culturally and even linguistically were assimilated with each other as a single state. For example, Gujarat and Maharashtra were one state, however, had their own different language and culture. All these were seen as an oversimplification and mere a blind westernized act. Hence, the further separation of states within India as a nation started. The main point to be focused is how one country can survive despite being too diverse and the sociological patterns it left behind. The formation of Telangana as a state can be taken as the same case where under the identity of one nation, the identity of a region got separated.

The demand for separate state arose not only because of power politics that neglected to develop the Telangana region but also because of systematic exploitation of the region which was denied its share of resources, discrimination that existed in matters of employment, education, industrialisation.

The formation of Telangana as a separate state was substantive for the people to exercise their political power in order to protect not just their economic interests but also dignity, self-respect and distinct culture. The Telangana movement can be seen as a fight against the hegemonic domination of Andhra culture. This is just not a demand for a separate state and recognition of Telangana culture. It is a fight against the power politics of dominant feudal castes. If the caste issues are left unaddressed, the crux of Telangana problem remains untouched.

A Historical Analysis:

Telangana, the Telugu speaking region of the then feudal Hyderabad State, (which included Maratha speaking and Kannada speaking regions as well), has its own distinct culture, variation of language, and customs. The aspiration of Telangana as a separate state has its roots since the mid-20th century, prominently from the Non-Mulki Movement of 1952.

Major Phases of the Movement:

The Telangana Movement which is considered as modern People’s Movement can be studied in three phases.

1948 -1956
1971 – 2001
2001 – 2013

1948-1956:

The princely state of Hyderabad, which was under the exploitative Nizam rule, was taken over by the Indian armed forces on September 17, 1948, so that it could be merged with the Indian Union. This day is now celebrated as Telangana Liberation Day. But the Hyderabad state of Indian Union consisted of present-day Telangana and parts of present-day Karnataka and Maharashtra. The people of this region were dominated and oppressed by the Nizam’s exploitative taxation policies. The dominant feudal caste, the Nizam’s middlemen, exercised domination over the deprived sections of the region even after its so-called liberation. Thus, the struggle for a democratic share of resources and separate identity initiated in the region. Peasant movements of the period took place in Telugu speaking parts but not in the parts of Kannada and Marathi speaking sections of Hyderabad state. Therefore, contemporary scholars consider these movements purely a struggle for identity rather than for resources. Thus, the movement started as a struggle for separate identity but later on, aspects like resources, control over jobs, power relations added on.

The Mulki Agitation:

The movement was started in 1952 by the students in Palvancha. To benefit non-Mulkis (outsiders), the then ruling class violated Mulki rules, which stated that the locals should be the first priority in employment recruitment. The ruling dominant feudal castes, the power holders were biased to the outsiders. Similar is the discrimination experienced by Telangana locals in control of their own jobs, resources, political power.

Meanwhile, in the country, the central government started reorganising states primarily on linguistic basis. Andhra State, the Telugu speaking region of the earlier Madras presidency was hence formed in 1953. Andhra State Congress leaders started playing tactics in Delhi to merge the Telugu speaking region of Hyderabad State into Andhra State on the linguistic basis. Though Jawaharlal Nehru was initially against this idea of merging, he said it had “a tint of expansionist imperialism”. The Andhra State Congress leaders were active in India’s struggle for independence and hence they relatively have strong influence in Delhi politics than their fraternity in Hyderabad State. Therefore, the latter merged into Andhra on November 1, 1956. The state formed was called Andhra Pradesh, named after Andhras, which is considered as the start of a self-destructive process by the contemporary intellectual class.

1971-2001:

This period of 30 years in the history of Telangana Movement is considered to be a re-energising phase. While resistance was in the minds of the masses, it was new political forces that overshadowed the movement, resulting in a long pause. Though there emerged a new political party, Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS), it ended up merging into Indian National Congress due to the charismatic leadership of Indira Gandhi.

The particular phase experienced the emergence of strong new political forces in the state, like Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) who was known for his charisma in Indian cinema and politics. The emergence of NTR as a strong political force was possible because of the implementation of his policies like abolishing traditional Patel-Patwari system in Telangana region and bringing meritocracy to the office of Patel which was earlier hereditary. Being a person from Coastal Andhra, he contested from three constituencies of Telangana showcasing himself as a “person of all”.

Moreover, he encouraged candidates from backward classes to contest the election. Though he belonged to one of the dominant feudal castes of Andhra, he worked for unbiased welfare and especially worked for backward class mobilisation. Social and democratic development was considered as core agenda of his regime, which was the main propaganda of the movement too. Hence, the movement and resistance were not active during his regime. When the ruling class satisfies the aspirations of masses, there would be lesser possibility for resistance.

In 1990s, during and after LPG reforms, the political hold of Andhra Pradesh drastically shifted to coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, benefitting the business class, contractors of their regions in the new market model of so-called “development”. A series of Chief Ministers since then, were from the Seemandhra region (Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra), namely Nedurumalli Janardhana, Chandrababu Naidu, Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy, Kiran Kumar Reddy, eventually benefited the people of their respective regions right from diversion of water to diversion of funds from Telangana.

2001-2009:

Active left-wing in radical extremism and in political structure in the region were responsible for taking up the idea of separate state deep into every corner of the region and the minds of the masses. Chief Ministers, Chandrababu Naidu (1995-2004) and Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy (2004-2009), took effective measures to clear extremism in Andhra Pradesh especially in Telangana region. And hence the responsibility to effectively take forward the movement shifted onto the shoulders of civil societies and political parties in particular.

This period can be considered as the decade of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), a political party which was established by the present Chief Minister of Telangana State, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (popularly known by acronym KCR) with the basic agenda to “Achieve Telangana”. TRS contested the 2004 general elections and turned out with six Members of Parliament and 24 Members of Legislative Assembly. These elected representatives stood by the popular aspirations of Telangana, resigned their membership in 2006 and tried political tactics but failed in front of the century-old Congress. After its massive defeat in 2009 general elections, TRS took a resolution – Telangana can be achieved not on tactics but through mass movement.

KCR, demanding for Telangana as a separate state, went on indefinite hunger strike, after the sudden demise of Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, in September 2009. The Congress central body released a notice that states – “The process for the formation of Telangana starts on December 9, 2009.”

After 2010:

After the demise of Rajasekhar Reddy, Andhra Pradesh suffered an able leadership crisis. On the other hand, there was chaos in all the three regions, agitations for a separate state in Telangana and counter agitations in other two regions for united Andhra Pradesh, emotional connotations driven by political motivations.

Protesters from Andhra Pradesh protest outside PM house demanding separate Telangana state on July 11, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Civil societies (Telangana Joint Action Committee) and political parties, especially TRS realised the weak state of affairs and took the movement to every possible level. Organisations which had been inactive for ages took rebirth to take advantage of people’s emotions. Meanwhile, Sri Krishna Committee, which was appointed in 2006, gave its report after taking out a comparative study. The study states, “According to statistics, Telangana region is comparatively not backward and rich in resources than the other regions of Andhra Pradesh.” As the main focussed issues – resources and backwardness were proven wrong, civil societies and political parties influenced by dominant caste groups, gave an emotional push to the movement, “We have already been divided by heart, we can’t get back together.”

The last resort was political tactics, which was applied well in passing the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act in parliament. If one needs to know how political power influences modern-day democracy, the trends of Telangana state right from merging into Andhra State to today’s Telangana as a separate state, is the best example to study.

The Dominant Caste Groups and Their Hold of Power:

From 1952 to 1956, both in Hyderabad State and Andhra State, the political power was shared among only two or three dominant feudal caste groups. Even after 1956, the scenario was same, only two or three dominant caste groups formed the government in Andhra Pradesh. Initially, it was Brahmins followed by Reddys, Velamas and Kammas who have been enjoying the political power. The Reddys, as a caste, held sway over chief ministership for 32 years, the Kammas for 16 years, the Brahmins for five years, the Velamas for four years and the Scheduled castes only for two years. There was no chief minister from BC’s, ST’s, Muslims, Kapus, Vaishyas.

If we look into the history of power trajectory in the Telangana Region, Hyderabad State was ruled by Nizams before independence, but policy-making and administration were looked over by the few dominant caste groups. After the “liberation”, the dominant caste groups continued to be the power elites exercising their control over resources, jobs, culture. The case is same even after Telangana region merging into Andhra State. The migrant Andhra dominant feudal caste groups were biased and recruited Andhra students, both public and private contracts were given to Andhra contractors in deep Telangana regions too, discriminating the Telangana population. The Andhra people recruited as teachers in Telangana region started demeaning the culture and variation of language. Even Telugu literature, art, and cinema focused on Andhra Culture, where usually, the antagonists use the Telangana dialect of Telugu while the protagonists are shown as soft-spoken Andhra youth. Telangana culture and festivals were left highly unrecognised during this phase, where Bathukamma, the festival of flowers celebrated during the Dasara season, was nowhere seen celebrated in the United Andhra Pradesh.

Politics of Language to Politics of Resources:

The Government of India, reorganised the states in the early 1950s on the linguistic basis, and thus the Andhra State formed from the Madras Presidency. As we discussed earlier, Andhra State Congress leaders with their influence, played political tactics in Delhi and finally merged resource-efficient Telugu speaking region of Hyderabad State i.e. Telangana.

The two main south Indian rivers, Krishna and Godavari flow from Telangana to Delta region of coastal Andhra, finally flow into the Bay of Bengal. If these rivers were used properly, Telangana would have been completely irrigated. But since the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the stakeholders of power were mostly from coastal Andhra, they were biased to their region, therefore the diversion of resources like water, due to which the delta region developed. The dams built in their period were driven by political motivation rather than social or democratic development. Had the Nagarjuna Sagar dam been built at a slightly different location,  it would have solved the irrigational issues of Nalgonda district of Telangana region. The location of Srisailam project would have solved the irrigation and drought issues of Mahaboob Nagar district of Telangana, which is considered as one of the most drought-affected districts of India. Sriram Sagar project was built in Bodhan, Nizamabad district of Telangana, which is dominated by the migrated Andhra population living there.

Role of Civil Societies in the Movement:

In the initial stages of the movement, one can trace that even the civil societies were influenced by dominant castes. And hence, they worked as organisations reinforcing the dominant power structure. Eventually, the deprived sections of these organisations recognised this and gradually shifted their focus from issues of water and irrigation to caste and cultural question. Gradually, caste-based divisions in the civil societies started dismantling due to the strong left-wing emerging both in radical and parliamentary terms. Writers, revolutionary singers like Gadhar and academicians like Prof. Jayashankar, Prof. Kodandaram, Konda Lakshman Bapuji with their works strengthened the movement.

Conclusion:

A revolution or a movement is said to be successful when all forces come together over a spectrum of demands. In these terms, Telangana movement succeeded but in terms of the aspirations and issues of the movement, the majoritarian political class failed the spirit of the movement. Telangana movement aspired to eliminate caste colonialism, but it is still prevalent in the so-called ‘Golden’ Telangana. The movement aspired for social and democratic development, whereas the present government still follows the same Hyderabad-focussed development. Telangana movement was known for its self-identity but the present government is not respecting the diversified culture and only focusing on dominant caste culture. Main stakeholders have been left unrecognised and the civil society is not being involved in the policymaking.

References:

  • M. Kodandaram. (2007). Movement for Telangana State: A Struggle for Autonomy. Economic and Political Weekly,
    42(2), 90-94. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4419125
  • Forrester, D. (1970). Subregionalism in India: The Case of Telangana. Pacific Affairs, 43(1), 5-21. doi:10.2307/2753831
  • MARINGANTI, A. (2010). Telangana: Righting Historical Wrongs or Getting the Future Right? Economic and Political Weekly, 45(4), 33-38. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25664042
  • Gaventa,John, Power and Powerlessness: Quintessence and Rebellion in on Appalachian Valley, Chicago: University of Illinois Press,1980 (Chapter 1:Power and Participation)
  • Gudavarthy, Ajay (2013). Telangana: Nation, State and the city. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 48, Issue No. 05, 02 Feb, 2013

 

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