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    South Asia
     Oct 19, 2012

Telangana issue sparks more turmoil
By Francesco Brunello Zanitti

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Telangana has come back to haunt Hyderabad, the capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The decades-long demand for separation and autonomy of the 10 districts of Telangana has become the focus of attention in the city and region thanks to an impressive march on September 30, called Sagara Haram.

Tensions in Hyderabad are high, especially in the historic center of the pro-Telangana movement, the Arts College of Osmania University. The re-emergence of protests has come in a


particularly difficult period for the city, especially in terms of security.

The march was organized by the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC), a non-partisan union spanning different categories of civil society. TJAC, is led by political science professor at Osmania University, M Kodandaram, has as its main objective not only a bid to garner awareness among local and central authorities, but also a quickly and definite solution to the Telangana issue.

The problem of Telangana is one of the most difficult in the Indian history, having its roots in colonial period and different administrations of Andhra Pradesh's regions during the British rule over India. Today, the focus is on the lack of water resources in rural areas and absence of job prospects for young people. The population of the 10 districts suffers a chronic shortages of water during persistent summers of drought. According to supporters of separation, the Andhra region has been constantly favored by state government. In past years, numerous cases of suicides among young students and farmers have been recorded across the region.

The Telangana march was held between the Hindu festival linked to Lord Ganesh, which was planned on September 29 and 30 with the presence of millions of devotees in procession through the streets of the city, and the 19-day global biodiversity event, the 11th Conference of Parties (COP) to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), started in Hyderabad on October 1. (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the international convention on October 16.)

The local government feared protests would give the city a bad international name and tried to prevent the march right up to the last moment.

The September 30 march was characterized by a series of violent incidents - and the slogan Jai Ganesh - Jai Telangana (victory to Telangana), which was heard repeatedly on Hyderabad's streets.

Supporters of Telangana statehood fought pitched battles with the police in several areas of the city. Violence was evident especially in the Osmania campus, where student organizations tried to break the police checkpoints to reach the rest of the demonstrators in Hyderabad. Police and the TJAC blamed each other.

The police accused certain left-wing extremist groups being involved in the violence; the authorities blamed also protesters because they infringed the conditions. All relevant details on routes were provided but according to police, supporters of Telangana did not follow them. However, the Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee condemned the attack on Telangana activists and deplored the free hand given to the police by state authorities.

During colonial times, Telangana was ruled by a Muslim sovereign, the Nizam of Hyderabad, who reigned over the Hyderabad state, an autonomous region but directly linked to Great Britain; the remaining areas of current Andhra Pradesh (Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) were instead directly administrated by the British Raj under what was called as Madras Presidency. The arrangement resulted in a different levels of economic and social development between the two areas.

The political movement for the separation of Telangana emerged in the late 1960s and then found new life in the last decade after the birth of three new states in the Indian Federation: Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. However, the Telangana issue is essentially an economic problem, not linguistic, ethnic or religious.

The response of political parties is ambivalent. Several political parties were present at the event of September 30 , such as Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (CPI); but the reality is that the parties are divided on the Telangana issue, unlike the civil society, which is gathered around bodies such as TJAC. TRS, led by K Chandrashekar Rao, is the only party created specifically on a an agenda for the birth of Telangana as a separate state.

The Congress party of Andhra Pradesh is divided on the issue. Members who support the creation of Telangana avoided the march, fearing potentials attacks, as happened last year during Million March for Telangana. Finance Minister P Chidambaram, said in 2009 when he was defense minister that within few months the process for the creation of a separate state in Andhra Pradesh would been started; a statement that was not followed in practice in subsequent years but still present in the memory of Telangana people.

The Congress party's historical enemy in the region, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is also divided - for understandable reasons because the party was founded for the unity of all people speaking Telugu. This Dravidian language is spoken throughout Andhra Pradesh.

A few days before the march, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu has sent a letter to the prime minister, urging a quick resolution This, however, led to the predictable protests from some in the the party coming from Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra, with the threat of resignations. The BJP instead claimed that it will include in its program of government the immediate creation of Telangana for 2014.

It's obvious that many political parties support the creation of Telangana that will be surely a workhorse for the next elections, both in Andhra Pradesh and national level in 2014. TDP, BJP, CPI and Congress are almost forced to back the move for electoral reasons.

The main point however is another. The failure for the birth of Telangana is not only linked to the failure of the local political leadership, which is constantly divided, but it is also caused by strong economic interests, especially those of Andhra businesses. The latter are fearful of losing their profits in the case of birth of a new state.

The heart of the matter is the future of Hyderabad, the economic center of the region. A Telangana without its historical capital is unthinkable, but economic interests are too strong and in these terms a real bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh is at the same time unlikely.

The two main objections that many politicians, especially of Congress and TDP, pose to the creation of Telangana is Hyderabad and investments in the capital. Regarding Hyderabad, politicians linked to the commercial interests are afraid of losing the city, even if they do not explicitly say so. They believe they have invested heavily in its development; for example the ten best hospitals in Hyderabad are in the hands of personalities related to Andhra and12 of the 50 leading companies across India are owned by entrepreneurs of the state. The companies have taken many benefits from the economic boom of Hyderabad and surrounding suburbs, and it is precisely because of these interests that they are not ready to let go the city.

Another important point to consider is the actual effectiveness of a new state in solving problems relating to disadvantaged groups such as the water-starved farmers in rural areas.

Will a separate state solve the region's water problems? Many supporters of Telangana argue in favor of management of their own resources without having to convey water towards the coastal areas of Andhra. Why is a united Andhra Pradesh not able to solve these problems?

The region would require a strengthening of infrastructure and an equal redistribution of water resources and jobs between different areas because it is an historical fact that the people of Telangana were disadvantaged by the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956.

In this sense, permanent political, social and economic inequalities between regions for historical reasons play a fundamental role. The lower educational, economic and social conditions in Telangana allowed privileged access in public, administrative and governmental sectors to personalities linked to Andhra who naturally favored their region. In this sense, however, this is another failure of political leadership coming from Telangana.

The seeking of a Telangana state is absolutely legitimate and democratic, according to the Article 3 of Constitution of India, which grants the creation of new state only through a decision by the central government. The problem is that Article 3 is too vague. In this sense, a clear answer is needed from New Delhi because it is not understandable why cases like Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were granted in a very short time and Telangana is still waiting.

It is necessary to adopt clearer and uniform criteria for all areas of the Federation, but obviously there are different political and economic conditions of each area as economic interests in Andhra Pradesh clearly demonstrate. Otherwise with a deadlock, tensions between different components of Indian society will increase as confirmed by the events of recent weeks in Hyderabad.

In addition, a failure to clarify the principle of creation of new state and actual birth of Telangana could lead similar demands in other parts of India, especially in poor areas which wish to separate from rich and prosperous regions. The greatest danger is the increase of populist and identity politics based on religious, economic, ethnic, social and caste criteria. This has already happened in other areas of the country.

In recent years Congress has not paid great attention to the issue, even though the popular movement is very strong. It is obvious that a clear decision can upset one side or the other of the region, yet a response is necessary to avoid paralysis of the region and in Hyderabad. A first step could be a search for a real consensus on the issue between the different political parties in order to reach a strong and unambiguous position over Telangana and its problems.

Francesco Brunello Zanitti is the Research Associate and Southern Asia Research Program's Director of IsAG (Institute for Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

(Copyright 2012 Francesco Brunello Zanitti)




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