SPEAKING FREELY India's split personality
By Meena Degala
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
India's ruling party has decided to table to parliament the controversial bill to divide Andhra Pradesh, with government sources saying that the Union cabinet on Friday gave its nod to the legislation that splits the southeastern state.
The importance of the so-called bifurcation of a state by the federal government revolves around Article 3 of the Constitution and willingness of powers in New Delhi to change India's cultural landscape at will. This is not solely an Andhra Pradesh issue as much as it is a constitutional threat to the very core of Indian
culture and every resident of the country.
Just last year, members of national parties voiced criticism of a "semi-official" Chinese website posting describing the balkanization of India. Today, India's federal government is doing just that by advocating a unilateral policy to divide the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, home to 74 million Telugu-speaking people. Andhra Pradesh is India's fourth-largest by land area. South Indian states are comprised of non-Hindi speaking linguistic minorities with distinct cultures and traditions not found in North India states.
Balkanization is usually defined as geographical fragmentation but could also resemble outright alienation and disenfranchisement of contiguous minorities living in a viable geographic, economic and cultural zone.
India is comprised of diverse communities with distinct and proud linguistic identities. Hindi is spoken by about 40% of the country's population. Hindi-speaking states share a distinct Hindi identity, while linguistic minorities have their own language-based identity.
Post-independence Indian states were primarily organized on a linguistic basis. Fueled by the prospect of electoral gains, the federal government seeks bifurcation of the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh under authority of the controversial and antiquated Article 3 of the Constitution. According to Article 3, the federal government can divide, merge or obliterate any state with a simple majority in parliament.
Opinions of the state assembly or majority sentiments of the state's electorate are not protected under Article 3.
The bifurcation plan will grant statehood status to the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. The newly created state would comprise 10 of the 23 districts currently in Andhra Pradesh. More than 34 million people would reside in the new state.
The plan also calls for the state's leading commercial city, Hyderabad, and its revenue to come under Telangana domain in 10 years. Financial details and beneficiaries are undisclosed despite calls for transparent disclosure by state legislators.
The majority of Andhra Pradesh residents oppose bifurcation. Since the federal government announcement, the state has been roiled in protests. On January 30, the state legislature rejected the government's bifurcation bill. Disregarding the state legislature's rejection the federal government decided to table the bill in Parliament.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy says that he is ready to be sacked and has alleged that Telugu's proud culture is threatened by the bifurcation bill. Several legislators decried federal policy as reducing Telugu citizens to second-class status.
Opponents to bifurcation protest the loss of the thriving commercial city of Hyderabad and water sharing problems. Inspired by Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of the ruling Congress party, bifurcation intentionally attacks the Telugu identity.
Seemingly oblivious to India's linguistic identities, the Delhi-Mumbai national media is busy questioning the Telugu opposition. The motives of legislators opposing federal authority have come under fire. Meanwhile, the national media ignores rightful questions regarding the abusive authority in Article 3 and the government's brazen pursuit of electoral gains at the expense of innocent people.
Article 3 does not serve Telugus, who will join the ever-expanding list of oppressed, denigrated and bullied linguistic and ethnic minorities in India.
Telugus face a problem created by the self-serving electoral-minded opposition; the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Congress. Charged to protect the harmony of all people living under the Indian flag, these powers more accurately resemble malevolent foreign powers of the past.
The findings of the central government's Srikrishna Commission contradict the government's claim that Telangana is the most backward region of Andhra Pradesh. Yet, the recommendation of the commission that the state remain united is ignored. The brief employee unions driven separatist agitations of the 1960's and 1970's are being misrepresented by BJP and Congress as unabated separatist movements. These brief agitations were followed by decades of harmony among Telugus.
Signs of trouble surfaced in 1999 when the Hindu nationalist BJP introduced its "Akhand Bharat" or "Undivided India" concept to South India under the "small states" pretense. The BJP's national policy is to break up larger states and carve out smaller ones for purposes of "administrative efficiency". In reality, the policy is designed to gain electoral clout.
To date, no Indian state has been divided without the consent of the state legislature. No other linguistic states have been divided. According to BJP's parochial view, linguistic identity of minorities represents a threat to the party's view of patriotism. The intent is clearly to destroy Telugu identity and unity.
Ironically, in 1999, when the demand for separate states was minimal, the BJP party included the state of Telangana in its electoral manifesto but failed to garner public support.
A Brief History
In 200, the separatist Telangana feudal lord, K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), recruited ex-Maoist insurgents as party cadre and unfurled a Maoist-style informational war upon people from other regions of Andhra Pradesh. Extremist propaganda exhorted people of Telangana to unite and chase people with roots in other parts of the state. Threats were made by KCR's party members to chop off the hands of people from outside Andhra Pradesh. His entire campaign was built on inciting hatred towards people from other regions of state.
Despite the intense propaganda, KCR failed to garner support in Telangana, winning only a few electoral seats in 2008.
A responsible national party would have halted this dangerous behavior and curtailed criminal activities that that sought to incite, divide and create hostility in the electorate. Instead, India's national parties, congress and BJP saw opportunity for electoral gain and sought to divide and rule Telugus.
Ruling party chief Sonia Gandhi (aka Edvige Antonia Albina Maino) is in the midst of numerous corruption scandals and desperate for her son, Rahul Gandhi, to become the next prime minister. Sonia Gandhi pressured Congress to pass the bifurcation plan to offset critical electoral losses. The opposition BJP, unable to retract from its divisive Telangana stance and unwilling to cede electoral gains to Congress, made a feeble protest concerning rights of Andhra Pradesh's non-Telangana regions.
The absurdity of KCR's propaganda, the brazen audacity of the Sonia Gandhi-controlled Congress to implement Article 3 and the alleged use of ruling party henchmen including the Central Bureau of Investigation, Income Tax Department and paid press to threaten, coerce and influence certain elected representatives of Andhra Pradesh, signifies a bigger threat to India. These actions defy the history of south India's Union with India and call to attention the evolution of India's centralized authoritarian constitution, which is failing to protect linguistic and ethnic minorities and their cultures.
History shows Telugus were not linked to the Indian Union by choice but rather by Sir Stafford Cripps' 1946 decision not to hold a referendum. Cripps was charged to negotiate an agreement with new leadership that would keep India loyal to the British war effort in exchange for a promise of full self-government.
Telugu-born leader and social activist Periyar Ramasamy believed South India should be united as an independent nation called Dravidistan or Dravid Nadu. The independent federation of states would consist of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
Periyar was concerned that Hindi politician-dominated national parties would impose a dominant Hindi threat to the culture in the south.
During India's independence struggle, it was Periyar, not Mahatma Gandhi, who was the leading political force in the south. Cripps rebuffed the referendum demand, citing time constraints due to war. Thus, South India or Dravid Nadu became part of the new India Union.
After India's formation in 1947, the southern-based Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, led by Anna Durai, continued south India's separatist demand. Only after the creation of linguistic states in the late 1950s did the demands subside.
In 1963, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced a constitutional amendment making the advocacy of secession a criminal offense. In response, Murosali Maran, a Tamil politician remarked, "I am Tamil first, but I am also an Indian. Both can exist together, provided there is space for cultural nationalism."
DMK's leading theoretician, Era Sezhiyan, opined that it was more practical to demand a higher degree of autonomy than a separate state.
Currently, the debate in Andhra Pradesh concerns India's federal authority. Opponents of bifurcation declare Article 3 unconstitutional. It is not common knowledge that Nehru envisioned a unitary country with states that are subject to unilateral division and chief ministers that can be dismissed.
Subsequent to Nehru's refusal to create a federal union with Pakistan, the constituent assembly of Indian Subcontinent adopted the Objectives Resolution on January 22, 1947. This resolution envisaged the union would have three powers: defense, foreign affairs and communications. Autonomous states would have all residuary powers.
With the partition of India, several top Hindi nationalist leaders reversed their positions regarding autonomous states in favor of a centralized political framework, which they controlled.
Many Sikh representatives dissented. Sardar Hukam Singh told parliament:
Let it not be misunderstood that the Sikh community has agreed to this constitution. In our constitution, each article tends to sap the local autonomy and makes state provinces irresponsible ... The minorities and especially Sikhs have been ignored and completely neglected. The provincial units can be reduced to municipal boards.
Another Sikh legislator, Bhupinder Singh Mann similarly expressed his dissent. Justice Ajit Singh Bains, retired Chief Justice of Punjab and the Haryana high court, argued that the Sikh unrest in 1947, and subsequently in the 1980s and 90s can be attributed to the unitary constitution (Bains 1996).
Nehru's unitary vision of India with Hindi as a mandatory national language may have been intended to provide soviet styled socialism with five-year economic plans. However, Jinnah predicted that in the face of abuse by feudalistic democrats, theocratic government and dictatorial leaders the model would fail.
After Indian independence, Jinnah's prophecy became reality for the Sikhs, Nagas and now for the Telugus. We should remember the Sikh movement was never a separatist movement. It began with Sikh discontent over the imposition of Hindi and the need for greater autonomy at the state level.
Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter and India's prime minister during the Sikh insurgency, initiated propaganda to paint Sikhs as separatists. Frustrated with the high-handed and dictatorial attitude of Indira Gandhi, a section of Sikh Youth eventually took up arms and demanded secession in the 1980's.
The failed Soviet-modeled unitary government has run its course. The time has come for India's leaders and its people to recognize that liberal democracy and federalism that is mindful of India's diversity is the only solution for peace and prosperity.
Some hope that opposing Hindu Nationalist BJP would save the nation from colossal inequities and corruption. Neither BJP, Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party - nor any new messiah party - can solve burgeoning problems as effectively as autonomous states.
The real issue here is not about tensions between the integrationists and separatists of Andhra Pradesh. The issue is about personal and cultural rights and whether they have a place in today's India. Without outside interests, Telugus can build their own rapprochement. There are numerous options that would better serve Telugu poor than the plans of the Telangana Feudals. The central issue is the intent of bifurcation. Yesterday it was Punjab and Nagaland. Today it is Andhra Pradesh. Which minority is next?
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif 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.
Meena Degala is a Telugu entrepreneur residing in the United States.