Lets go back to 1982, to the political vacuum of Telugu’s land. To Begumpet Airport.

T. Anjaiah, the Chief Minister of Andhra, yet another Congress chief minister installed through the “revolving door policy” of the Congress high command, was humiliated at the Airport by a novice AICC General Secretary – Rajiv Gandhi. This was all that took NTR to raise the slogan of ‘Andhra self-respect’, launch the TDP in 1983 and ride his rath into power in Hyderabad within 6 months. Back room installation of Kona Prabhakar Rao, by Governor Ramlal only led to further consolidation of ‘Andhra self-respect’ in favour of the Telegu Desham Party.

Coming back to 11th December 2009, to another political vacuum of Telugu’s land since YSR died. Since P Chidambaram’s executive announcement about splitting the state of Andhra. Andhra’s Congress Chief Minister K Rosaiah said Sonia Gandhi and the Congress High Command will take the final decision on the future Andhra.

And  one question remains in spite of my respect for the Gandhi family – “Who is Sonia Gandhi to decide?”

One full circle for ‘Andhra self-respect’.

Creation of Telangana is a larger issue than the creation of another state in the country. It is a larger issue than the question that if a country with 300 million people can have 50 states, why should a country with 1200 million people have just 28 states? If Telangana is created, it will be the first time in India that a linguistic state is divided. It will shove us into an identity crisis which Pakistan faced when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. The parameters will change from religion to language. If Pakistanis in 1971 wondered if religion wasn’t enough to keep their country together, people in Andhra would wonder if language was not enough. In more ways than one, any identity crisis is good.

But isn’t there an issue of respect in the way the new state was announced. The center announcing its decision to create a new state, adding that the Andhra assembly would move a motion for creation of Telangana, takes a couple of things for granted. Even when the center has power to create new states, it is ok to do that in cases of states without a cohesive identity like UP or Bihar or Madhya Pradesh, but Andhra is different. From Potti Sriramulu’s hunger strike which led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh, to KCR’s hunger strike which has almost led to the division of the state – Andhra, like Tamilnad, Karanataka, and Kerala has developed a cohesive identity based on language. Generations since 1956 have been born into this identity. If changes need to be made to that identity, it should be done in Hyderabad, and not in Delhi. When P Chidambaram announced the decision to divide Andhra from Delhi, he was challenging the ‘self respect’ of every linguistic state in India, not just Andhra.

What does P Chidambaram’s decision mean? Does it mean India’s central government had a sudden rush of ‘morality hormone’ and understood that the people of Telangana did not want to continue in Andhra Pradesh anymore, that they were fed up of the injustices done by coastal Andraites including the second canal to Nagarjuna Sagar, that they never stood a chance for development, and government jobs as part of a greater Andhra. Addressing perceived underdevelopment is fine, but how much morality does the Indian government have to address a question of identity through an executive decision than through a composite dialogue process in Hyderabad. I repeat Hyderabad.

An executive decision in this regard, can be taken by a country which has some moral authority in dealing with identity issues. It is illogical and hypocritical for a country like India which usurps Kashmir valley, Manipur, and Nagaland against the wishes of people who have lived there for centuries, to announce an executive decision in Delhi that it will divide Andhra. (or Maharashtra or Gujarat or Karnataka or Tamilnad or Kerala). This decision should have been made in Hyderabad. I repeat Hyderabad.

Another worthy question to ponder is ‘What if YSR was there?’. We can speculate on that. YSR R.I.P.

What Next on Telangana?

The movement for Telangana has reached its critical mass, and tipping point. The reasons being –

First – India follows a Westminster form of democracy, and the best way to determine how people of a particular area think is by looking at how their representatives think. This is because the MLAs and MPs from a region basically want to get re-elected and hence will represent what their constituents want.

Based on this logic, the big majority of representatives from Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema want a united Andhra ,and almost all representatives from Telangana area want a separate state. Now, the case in point being Telangana, the opinion of the legislators from Telangana matters most. Plus on top of this almost all political parties including Congress, TDP, and Praja Rajyam have taken a favorable stand towards creation of Telangana.

Second – If someone is ready to sacrifice his\her life for a cause, that which is the highest sacrifice a person can make, it is very difficult for any country with a conscience to fight that cause. I’m not talking only about KCR, but the student protests that dotted the Telangana landscape for over 50 years, and which intensified at Osmania and Kakatiya in the past several weeks. (long before national media’s radar saw the impending crisis in Andhra). Three hundred and fifty students died for a separate Telangana in 1971. They were ready to do that again. That is critical mass.

Two approaches are possible now that the issue has reached critical mass. First, ignore the protests and take the Kashmir route where we have send in the army and decimated popular expression. This is doable but will be a long and winding road, and its effectiveness in Kashmir where democracy is still in its mewling and puking stages may not be the same in a large and important state like Andhra.

Second, respect democracy, create Telangana.

Arguments against Telangana at this point are irrelevant as every political party is divided right in the middle on this issue, resulting in a highly divided polity. The arguments vary from ineffectiveness of Telangana’s political leadership to the investments in Hyderabad.

Telangana’s political leadership and Water wars

Three Chief Ministers of Andhra have come from Telangana region – PV Narasimha Rao, Marri Chenna Reddy,and T. Anjiah. But the surprising fact is that they together served just 6 years in the state’s 52 year history. Then again Rayal Seema had 4 stalwarts  N. Sanjeeva Reddy, Damodaram Sanjeeviah, K. Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, and Babu Naidu who served for 20 years but remains another under-developed area. So the issue could be less about political leadership but more structural like the historical backwardness of the Telangana area.

But instead of 6 years, what if leaders from Telangana governed Telangana for 52 years? Would they have been better given the limited amount of resources? This is a larger Indian question, but one thing is sure about political leadership – smaller states have done well, smaller states have gone to hell as well – it depends on political leadership. Given Telangana’s backwardness in terms of human development and resources for industry, any new government in the new state will have a large incentive to start another water war because the head waters of Krishna and Godavari are located in Telangana.

The question of Hyderabad

This is a little tricky, but the argument that people from other parts of the state  who work in Hyderabad will be insecure doesn’t hold much water. People from Coastal Andhra and Rayal Seema also work in Bangalore, Chennai, and Bombay, and they will continue to work in Hyderabad. This is as illogical as thinking people in Telangana will stop watching Allu Arjun or Mahesh Babu if the state is divided. The shared culture and language will I guess make Hyderabad different for a person from Andhra when compared to Chennai or Bangalore.

The case of Babu Naidu investing a lot of tax payer’s money in Hyderabad has not much meat. When Andhra was left without a metropolis after Madras stayed with Madras Presidency, Telangana with its capital of Hyderabad (Andhra’s capital was Kurnool) was merged with Andhra. Telangana’s resources were exploited under the Nizam’s rule to provide for Hyderabad, and the Andhra state benefited from this. When Hyderabad came to Andhra Pradesh in 1956, it was the 5th largest city in India. In 2009, its still the 5th largest city in India. Babu Naidu may have invested in it, but historically speaking – it’s fair game.

I know it’s easier said than done, especially for people losing their identity. But this  one issue will trigger debates in the southern states which go beyond the fifty year old- taken for granted-identity of language. And that’s change and And that’s good!