A few days ago I had a long chat, over a meagre dinner, with a well known academic from the Telengana region. His limited point was that this time, unlike in the past, an overwhelming majority of people in the region are convinced and committed to a separate state. He drew a comparison to the 1969 Telengana agitation led by the late Chenna Reddy. His argument was that in the 1969 agitation the politician was at the forefront but, the people were not entirely convinced. The last three and a half years though the story is different. The entire Telengana population seems to be convinced about separation but, the political leadership suffers a huge credibility crisis.
The Telengana region, as it stands today, was ruled by the erstwhile Nizam and the rest of what is AP was ruled by the British. As in most cases in India the region ruled by the British had better administration and the princely state had development revolved around the capital, in this case Hyderabad. The building of 'anaicuts' on the Godavari and Krishna, in the late 18th century, further led to the growth of the North and South coastal Andhra regions. It also led to the rise of peasant castes like the Khammas. They were not traditional land lords like the Reddys and their growth led to progressive and reformist movements. In fact, the unified communist party's leadership came from the coastal Andhra regions and it was they who dominated the leadership in Telengana as well.
Since Telengana was a princely state then the congress had meagre influence. Gandhi for instance had never visited the region and it was the communists who led a militant movement. "Vishala Andhra' (unified Andhra) was an original demand of the communists and it is believed that Nehru himself was not keen on a merger of Telengana with the rest of the Telugu speaking areas. Nevertheless the merger happened in 1956 and since then there has been a demand for separation. So the case in point is that the movement or the agitation is not new and more importantly, separation alone may not be a solution to the economic woes of the people. The question is why it became the complete and strong will of the people to separate after five decades of unity.
To turn economic circumstances into such an emotive and bitter political demand is largely the result of political mishandling. In 2009 when the demand re erupted, with a 'march of million' threat and KCR's fast, there is a sense that the entire population of the region may not have been so strongly in favour of it. What happens after is more a strong feeling of betrayal. The fact that the centre announced a move and then went back had resulted enormously in the population feeling cheated and separation sentiment solidifying and erupting. Given that the people were convinced by their circumstances they also form a ready platform for conniving political groups to build their agendas.
One of the main features of the last three and a half years is the way in which money has flowed in the name of the movement. The TRS's first family is alleged to have made a fortune and some reports indicate that there's even a clear demarcation within the family on who gets paid from which sector. The factories pay a particular member of the family; the film world pays another and so on. It would be easy for anyone following AP to decipher who the members of the family are. Since, I do not have conclusive proof I am stating these as just mere allegations. But, I must state that the general perception is that the TRS is corrupt.
The malice gets deeper as we probe the Telengana student. Political parties are corrupt and so it is not surprising when they make money. The disheartening thought is to see young students turning corrupt over an issue that is so intensely emotional to the population. Several small student leaders have been thrown up during the course of the agitation and I am sure some of them are genuinely committed. But, the more you meet a stereotype student leader with a Bolero, Scorpio or Innova the more you begin to question the altruism of their intent. The reality is several of them have been corrupted by the political leadership. They have been given large sums of money to galvanize crowds and the moment they start taking the money they become slaves of a political agenda.
Renowned activist-academic Prof. Hargopal had recently written an open letter to the students and as he lamented the flow of money he also pointed out that till the student leaders showed integrity they would have no moral authority to seek a Telengana. It is true of the political leadership as well. The TRS leadership has often camped in Delhi ostensibly on the Telengana cause but, allegedly to curry favours from the centre. The image of the TRS evokes no semblance of integrity and it's just another Indian political part which makes it a weak negotiator not worth trusting.
The irony of the situation is that the Joint Action committee (of which the TRS is a part) is the genuine leader of the movement. But, unfortunately in New Delhi's view point this has become a political dispute to be sorted between the recognised political forces. The JAC is not the key negotiator instead, that role has been hijacked by KCR and his family. This has been a key reason behind the failure of the movement to get tangible results, commitments and implementation from the centre.
The congress for its part has been callous and only added to the corruption. One source told me many months ago that the party's two 'top leaders' had asked two MPs from the state, one from Telengana and the other from south coastal AP, to create unrest and agitations on either side. The irony is that it caught itself in the midst of the two. While the agitation was spontaneous to a degree it has been turned into an orchestrated affair by the leadership over the last three years.
As we head toward s the 2014 elections there is still speculation over which way the decision will go. Sooner or later Telengana will become a reality but, that is because the will of the people of the region seems so strong. The thought that worries most observers though is who will lead the region? Given the corrupt nature of the present set of political leaders, it may be time the JAC consolidated behind a new set of leaders. It may be time to show that consolidation electorally and stop the movement from being a mere pawn to build political fortunes for a select few.
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