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The Telangana Tangle Begins to Unravel

Anant Maringanti (amaringanti@gmail.com) is with the Hyderabad Urban Lab.

Notwithstanding the popular upsurge for the separate state of Telangana, it is clear that when the state is actually created it will be on capitalist turf and on capitalist terms. The declaration has been made on the basis of electoral compulsions of the Congress party that has pledged to abandon the nominal socialist agenda, which characterised the earlier aspirations for a separate state .

The 30th July announcement of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coordination committee and the Congress Working Committee (CWC), on Telangana has been described by popular media variously as separation, demerger and creation of a new state. Given the immediate context, this is understandable. In reality, if the UPA government is as good as its word, at the end of the winter parliament session, two new states Telangana and Andhra will arise from the present Andhra Pradesh. It is yet unclear whether the four districts of Rayalaseema will go entirely to Andhra or if the region will be split in two.

Whither Hyderabad?

While all speculation is centred on the future of Hyderabad city and the possible location of the capital for the Andhra state, the studied silence of the Congress party on the question of Hyderabad and Rayalaseema is ominous. On the question of Hyderabad, all that the Congress party has announced is that Hyderabad would be the joint capital for the two states for 10 years. This is precisely where the anxieties of the Telangana people lie: that a joint capital for ten years with central oversight will effectively safeguard the continued dominance of the Andhra and Rayalaseema elites on the city. Yet, this is also where the anxieties of the large middle class and working class poor from Andhra and Rayalaseema regions lie: that if the city is governed by the Telangana state alone, their personal safety and security would be undermined.

It is inconceivable that such a joint capital can be administered without some central oversight. Yet, apparently for tactical reasons, the Congress party has not used the term Union Territory. For now, there are two extreme case scenarios. In terms of domains of control, the central control could be limited to law and order for a limited period. Or it could be much more extensive to include taxation and land revenue administration. In terms of territorial extent, the central control could be at a minimum over the 700 square kilometers of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and at a maximum it could be over the entire 7100 square kilometers of Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority. This larger territory includes 11 Industrial Area Local Authorities (including Cyberabad) in the vicinity of GHMC; two special planning zones (Cyberabad and Hyderabad Airport Area); two municipalities – Sangareddy and Bhongir, several Special Economic Zones, 38 census towns and over 700 panchayats in Medak, Nalgonda, Mahboobagar districts besides Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts. In terms of political representation, this area includes 7 out of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state and 34 out of the 294 assembly constituencies.

The silence on Rayalaseema has to do with the Congress party’s electoral calculations. Two of the four districts in Rayalaseema – Kurnool and Anantapur have a significant number of Muslim voters. The Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen, which has generally been an ally of the Congress party, has demanded that these two districts be included in the Telangana state. Doing so, could also serve the purpose of isolating the troublesome YSR Congress party led by Y S Jaganmohan Reddy whose home base in Rayalaseema would be split in two. Cuddapah, the home district of Jaganmohan Reddy itself along with the Chitoor, will become part of Andhra.

These are difficult enough waters for the Congress even without considering the chorus of long standing separate state demands that has risen up from several other regions in the last week. To complicate matters, the Bharatiya Janata Party has declared that in principle they support Telangana but they are opposed to the hasty manner in which it is being done. In sum, it is anybody’s guess whether the UPA government which managed to pass a mere 49 out of 146 pending bills in the last six sessions of the Parliament will be able to pass the Telangana bill in the winter session.

Clearly, the future hangs in a balance for all political parties in more than one sense. But what is certain is that the regimes of capital accumulation that have developed in United Andhra Pradesh are unraveling. The uneasy alliances among the elites of the three regions that held these regimes of accumulation have broken down to a degree where it is impossible for them to continue on the old terms. The bone of contention for now is Hyderabad and its wealth creating possibilities. However, even as the fight has been going on over the last decade, new centres of accumulation have emerged however tentatively. Nellore has emerged as potential centre for manufacturing and other industrial production. Guntur has the promise of a new port and a reorganised agrarian hinterland with the promise of Polavaram dam which is now given the status of a national project. Visakhapatnam, already a port, with a large mining hinterland in the Eastern Ghats has attracted sizeable investments in the entertainment and tourism sector besides a large chemical industry and pharmaceutical investments. These new urban centres in coastal Andhra are equipped to seize new and unpredictable opportunities in the global markets just as Hyderabad was in the mid 1990s with its reserve army of labour for the global IT and IT Enabled Services industry.

The Fading of “Socialist Andhra”

If there is one tragic irony in all this, it is that very few people appear to remember that the manifesto for the creation of a greater Andhra was written by Pucchalapalli Sundarayya, a leader of the Communist Party of India in 1946, at the height of the Telangana peasant struggle. This was done in a small book published that year titled ‘Visalandhralo Praja rajyam’ which loosely translates as “Peoples rule in the greater Andhra”. The book was not merely an appeal for merging all Telugu speaking regions. It was a detailed road map for socialist development in the entire region. However, by the time that greater Andhra was actually created in 1956 under the name of Andhra Pradesh that socialist aspiration was already fading into a memory. The state was after all created through what is referred to as a “gentlemen’s agreement”– an agreement among the elites. In 1972 after three years of uncertainty when waves of popular protests in both regions were followed by elite capture, that aspiration was reiterated by revolutionary and progressive poets and writers like SriSri, Kaloji and Cherabanda Raju. Yet there were others like revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, who firmly believed that the separate Telangana would only be the right step towards deepening radicalisation and advancement of a socialist development agenda.

There is a further irony here in that the popular upsurge demanding Telangana over the last decade notwithstanding, it is clear that when the state is actually created it will be on capitalist turf and on capitalist terms and through the electoral compulsions of a party that has pledged to abandon the nominal socialist agenda. Under these circumstances, one thing that is certain is that the disaffection among the elites that currently dominates the mood will give way. New articulations and alliances will emerge soon among the elites. The more interesting question is whether and how a new aspiration for peoples’ rule in each of the states will be articulated.    

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