ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Centrist Polity, Decentred Politics

Notes from Telangana

Ajay Gudavarthy (gajay99@rediffmail.com) teaches at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

How has Telangana fared in the last two years? The author’s field visit suggests that water and agrarian distress continue to be an issue, with Muslims and the youth disillusioned with the government in the new state. 

In a few months the new state of Telangana will be two years old. Most of the states formed recently on the plank of development and not on linguistic criterion have not fared well. Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, formed in the name of the tribals, have not benefitted the tribals in any visible measure. Telangana was formed after a prolonged agitation and popular protest, largely as a fall out of deep agrarian crisis, growing unemployment and cultural denigration. How is Telangana doing now?

Distress Symbols

The most visible change has been in the situation regarding power supply. Power supply, that was not only irregular but also contributed to agrarian crisis, has improved dramatically. Today all villages get uninterrupted power supply to the households and six hours for the agricultural purposes, which the new government has promised to increase to nine hours in the next few months. After assuming power the government had immediately announced a loan waiver up to 1 lakh rupees per family. However this was revised to be waived in installments of 25% every six months. According to the farmers this has not really helped them to get rid of the loans. Instead they continue to reel under debts as most of the waiver is being used to pay the interests and the principle amount is being repaid only partially in small amounts. Further, farmers pointed out that there is no policy for providing support price, or subsidies on in-puts such as fertilizers and no compensation is being provided for crop failure.

Water continues to be a major problem in much of Telangana. This is because most of the projects are either contested under water tribunal or many of the pending projects have not been cleared or completed. Government has instead taken up the project called “Mission Kakatiya” under which old lakes, ponds and other water bodies that had dried up are re-dug, hoping that a good monsoon will fill them up. In a few districts free borewells are being supplied, however the ground water level is too low (in most cases bores go as deep as 800 m to strike water). Similarly, under “Mission Bhagiratha” the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government has promised tap water for every household.

Labour and wages remain the other major problems in the agrarian sector. While wages have not risen for the landless after the formation of Telangana, farmers holding land continue to complain about the lack of the availability of labour making agriculture untenable. Many of the farmers now demand that the labour under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) needs to be shifted for agricultural purposes instead of other developmental activities, which they believe in any case, are not of much use. The policy of Re 1/kg rice scheme with 6 kg of rice per person is a very effective scheme providing great relief to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. Along with Re 1/kg rice scheme, the government’s pension scheme is also popular in the rural hinterlands of Telangana. The new government has increased the pension amount from Rs 200 to Rs 1000. However, the previous government under Rajsekhar Reddy provided pension to all villagers above the age of 65. The new government has introduced the additional criterion of only those holding below 7 acres of land as being eligible for pension. This has burdened many of the octogenarians in the villages as the land they hold is being tilled and distributed among the sons since they are not fit enough to do it themselves. While the sons do not share the profits the government has made them ineligible for pension. Many of the old even complained of living without a roof over their heads either in public places like the temples or with other relatives. The intergenerational tension and abandoning of the old seemed to be a fast enveloping problem in much of Telangana. In the last one year, after the formation of Telangana close to 900 farmers have committed suicides, only next to Maharashtra where 2568 farmers committed suicide. Agrarian crisis was the single most important reason why the demand for Telangana erupted; questions need to be raised if it continues to be of priority for the new government. While it has disbursed a range of welfare oriented policies (most of which are a continuation of the policies formulated by the previous Rajsekhar Reddy’s government) the agrarian crisis is yet to be averted and it needs some pressing and fast paced steps from the government to avert further deaths of the farmers.

Marginalised Groups

Similarly, alongside the farmers are the youth and the Muslims, two other social groups that remain marginalised in Telangana. Under the previous Rajsekhar Reddy’s government Muslims were awarded 4% reservations as part of the Other Backward Class (OBC) reservations. The new TRS government has promised to enhance it to 12%. The Subramanium Committee instituted in 2007 identified 28 groups out of which 14 groups were made ineligible for reservations due to their superior social status, including sects such as Sheiks, Sayeeds, Pathans, among others.  These, in a sense, are perhaps few communities that can afford higher education but having been denied the provision of reservations, we find almost 80% drop outs among Muslims. There is an impending need to provide educational loans, and build hostels, which contributed in a big way towards improving literacy among the scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (STs). The most popular policy that has struck a chord among the Muslims is Shaadi Mubarak where the government offers Rs 50,000 to perform the marriage of girls from economically weaker sections (the counter part for the Hindus is called “Kalyana Laxmi,” with similar grant). Most of the Muslims continue to be self-employed and without land holding in the rural hinterlands of Telangana. They continue to live under conditions of social segregation, fear and many a time implicated in false cases of crime. Culturally, Telangana had a strong element of Sufi tradition, and even today large number of Muslims visit dargahs along with Hindus. Perhaps, political parties such as the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) are not the best representatives of this tradition. It is an everyday tussle between the social and political worlds. It is in this context one can read the recent Chandi Yagam that the chief Minister KCR performed at a whopping cost of 7 crores in order to balance his pro-Muslim policies, including appointing a Muslim as the deputy CM, with the purported interests and imagination of the majority Hindu community. Its also a move to capture the space that BJP-RSS (Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) combine has been laboriously building with manufactured issues of Charminar being built over the destruction of a temple and recalling the memory of Nizam’s rule and role of Razakars in wantonly using physical force against the Hindus.

Finally, the youth had played a pivotal role in leading the struggle for a separate state, including many who committed suicide. They were aspiring for a better future in the new state. There have been no new scholarships and the announced policy of free “KG to PG” education has not taken off on a serious note. The astounding cost of education in private institutions has not been regulated as it was time and again debated during the heydays of the movement for a separate state. There is still a high premium among the youth in smaller towns and villages to get government jobs—police constables and school teachers being the most sought after. Education is certainly not in the priority list of the new government and employment in both public and private sector is difficult and slow to expand. Of all the three groups youth remain perhaps the most disillusioned after the formation of the new state.

Conclusions

The dynamics in Telangana are part of a larger process across the country. It is the tension between growing aspirations and limited capacity of the state to deliver; people are launching big time struggles for small time benefits; deeper social fragmentation is being compensated by tenuous political alliances. The idealism that breathed power into a struggle for a separate state is converting into everyday pragmatism. There seem to be very few options outside of this process.

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