Home of Telugu spirit? Global city? Hyderabad is neither and both.
From the nizam to Naidu and from Charminar to Cyberabad, Hyderabad has travelled a long way. If, under the nizam, Hyderabad chose to be politically isolated from the rest of the country, Chandrababu Naidu journeyed the other way. He attempted to make Hyderabad India’s gateway to the rest of the world by transforming it into a “world-class” city, comparable with Asian cities like Singapore and Shanghai. The city soon became India’s signature calling card for the success of economic reforms as well as its claim to global significance.
Underlying the spectacular transformation of the city were the local elites’ ambitions of wealth, power and recognition. Hyderabad was supposed to signal the arrival of Andhra Pradesh as a big player on the national scene. It was, therefore, not merely a centre for economic growth but also a political investment. And yet, quite ironically, it was Hyderabad’s rise that probably also fuelled the demand for Telangana and the division of the state.
It was the city again that energised the counter-movement for a united Andhra. But the range of emotions on display over the last couple of years, including envy and despair, hurt and pain as well as greed and anger, does not necessarily represent any real passion and loyalty to the city. It is not the city itself, its rich history, ethos or culture, but the more recent Brand Hyderabad, and the value the brand offers, that the protagonists love.
Hyderabad’s phenomenal expansion made it the second largest and sixth most populous urban development area in the country, and the largest contributor to the state’s tax revenues and GDP. Much before it achieved iconic status and became the favoured site for IT-related services, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, it was like its IT cousin, Bangalore, the preferred location for numerous public sector units, central research and development institutions and defence establishments.
At the same time, it hosts the largest concentration of some of the finest educational and health facilities in the state, if not the country. Besides this, Hyderabad is also home to numerous high-end research and development centres, both in the public and private sector. It also has more special economic zones in its suburbs than any other city. To many, Hyderabad offered an El Dorado of opportunities.
Among its other attractions has been its pluralism, which has been an integral part of the city’s life. From the nizam’s imported
soldiers and Arab trader settlers, independent India’s government machinery and public sector units to the post-liberalisation service industry, Hyderabad has constantly made space for a diverse population. It is home to multiple religions, languages and cultures. It is a city where India’s north, south, east and west blend almost seamlessly.
This resultant eclectic mix is an essential part of the city’s composite culture. Yet, Hyderabad is probably everybody’s and nobody’s at the same time. This is best exemplified during holidays like sankranti, a time when the city almost empties itself and the usually busy and clogged streets wear a deserted look. It may be the happening city, but Hyderabad is obviously not home to the majority of its residents.
The Hyderabad boom is a very recent one and was fuelled by an obsessive determination to emerge the best in the inter-city competition, and to better what others had to offer, both in terms of image and standards. The city’s integration with the global economy, achieved through investment opportunities and outsourcing services, pushed it hard. It witnessed the development of new infrastructure, including an impressive airport, good roads, new housing facilities in the form of high-rise residential blocks, glitzy shopping malls and swanky hotels.
This matched the dreams, demands and aspirations of a new middle class, especially from smaller towns and cities across India. This predominantly young lot probably consciously chose not to move to the dominant powerhouse cities, were priced out or were simply using the city as an intermediary halt before they moved on.
It is the same tenuous connection that the city has with our protagonists today. Despite Hyderabad having been the capital of Andhra Pradesh, the first linguistically formed state, there is nothing Telugu about it. Until it became the happening city, it was merely the administrative centre of the state and there was actually no real emotional connect between the capital city and large sections of the population. For those in the Telangana region of Andhra, though they are geographically near it, Hyderabad was probably associated with the nizam and feudal rule. For the coastal and Rayalaseema regions, Hyderabad was both geographically and culturally distant, and it was the city of Madras to which they gravitated to. \
It was only with the coming of N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the 1980s that Hyderabad began to acquire some visible elements of being the capital of the Telugu homeland. As chief minister, NTR set out to consciously promote and honour Telugu culture and history. Among other things, he established a Telugu University in the heart of the capital, erected a gate named after the first Telugu rulers, the Kakatiyas, and put up statues of iconic Telugu literary and historical figures.
It was also during this period that the Telugu film industry shifted from Madras to Hyderabad. However, with Naidu at the helm of the TDP, Telugu took a back seat and the dominant project was to remake it as a global city. The city was only an instrument to satisfy the rising economic and political ambitions of the elite.
Hyderabad is therefore an exemplar of both a lopsided development process and a political entrepreneurialism gone awry. While it provided the infrastructure and processes necessary to implement economic globalisation, its own rise sounded the death knell for many other towns and cities. And yet, Hyderabad or no Hyderabad, the Telugu spirit will keep ticking. At the same time, whether you love it or not, the city too will move on.