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Saturday, November 27, 2021

In the Face of Pepper Spray

Jairam Ramesh reveals all about the formation of Telengana but avoids a crucial question.

Written by Ajay Gudavarthy |
Updated: August 27, 2016 12:15:07 am
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IT IS indeed very rare for active politicians to write a book on recent political events because what is written when they are out of power might come to haunt them when they come back to power. To that extent, this book by Jairam Ramesh, who was actively involved in the formation of a separate state of Telangana, is a much-needed attempt to narrate things as they happened within the Congress party and the government. It sheds some light on who played what role and how the Group of Ministers (GoM) came to decide on the governing principles of bifurcation.

Most readers would be eager to know: why was Telangana formed? Who were the key actors in taking this decision? The book is of interest not merely because it is an intriguing insider account but also because Telangana was a very difficult decision to take. It meant siding with a political group that was weaker in terms of money power and political presence. All the lobbying by the Joint Action Committee in the heyday of the Telangana movement could have been scuttled, even if not very easily. It needed an extraordinary sense of history and some sense of justice for the decision to be taken against a very powerful lobby run by the leaders of coastal Andhra.

On this point, Ramesh plays safe by noting that, “I have no inside knowledge of the ‘why’ nor can I shed any new light on it over and above all the speculation that already exists in the public domain”. The author neither refers to what kind of speculation existed nor does he elaborate on its accuracy. Instead, he argues the book is about “how Telangana came into being once a decision had been taken to create it and what decisions got taken in that process”.

The lack of clarity on why Telangana was created and whether or not this was the best way to resolve the long-standing complaint of backwardness and “internal colonisation” is perhaps apparent in the book’s account of how the decisions regarding the modalities of bifurcation came to be taken. While there is some acknowledgement that his party recognised the backwardness of Telangana, the process he narrates and the decisions that came to be taken do not, however, seem to be guided by the commitment to undoing a historical wrong.

The decisions seem to have been taken by treating Telangana and coastal Andhra at par. What, then, was the pressure to form a separate state?

This, in a sense, gets reflected in Ramesh’s concluding observation that, “In the successor state of Andhra Pradesh, I am still considered a villain and in the state of Telangana, I am believed to have bent over backwards to appease Seemandhra sentiments.” This is a rather candid admission, which was reflected in the political fortunes of the Congress in the assembly elections in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in 2014. The party was nearly wiped out in Andhra Pradesh, and fared worse than expected in Telangana.

The nuts and bolts narration in this book sheds light on how tenuous the situation was — even after a long period of consultations. There was a possibility that the decision could fail to come through at many stages, including when a Congress MP decided to use pepper spray to disturb the proceedings.

Ramesh narrates quite a few interesting incidents where he had to convince his own party members, who were up in arms, both inside and outside Parliament. In one particular incident, BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu decided to move three or four amendments to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, 2014, in the Rajya Sabha. Ramesh writes, “My heart sank when I heard this. If these amendments were to pass, the government would be in a serious bind and we would have to go back to the Lok Sabha for approval. And there was no time for that.”

The book is divided into three parts, where the first part is a historical narration of the various points in time when the demand for a separate state became urgent, which is largely based on archival work. The second deals with the process that kicked in after the decision to bifurcate Andhra was was announced, including the formation of the GoM led by the then home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde. The last part of the book is a string of personal anecdotes in the course of a year after the announcement of the decision to form a separate state.
The second part is the longest and it sheds light on the various meetings that took place as part of the working of the GoM. The proceedings included debates on special status to Andhra Pradesh, role and powers of the governor, status of Hyderabad, education and Article 371-D, Polavaram dam and issues of displacement, managing water resources, and internal security concerns. Here, one gets a sense of the opposing concerns and claims and how the GoM managed to arrive at a decision.

Ajay Gudavarthy is at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU

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