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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Falling into the Telangana trap

Proponents of a separate state rely more on propaganda than fact.

Written by Parakala Prabhakar | Published: September 6, 2013 3:46:06 am

Proponents of a separate state rely more on propaganda than fact.

The Congress party’s recent decision to support the formation of Telangana by dividing Andhra Pradesh has understandably brought the issue of redrawing the political map of India into sharper focus. Ashutosh Varshney flags off two important positions in his ‘Not only Telangana’ (IE,August 27) — the need to resolve the arguments for state formation “on a systemic basis and to set up the contemporary grounds of state formation”,which leads him to bat for the formation of a fresh States Reorganisation Commission (SRC); and the need for inoculating institutional restructuring against “electoral motivations”.

Political formations are not unfamiliar with these positions. Both positions enjoy a general consensus among the main political parties. The Congress Working Committee’s 2001 resolution sought the establishment of an SRC. When it comes to Mayawati’s proposal to divide Uttar Pradesh into four states,the BJP wants to refer it to an SRC. By implication,both the main formations,as well as others,are,in principle,not in favour of allowing electoral considerations to dictate state formation. Both the BJP and the Congress termed the Mayawati proposal as an electoral gimmick.

However,it is only in the case of Telangana that both the main political formations and some other smaller ones depart from their stated positions. It is on the question of Telangana that Varshney and political parties are,strangely,in concert: political parties for electoral considerations,and Varshney on account of his flawed examination of the rationale behind the demand for the division of Andhra and the creation of a new Telangana state.

Varshney seems to have been sold on the propaganda that the Telangana demand is an old one,and that it has widespread public support. It was only in 1969 that there was a demand for the creation of Telangana after Andhra was created. It collapsed within a year and a half. For over three and a half decades,until 2002,there was not even a faint voice for a separate state from the region. Interestingly,when the other two regions — Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema — agitated in 1972 for a separate state,the Telangana statehood protagonists either kept quiet or worked for unity. This was within a couple years after the Telangana agitation collapsed.

Until the recently held panchayat elections,electoral outcomes since 2004 were at best unconvincing on whether the separate-state platform has widespread electoral support. The 2009 electoral performance of the platform was pathetic. The only exceptions are a few by-elections held under politically charged circumstances. Proponents of a separate Telangana advance four sets of arguments: economic,political,historical and cultural/ linguistic. Interestingly,they more or less came sequentially. One set followed another after the earlier set was conclusively proved to be false. When data did not support the economic exploitation/ backwardness argument,the political argument came about. When that also proved to be infirm,a historical argument was brought in. After that too did not sustain in the face of evidence that the Telugu people were divided between the British and Nizam dispensations only for about one and a half centuries out of their two and a half millennia of known history,the cultural argument was brought to the fore.

Of these,Varshney rightly disposes of the economic argument. He doesn’t take on board the historical set. Again,rightly so. He,however,seems to be persuaded by the cultural and political arguments. Telugu cinema’s portrayal of Telangana doesn’t fall under the “influential” political philosopher Charles Taylor’s category of “contemptible images”. A south Indian’s portrayal in Padosan hardly represents Bollywood’s typical treatment of south Indians. If only Varshney did a more rigorous and comprehensive content analysis of Tollywood,he would have found the insinuation frivolous,and would not have concluded that “Telangana movement simply represents the politics of dignity”.

Varshney finds the political narrative of the agitation compelling only because he,perhaps unwittingly,falls into the “Telangana vs Rest of Andhra Pradesh” trap. When he looked at the tenures of chief ministers,he should have disaggregated the tenures of leaders hailing from the three regions other than Telangana on the one hand and Seemandhra as one coalesced category on the other. He would have got a better picture. If anything,it is Rayalaseema,a smaller region,that has provided a disproportionately large number of chief ministers. Varshney should have known that caste rather than region plays a more important role in such matters. After all,one of our best prime ministers,P.V. Narasimha Rao,came from Telangana.

If Varshney came to the conclusion that “Telangana deserves statehood” on the basis of his impression that “political and cultural marginalisation is acutely felt” in the region,a more rigorous examination of the issues ought to lead him to a different conclusion.

The writer is a political commentator based in Hyderabad

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