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October 11, 2013

State of chaos

The Union government, has squandered the opportunity to develop a proper transition plan in Andhra Pradesh and has instead chosen to make an ill timed political decision.

The Congress led UPA Government finds itself in an Andhra pickle. Sentiments in non-Telangana Andhra – now called Seemandhra – are (chili) hot. A power shut down in all thirteen districts of Seemandhra — from Srikakulam in the North to Chitoor in the South and Anantapur in the West – has resulted in closure of electric rail lines, ATMs, petrol pumps and cable services. Vizianagaram, a town in coastal Andhra, was the worst hit and a curfew was imposed on October 5th in the wake of large-scale violence.

telangana

Andhra State (sans the Telangana region) was formed in 1953 from the Telugu speaking districts of the Madras province. The agitation and violence to keep Madras City in the newly created Andhra Pradesh was not successful. That agitation claimed the life of activist Potti Sriramulu and the political life of then Madras Chief Minister T Prakasam, who resigned. Without access to Madras, Kurnool became the first capital of Andhra State on November 1, 1953.  The State Reorganisation Commission had recommended that the Telangana region of the Nizam’s territories be continued as a separate state. However, on the basis of an Agreement called the Gentlemen’s Agreement on November 1, 1956, the Telugu-speaking areas of the former Hyderabad state merged with the Andhra state to form the state of Andhra Pradesh. The city of Hyderabad, the former capital of the Hyderabad State, was made the capital of the new state at that time.

The Gentlemen’s Agreement, in turn, drew inspiration from an earlier agreement made between politicians from coastal Andhra and Rayalseema in 1937 called the Sribagh Pact.  This agreement was born from Rayalseema’s insecurity in a future combined state dominated by those from coastal Andhra. The Sribagh pact stipulated that when an Andhra state was formed the state capital and high courts would be in the Rayalseema region and not in coastal Andhra. And hence Kurnool as the first capital.

Many of the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh since that time have indeed been from Seemandhra — K Bramhananda Reddy (Guntur), N T Rama Rao (Krishna), N Chandra Babu Naidu (Chitoor) and Y S Rajasekhar Reddy (Cuddapah) among them. The notable exceptions were M Chenna Reddy (Ranga Reddy) and P V Narasimha Rao (Karim Nagar), lending credence to the original worry from Telangana that those from Rayalseema and coastal Andhra would dominate the state. Paradoxically, P V Narasimha Rao lost his Chief Ministership in 1973 after a brief stint in the wake of the Supreme Court upholding “Mulki Rules”, in effect giving pre-Independence rights to citizens of Hyderabad State. Andhra integrationists forced him out of office claiming that the interests of Seemandhra were not adequately looked after by a Telangana Chief Minister. In the President’s rule that followed the Government of India under K C Pant and in discussion with several State politicians evolved a six point formula relating to accelerated development of backward areas and equal access to opportunity. This found expression in the 32nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution in 1974.  Many believe that it is the failure to implement the Six Point formula that lead again to the Telangana agitations.

While there seem to be very few gentlemen in the current picture, a history of sorts is repeating. The fight to keep everything together – now christened a tongue twisting Samaikyandhra — is really a fight for Hyderabad in a fashion similar to what it was with the fight for Madras (or indeed the fight for Bombay from Gujarat at the same time). The counter argument to split the state is really a “time-out” on the gentlemen’s agreement that put two disparate regions (both Telugu speaking) together in 1956.

After having given written consent (the political correspondence released recently makes for interesting reading), Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress and N Chandra Babu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) have gone on hunger fasts in Hyderabad and Delhi respectively. With the Andhra power grid on the verge of collapse, the whole state of Andhra is pickling in the heat. To add fuel to that fire and to mix some metaphors, Northern Andhra is under a cyclone warning for the next few days.  Alas, when it rains, it really does pour.

What next?

The situation is fluid and it is difficult to predict the sequence of events.  A set of circumstances, caused either by mismanagement or serendipity, can tip the cart towards large-scale violence and rioting.  That in turn will invite the reserve forces and possibly the Army. If the situation gets fully out of control, then President’s rule becomes a distinct possibility.

My bet is that a new Telangana state will be born, though the exact time is unpredictable. A critical step in the process is a resolution by the State Assembly. The Congress and the TRS have 172 out of 294 seats in the legislative Assembly. Despite being a member of the Congress party, current Chief Minister, Kiran Kumar Reddy, is against the bifurcation of the state. If he continues his opposition, he is likely to be removed as Chief Minister. The Congress will have to actively consider issuing a whip (unprecedented for State division) to vote in favour of the resolution.

The weight of history and decades of agitation will finally prevail and the 10 districts of the former Hyderabad State will be free of the Gentlemen’s Agreement.  One of the first decisions for the remaining State will be to figure out where the new Capital will eventually (after ten years) be located. The candidates for this are Kurnool (of 1953 fame), Guntur-Vijaywada and Vishakapatnam.  A few other non-mainstream cities, such as Ongole and Rajahmundry, have been suggested but are unlikely.

Learning from the previous experience of Bihar/Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh/Chattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh/Uttarakhand the state bureaucratic machinery and laws will clone themselves for the two sides.  Officers will also split between the two states though there may be some intense lobbying in the initial stages. The real challenge will be on water, electricity and access to ports. The Telangana region is land-locked, barren, and water and electricity short.  It has complex developmental issues of an arid region and rampant Naxalism to deal with.  In contrast, Seemandhra has ample natural resources, good transportation network including road, rail and ports, and is reasonably well developed with only a marginal Naxal presence. Despite all the smoke, the fight is therefore really all about Hyderabad.

It is indeed a pity that the main point of discussion is the cash cow nature of Hyderabad and the proximity to elections – all political parties that are agitating are responsible for the inconvenience and the chaos that is upon us. Prior to this point, the Central Government has had adequate time to develop a proper transition plan and to deal rigorously with all the issues that arise from the split. It has squandered that opportunity, choosing instead to make an ill-timed political decision without thinking through the details and without bothering to win friends and influence people in its favour on both sides of the state divide.  The empowered Group of Ministers (GoM) will now have to evolve a political settlement that appeases the agitators. Given that the agitators were in favour of the split, the prognosis for a settlement is good. But the effort must be made so the chaos ends sooner rather than later.

For the Congress, the Andhra pickle may well turn really tart before it can be recovered.

Photo: SriHarsha PVSS

 The piece has been updated to reflect certain changes.


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