The Telangana agitation in December 2009 was not a first, but it drastically changed the dynamics of this agitation. Before 2009 also many were fighting for separate Telangana and the emergence of Telangana Rashtra Samati (TRS) a decade earlier implied an underlying sentiment that the party desired to tap.
Many people in Telangana region did have some grievances, but many such people didn’t feel that a separate state would benefit them. While the number of people supporting separate state was significant, those neutral/ opposing it was also considerable. Hence, the movement never gained momentum required to scale up this into mass uprising involving support from all sections of society.
Movement in 1969
In 1969, the movement was primarily from dissatisfied government employees and students who were the first to perceive the negligence, exploitation, step-motherly treatment etc. and protested against state government. Needless to say, the movement was crushed brutally. Noteworthy to mention here is that a new outfit named Telangana Praja Samithi that capitalized on this sentiment braved the nationwide Indira Gandhi wave and won handsomely in this region. In a tragic twist however, Chinna Reddy, the leader of TPS, merged with Congress in lieu of some safeguards for people of this region.
In hindsight, 1969 failed due to following major reasons:
- The agitation was spearheaded by government employees and students and had not yet acquired all-inclusive appeal.
- It was positioned as Anti-Andhra which threatened settlers. This did not go well with many sections of society including at national level.
- Lack of media support that curbed dissemination of information and crippled propaganda.
- It was eventually dependent on politicians, who at their first opportunity encashed the sentiment and let it go.
Events leading to 2009
Telugu Desam Party established on the plank of ‘Telugu Pride’ at once appeared to dissolve regional feeling within AP and with Chandrababu Naidu putting Hyderabad in world’s map; things seemed to have settled in this issue.
When CBN appeared invincible around 2000, even Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, then opposition leader asked his colleagues in Congress from Telangana region to raise this issue. Later, K Chandrasekhar Rao, a TDP member, espoused this cause when he failed to get a cabinet position and formed Telangana Rashtra Samati. And thus began the second phase of the movement.
TRS initially allied with Congress in 2004 elections; but allied with TDP in 2009.While TRS gained in 2004 elections, the same cannot be said of 2009.The switch of loyalties from Congress to TDP did precious little to strengthen TRS. The towering presence of YSR ensured that no inroads were made in this direction during his reign. TRS’ lackluster performance in 2009 sealed the fate of this movement – or so it appeared.
When by a quirk of fate, a helicopter carrying YSR crashed, a political vacuum was created. Sensing an opportunity, KCR embarked upon the fast – a fast that was to change the course of history of AP. During the 3rd or 4th day, I even heard rumors that KCR had abandoned the fast upon reaching an agreement with government leading to widespread outburst by OU students and other Telangana supporters. Caught between devil and deep blue sea, KCR had to persist on continuing fast while his party members quickly rebuffed these reports as politically motivated.
All these efforts bore fruit on 9th December 2009 – when Chidambaram announced the steps would be initiated to carve out Telangana region. A tide of celebrations swept this region and even cynical and neutral people found a reason to be happy.
But this was just the beginning of another episode – culminating in Chidambaram’s announcement on 22nd December indicating clear reversal of stand taken on 9th December.
No other factor united the people of this region as strongly as this reversal did. Telangana just crossed the tipping point.
Telangana movement may be divided as pre-22nd Dec and post-22nd Dec in history.
Why 2009 won’t be like 1969?
That a decision by Centre was subverted due to pressure from Seemandhra leaders led to widespread anger among the people. Even the neutral/pro-united people were aghast that years of toil had been undermined. Ironically, this led many to reason out that things should have been really favorable to Seemandhra at the tremendous cost to Telangana in the present setup that it evoked such mass counter-agitation.
And when few statements from these leaders came forth, they turned the tide of public opinion decisively in its favor. Long pent up feeling of humiliation and prosecution came to fore. Most of these people weren’t really sure if Telangana had been victimized and exploited with respect to water, jobs etc, but they had experienced first hand the ridicule of their dialect and their lifestyle.
They began questioning as to why all movies should project them as comedians or villains. Why no protagonist speaks in their dialect? The claim of Seemandhra on Hyderabad was the last straw on the camel’s back. People were astonished to hear the claim that a 400 year old city was ‘developed’ by Seemandhras.
Frankly speaking, the ridicule of dialect and lifestyle is common in India, given its diversity. But ridiculing people in their own region is what made this appear in poor light.
In relatively shorter hindsight (as we are not yet aware of where this could lead to) we can say that the following reasons were responsible for 2009’s success till now.
- Media : Electronic and print media initially over-hyped the agitation to get better TRPs. However with situation getting out of control, media was more circumspect in reporting. In this crucial nascent stage, the idea was kept alive through internet especially blogs (that reach few audiences) and distribution of pamplets and folk songs (mainly for villagers.) But for better reach, it was necessary that electronic and print media be explored. With T.News and Namaste Telangana, this was achieved.
- Positioning: Parakala Prabhakar [he heads Visalandhra Mahasabha, dedicated to cause of united AP] while analyzing the movement contends that linking together love for Telangana and separate state cause – this communication strategy helped this movement. But this movement had also to considerable extent de-linked T-movement with anti-Andhra. It’s positioned as ‘common man’ vs. ‘greedy capitalists’ thus integrating ‘common Seemandhra people’ with T-movement. This is by far its greatest success.
- Brand Laddering: A book named “My Telugu Roots” by Nalamotu Chakravarthy provided statistical evidence to debunk allegations of Telangana region backwardness. This is refuted by Sujai, a pro-Telangana blogger here. Meanwhile, Sri Krishna Committee report while asserting that Rayalaseema is more backward than Telangana, made statistical observations that showed that T region is not all that backward. While this put public in confusion, the revelation of secret 8th chapter suggesting measures to ‘manage’ the movement caused uproar. Faced with these confusing statistics, for whatsoever reasons, Telangana movement was fast laddered as a demand for jobs, water, (rational aspects) to self-rule and self-respect (emotional aspect). While this point is regularly projected by pro-united-AP as lack of ‘proper’ reasons, it definitely helped the cause, as it was no longer necessary to defend statistics. Finally, it’s ‘We want Telangana because we want it’.
- Popular ground base and political support: The sheer ground base forced all parties in this region to out-do each other as champions for this cause. All opposition was now stupid as it now concerned the parties’ very survival.
- TRS, for some reasons, that I cannot fathom is working in strange fashion, diluting the movement whenever it reaches the emotional peak. During the recent Sakala Janula Samme, the government employees dropped out at last due to sheer exhaustion. Of course, few argue justly that they infact lost nothing.
- Over-targeting of TDP smacks of tacit understanding of TRS with Congress, for I cannot understand how TDP can be more responsible for delay of Telangana state than ruling Congress. How come TDP becomes Telangana Drohula Party whereas every silly antic from Congress, like they have confidential information that Madam is favorable etc., is welcomed? Targeted smear campaign against TDP makes many question the commitment TRS has towards the cause; or is it just to consolidate gains.
- Forgive my digressing from topic for a moment – In Mahabharata’s Kurukshetra war – on the 15th day of war after Dronacharya is killed unjustly, Ashwatthama, his son hurls a potent weapon named Narayanastra. This weapon cannot be countered by any other weapon, and destroys one who attempts to face it. The only way to escape it is to give up combat and let it pass. In the current scenario, knowing the potency of the sentiment all forms of overt opposition is given up. And everybody is waiting for the sentiment to die down naturally.
- The delay is more because of Centre's apathy rather than Seemandhra lobby. But more delay may upset the fragile balance and create more problems.
- Apathy from leaders – both at regional and national level. For some reason, there is no concrete action from leaders. Everytime, and now it appears funny, we have leaders saying that they are privy to confidential info that in backdoors all is well for Telangana. And announcement will come after the next festival.
- The undue delay is creating heartache to both pro and neutral communities in (Hyderabad atleast.) The recent Sakala Janula Samme, was a case in point. While the pro-groups feel betrayed that their genuine demand is not being respected, the neutral groups feel the heat of inconvenience caused due to strikes. Animosity is being created among the society of no fault of either group. Many 'settlers' are favorable to Telangana cause, or atleast indifferent to it; these strikes are forcing few to shift their position to anti-Telangana. This is not good for all stakeholders of Hyderabad, as the destinies of all communities are intertwined.
The initial euphoria gave place to cynicism, given the prolonged delay in taking any meaningful steps towards achievement of Telangana.
Let’s hope that peace prevails and prosperity grows in Telugu speaking regions by successful conclusion of this problem.