Hyderabad: Telangana activists will return to the streets this week to ratchet up pressure on the central government after mass resignations by members of Parliament (MPs) and Andhra Pradesh state lawmakers from the region underlined rare unity of purpose behind the cause of a separate state and opened another front against the embattled United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Volunteers of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC), an umbrella group of pro-Telangana organizations, will set up makeshift kitchens on the region’s roads (except in Hyderabad) on 12 July to feed supporters, and stop trains on 14 July by piling on to railway tracks, said M. Kodandaram, convenor of the committee. Plans for a railway blockade on 8-9 July were earlier dropped.
On 13 July, Telangana employees of the state government will serve notice of an indefinite strike starting on 1 August, a threat that carries the risk of administrative paralysis. Street rallies will be staged in the run-up to the strike to mobilize public support.
Street fight: Pro-Telangana activists clash with police during a strike in Hyderabad last Wednesday. Photo Krishnendu Halder/Reuters
Kodandaram said the agitation is aimed at using “people’s power” to reinforce pressure on the Centre following the resignations on 4 July by most MPs and members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) from Telangana, including those from the ruling Congress party, the main opposition Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), a constituent of the action committee.
The resignations have been neither accepted nor rejected. The Congress and the UPA government, preparing for a cabinet reshuffle while battling a clutch of corruption allegations, have counselled the proponents of Telangana to be patient and wait for a consensus on the statehood demand, which posed a new headache for the ruling formation ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.
“The resignations have put a lot of pressure on the Union government to take a decision on Telangana,” said Kodandaram, an Osmania University professor of political science. “They have given a lot of confidence to the people (of the region) that Telangana is around the corner; they only have to stay united.”
One-third of the members in the 294-seat assembly have put in their resignation letters along with 13 Lok Sabha MPs, including eight from the Congress. Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar said she will take a decision on the resignations before 1 August, when Parliament convenes for the monsoon session.
“I am hopeful that they will take a decision on Telangana before 1 August,” said Kodandaram. “Otherwise it will snowball into a major crisis.”
The Congress party’s central leadership has shown no signs of willingness to concede the demand, said Madhu Goud Yaskhi, a Congress Lok Sabha member who has submitted his resignation letter.
The Congress MPs and MLAs had offered to give up their seats because of public pressure whipped up by the TRS propaganda that such a move would force the UPA to concede the demand for Telangana, Yaskhi said. But MPs from Andhra and Rayalaseema may hit back with resignation threats of their own if the demand is conceded, he said, a factor that the Congress leadership has to consider.
“The resignations have further complicated the situation rather than clarify it,” said Yaskhi.
What the resignations have done is to underline some sort of unity between Telangana politicians of various hues behind the cause of separate statehood, analysts say.
“They are united on the cause although they are fighting for it separately,” said Madabhushi Sridhar, a political analyst and professor at the Nalsar University of Law in Hyderabad. “On the ground, they (resignations) have built up an impression that they are sincerely fighting for Telangana.”
Telangana is home to 35 million people out of Andhra Pradesh’s overall population of 85 million, according to the latest census. The demand for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh— which comprises the regions of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema besides Telangana—dates back to the 1960s, fuelled by a perception in Telangana that the region’s economic development had been stunted because of neglect by Andhra-dominated state governments.
Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956 with the merger of Andhra State and Telangana under a so-called gentlemen’s agreement between leaders of the two regions that promised safeguards against discrimination to people of Telangana. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru likened the merger to a marriage with provisions for divorce if the partners failed to get along with each other.
A committee headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna, which studied the statehood demand, discounted regional economic disparity in Andhra Pradesh as grounds for bifurcation, saying Telangana’s economy had kept pace with the other regions.
To resolve the issue, the Srikrishna committee signalled its preference for maintaining a unified Andhra Pradesh and creating a statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council.
The other options were to maintain status quo; bifurcate the state into Seemandhra and Telangana with Hyderabad as a Union territory (UT) and the two states developing their own capitals in due course; bifurcate the state into Rayala-Telangana and coastal Andhra regions with Hyderabad being an integral part of Rayala-Telangana; bifurcate the state into Seemandhra and Telangana with an enlarged Hyderabad metropolis as a separate UT; bifurcate the state into Telangana and Seemandhra as per existing boundaries with Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana and the other having a new capital.
The status of Hyderabad is a key sticking point. The TRS says nothing short of a separate state with Hyderabad as its capital will be acceptable to it; politicians from Seemandhra are not willing to concede, given that Hyderabad is the state’s main revenue generator, the information technology hub and headquarters for most businesses in Andhra Pradesh.
Telangana has been rocked by periodic bouts of turmoil since November 2009. In December that year, the Centre promised to initiate measures for the creation of a separate state, persuading TRS leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao to give up an indefinite hunger strike. It backtracked on that assurance and set up the Srikrishna committee, and has taken no stand on the panel’s report.
The present impasse in Andhra Pradesh marks a new phase in the agitation, throwing the combined political weight of elected representatives from the region behind a campaign that has been waged largely at the grassroots level.
At the least, the Centre must present a detailed road map for the creation of Telangana if the MPs and MLAs are to take back their resignations, according to Congress’ Yaskhi, but analysts say that to turn back after having crossed the brink is difficult for the parliamentarians and state legislators.
“The resignations have taken the movement to a new level,” said K. Nageshwar, an independent member of the legislative council who teaches journalism at Osmania University. “It is not easy for them to go back. Whether it will lead to a political crisis or a constitutional crisis remains to be seen. If they persist on the demand, certainly there will be a political crisis.”