Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

The sad circus playing out in Deccan

Andhra Pradesh and Telangana look like warring countries, not Indian states

The birth of a new state is always a moment of hope as well as remembrance of the struggle that went into its creation. India’s history since 1947 shows that the formative years of all such states—Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh—are spent in building and creating the infrastructure of development. These years are also peaceful. Usually, one party dominates the state for a number of years, if not a decade, before opposition parties can get their act together.

In most of these respects, Telangana is an outlier, and for the worse.

Barely a year after it was created as India’s 29th state, Telangana continues to be marred by political bitterness with its neighbour—Andhra Pradesh. In the past two weeks, a series of charges and counter-charges have been exchanged between K. Chandrasekhar Rao, chief minister of the new state, and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart, N. Chandrababu Naidu. The nature and extent of these exchanges is such that were Andhra Pradesh and Telangana not Indian states, one could have easily mistaken them for two different countries.

In early June, a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Revanth Reddy, was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Hyderabad while allegedly handing over a 50 lakh bribe to another MLA Elvis Stephenson. This began a chain of events in which allegations of bribery were levelled against Naidu who, in turn, alleged that the Telangana government had tapped his phones. A number of police cases were filed against Rao in Hyderabad and elsewhere. Matters finally reached a pitch with a demand for invoking Section 8 of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Act, 2014. This section deals with the special responsibilities of the governor of Telangana for maintaining law and order in Hyderabad. In discharging this responsibility, the governor has wide amplitude and is guided by two advisers appointed by the Union government. The demand was made by the Andhra Pradesh government and the motivation was clear: the abuse of police machinery—the ACB is part of the police set up—by the Telangana government.

Some residuary bitterness after a contested separation between two states can be imagined. But what marks out Telangana and its ruling party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is continuous use of divisive and bitter politics even after the goal of a separate state has been achieved. This is in marked contrast to what has been seen in most states, the only possible exception being the politics of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi—again a very different phenomenon.

What makes this unfortunate is that the goal for which Telangana was sought has been forgotten. The state’s backwardness in terms of social indicators is well-known. But in the last one year, the TRS and its government have spent more time in berating Andhra Pradesh and the TDP instead of focusing on pressing tasks. Telangana has plenty of challenges ranging from development to managing its security—the state borders Maoist-infested districts of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. This is a problem waiting to blow up.

The intriguing part of this sort of politics is that it is inexplicable. There are no elections due in Telangana (the state assembly elections are due only in 2019) and divisive mobilization has no purpose at the moment, unless the government is doing something else and wants the attention of the electorate to be diverted.

There is also one other explanation. Parties that excel in mobilizational politics often have a hard time governing once elected to power. It took Mamata Banerjee more than two years to settle down in West Bengal; in Delhi, AAP continues to be on one big, continuous, dharna. Is the TRS following this pattern? If that is the case, then the administrative and political consequences for Telangana are disturbing to comprehend. A new state needs to give time to its civil servants to settle down and needs to focus on building much needed social and physical infrastructure. The TRS is not doing that.

Why are Telangana and Andhra Pradesh fighting with each other? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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