తెలంగాణను తెలుసుకుందాం!

– C.H. Hanumantha Rao

A genuine response to the present discontent in Telangana would be to embark upon a fresh round of land reforms and other socio-economic measures.

IN THE recent by-election to the Lok Sabha from Karimnagar constituency in Andhra Pradesh, the voters were confronted with a choice between ‘development’ (within an integrated State) and a ‘Separate Telangana’. The verdict went overwhelmingly in favour of a separate Telangana. By attributing this verdict to the ’sentiment’ (for Telangana), some sections of the political leadership are evading the real issue. There was no religious or ethnic ’sentiment,’ not even of language, at issue in this election. No doubt, some assertion of ‘regional identity’ can be read into the result, but this does not defy rational explanation. The simple and straightforward explanation is that the people perceive that ‘development’ — in the sense of equitable share in water resources, jobs, opportunities for enterprise and career advancement, and adequate voice in political decision-making — is not possible within the integrated State and that separate statehood alone can ensure justice for them.

The demand for separation is far more widespread now than in 1969 when the agitation for a separate Telangana was first launched. It has now engulfed farmers, youth, and women on a much lager scale. The movement of the late 1960s petered out not just because of the opportunism displayed by the leaders of the movement or due to the repressive measures of the state, as is often made out.

It was in the early 1970s that Indira Gandhi’s slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ caught the imagination of the poor throughout the country. N.T. Rama Rao was another charismatic leader with a pro-poor and gender-sensitive agenda who virtually took the place of Indira Gandhi in Andhra Pradesh in the 1980s. Their credibility with the common people of Telangana was primarily responsible for sweeping the statehood issue under the carpet for quite some time.

However, the policies initiated by these charismatic leaders could not be sustained for long because of the absence of commitment among their successors. The period following the demise of these leaders witnessed a major shift in socio-economic policies. The neglect of agriculture, rural development, and the social sectors in the post-liberalisation period and the consequent rise in rural distress brought into sharp focus the rise in regional disparities in development.

For example, in the 1980s, the per capita GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) of the four richest States in the country was 100 per cent higher than that of the bottom four States — Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa. But by 1990s this disparity rose to 200 per cent.

What is true of the rise in inter-State disparities in development would be true of regional disparities within some of the larger States. For, the factors giving rise to such disparities are common.

A disquieting feature of the current political scene in Andhra Pradesh is that those still interested in the integrated State refuse to learn the right lessons from the developments since the first agitation for a separate Telangana started. Otherwise, they would not have initiated a diversionary move like the constitution of the Second States’ Reorganisation Commission (SRC). Fifty years ago, the first SRC had recommended the formation of Telangana as a separate State in response to the simmering discontent in the region. The new SRC, in the present circumstances of widespread discontent, is most likely to endorse the recommendation of the first SRC.

If the motivation behind the constitution of the SRC is to avoid embarrassment from the people of the Andhra region in case Telangana is conceded immediately, and eventually to bring them round to the inevitability of separate Statehood for Telangana, then the bargain may prove to be too costly. For, this would open up a Pandora’s box in terms of innumerable demands — just as well as unjust — for the constitution of separate States in the country. In any case, the move will fail to satisfy the people in Telangana, as they are no longer gullible, especially when the powers that be have refused to implement the recommendation of the first SRC.

Short of conceding separate statehood, a genuine response to the present discontent in Telangana would be to embark upon a fresh round of land reforms and other socio-economic measures affecting the large majority of the disadvantaged sections; constitute regional planning committees consisting of elected representatives as well as experts; and make the whole planning process, including the sharing of resources, transparent by making it accountable to the elected representatives. The suggested special package of Rs.10,000 crore for Telangana could be an additionality to the just share of the region in the existing resources. The execution of this package could be made an integral part of the regional planning process.

More than 70 per cent of the population in Telangana belongs to the disadvantaged social groups: Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and OBCs. Agrarian reforms were the prime agenda for the peasant movement in the 1940s. However, not enough time was available for this process of radical social transformation to run its course. In fact, it was interrupted with the integration of Telangana with the Andhra region, so that it still remains an unfinished task.

In a larger and heterogeneous State like Andhra Pradesh, there is no adequate perception of this problem by the dominant political leadership that hails basically from the developed parts of the State.

Regional planning is not a new or uncharted course in Andhra Pradesh. This was tried earlier but soon abandoned for lack of earnestness and political will. And also because of the wrong notion that regional planning through elected representatives and the dissemination of relevant information would prove to be divisive by breeding regionalism. However, experience has amply demonstrated that shying away from regional planning through representative institutions and withholding information would produce the opposite result of intensifying the feelings of injustice and generating the demands for separation.

More than 50 years ago, the SRC noted the fears of Telangana and anticipated the adverse social consequences if Andhra and Telangana were brought together to form an integrated State. The SRC emphasised that, within a time period of five years, two important issues needed to be sorted out: developing infrastructure in Telangana so as to bring it on a par with other regions; and preparing the people of Telangana for integration with Andhra through consensus. In practice, however, consensus of the people who do not belong to Telangana has been the guiding factor.

In pursuance of the gentlemen’s agreement of 1956, the Telangana Regional Committee (TRC) was formed with elected representatives. The responsibility of this committee was to assess the available resources and allocate them to ensure proper development of the region. But in 1973 the TRC was abolished under the Six-Point Formula and the Regional Planning and Development Committees were constituted which, unlike the TRC, were not accountable to the elected representatives. However, these Committees too have been abolished. There is virtually no mechanism now for regional planning.

The funding

As for the Finance Commission transfer to States, 25 per cent of devolution is based on population and as much as 75 per cent is based on criteria such as per capita income and other indicators of backwardness. Thus the per capita devolution has been higher for Andhra Pradesh on account of the lower per capita income of Telangana. Therefore, the financial viability of a regional development plan for Telangana, or for that matter of a separate State, is beyond doubt.

But is regional planning through Regional Development Committees and participatory institutions workable in a larger State composed of heterogeneous regions? Experience with politics of planning at the State level shows otherwise.

Therefore, it can legitimately be argued that the political commitment necessary for focussed attention to the problems of growth and equity can be ensured only in the smaller States, which are relatively homogeneous.

Take the case of Uttarakhand. The annual growth rate of its GSDP accelerated and reached the double-digit level in six years since it was formed.

It is perhaps too much to expect the requisite foresight and statesmanship from the political leaders in Andhra Pradesh, who, in fact, have a track record of overpowering the central leadership, including even a towering personality like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, on the issue of separate statehood for Telangana.

But Nehru’s vision and the prophecy of the SRC are knocking at our door again. One hopes that the present national leadership would positively and wisely respond to this call.

(The writer is Chairman, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad.)

…Courtesy, The Hindu

Discover Telangana

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