Before I start pontificating, let me make a confession. Until the recent debate (or controversy if you will) over Telangana arose, I had a vague idea of what and where Telangana is. I knew that Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema comprise the state of Andhra Pradesh, but didn’t know much beyond that. For the benefit of those who are in a similar situation, let me briefly summarise what I learned about these places after my recent research.
Telangana used to be a part of the princely state of Hyderabad which had Telugu, Kannada and Marathi speaking territories. Ruled by a Nizam, Hyderabad was one of the most powerful princely states within the sub-continent when the British ruled most of South Asia. The Nizam was a descendant of the Mughals’ viceroy for the Deccan, who broke away after Aurangazeb’s death to found a separate kingdom, which was one of the wealthiest in the world. Like many of Indian princes who owed allegiance to the British, the Nizams accumulated great personal wealth, though the region they administered was among the most backward in India. After India got independence, the Nizam chose to remain independent, despite popular support for a merger with India. In September 1948, the Indian army launched Operation Polo that forcibly integrated Hyderabad with the rest of India.
From 1948 to 1952, Hyderabad was administered by a central civil servant. In 1952, the State of Hyderabad had democratic elections to the State Legislative assembly.
Andhra and Rayalaseema were part of Madras Presidency, which at its zenith included even Ceylon (1793-1798). The Madras Presidency was a creation of the British that had, for administrative convenience, most of South India under it. Madras Presidency ruled by the British was much better administered and its people much better off than Nizam-ruled Hyderabad. In 1956 when the Madras presidency was broken up on linguistic grounds, Andra and Rayalaseema were merged with the Telangana region of Hyderabad to form the Telugu state of Andhra Pradesh.
The State of Andhra Pradesh had eight coastal Andhra districts in the north-east, four Rayalaseema districts in the south and nine Telanaga districts in the north-west and the French ruled district of Yanam. (I am unsure of the number of districts in each chunk since different sources attribute slightly different numbers). Yanam had been liberated from French rule only in 1954. The common factor of this region was Telugu. Costal Andhra was the most developed within this region and Telangana the least developed. In 1963, the Union Territory of Pondicherry was created and Yanam was transferred to it.
The demand for a separate state of Telangana is a long standing one and arose almost immediately after the State of Andhra Pradesh came into being. Since coastal Andhra was the wealthiest and most developed region, its inhabitants cornered most jobs in the whole state, including in Telangana and Rayalaseema. There has always been a feeling of discrimination or lack of sufficient affirmative action programmes for Telangana. The movement for Telangana is in that sense not much different from the movements that gave rise to states such as Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chattisgarh.
Though not as vociferous as the demand for Telangana, the people of Rayalaseema, which is less developed than coastal Andhra, have a similar demand for a state of their own. If Telangana is created, the demand for a separate state carved out of the four districts that comprise Rayalaseema is bound to get more stringent.
Demand for a separate state within the Indian federation always follows a now-familiar pattern. A region within a state is underdeveloped. Its native people don’t get much out of the common pot. That region ranks lower than the rest of the state in education and other social development indices. They people have lost faith in the state administration. What’s the way out of this? To create a new state, of course. This demand is almost always led by local elites who are very likely to corner power if the demand for a new state is met.
As we have seen in the case of states like Jharkand, creation of a new state does not solve the problem. Usually, the newly empowered local elites start another round of exploitation. Because the newly ‘liberated’ population is trusting (at least initially) and not very educated, the new elites get away with murder for a while.
What’s the way out of this conundrum? I feel that any group of people within India should have the right to form a state of their own, if there is popular support for such a state. India’s biggest strength is its democracy and no group should be prevented from creating a new administrative unit it they feel such creation would serve their interests better. However, in my opinion, once such a demand is met, elections should not be held immediately. Hold on! Yes, I am aware that India is a democracy and periodic elections are the life blood of any democracy. However, in order to prevent local elites from continuing the mal-administration which gave rise to the demand for a separate state in the first place, the Central government should impose President’s rule in the newly created state for at least ten years. This will prevent local elites from starting a campaign for new states if they are solely motivated by lucre.
Democracy is great and wonderful, but preparation for democracy is essential if the benefits of democracy are to be enjoyed. Do give in to the demand for Telangana and similar demands like Gorkhaland, but this must be on condition that such newly created states will be administered by Central Government bureaucrats for ten years.
Request: If you note any factual error in this article, please let me know.
Special thanks to Wikipedia, since I have relied on it much more than I normally do