A.P. and Telangana: life after divorce

Thu 28 May 2015

Addressing an audience of Telugus in the United States last fortnight, the Minister for Information Technology and Panchayat Raj, Government of Telangana, K.T. Rama Rao, deployed an interesting metaphor to describe the status of Hyderabad and the state of play between the newly created States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Mr. Rama Rao, the son of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), said the bifurcation of the united state of Andhra Pradesh was like a divorce between an incompatible couple. The custody of the coveted child, Hyderabad, has been given to Telangana, while the new Andhra Pradesh has been given visiting rights.

The divorce metaphor can be extended further. Telangana is indeed the mother of Hyderabad, but Coastal Andhra cannot claim the status of being the biological father. Rather, that status should go to the erstwhile State of Hyderabad. However, coastal Andhra can claim to be the second husband that in fact invested in the education and professional growth of the child and, like all such stepfathers, would like to be given some credit for it. The mother may have been given the child’s custody, but whatever her differences with the father, because of which the divorce in fact came to be, she should concede that the father too played a role in the child’s growth, and so may be deserving of more than mere visiting rights.

Expectations vs. sullenness

Spending time in Hyderabad, in the run-up to the first anniversary of the formation of the two new States, I am struck by the fundamental change in mood from a year ago. Last summer, Telangana was gripped by a wave of excitement and enthusiasm, while Coastal Andhra sunk into deep despair and anger. The mood in metropolitan Hyderabad was marked by a mix of hope and anxiety. One year on, the most striking feature of the city’s mood is its utter normality. Life goes on.

However, both Chief Ministers have a problem. In Telangana, KCR’s problem is similar to that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — to meet the unrealistically high expectations generated among enthusiastic voters. In Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has a different problem. He has had to lift the spirits of a sullen and deeply dispirited people who view the erstwhile State’s bifurcation as betrayal.

While KCR tries to deal with unrealistic expectations by promoting fancy ideas of real estate development that may threaten Hyderabad’s green spaces, Mr. Naidu has sought to engineer enthusiasm for the new State by inducting Singapore as a partner in the building of a modern capital, Amaravathi, and urging his people to “Look East” and join the Asian growth miracle.

Bifurcation and political impact

The real problem for both Chief Ministers has been the terms on which the Union government settled their divorce. An octogenarian civil servant who lived through the erstwhile State’s formation, was involved in the trifurcation of the old Hyderabad state and has a deep understanding of the developmental challenges facing both States, is critical of the manner in which the Congress Party leadership and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government handled the State’s bifurcation. “The reorganisation of States across India after Independence and the subsequent creation of Andhra Pradesh was undertaken with far greater care and competence than the State’s dissolution this time,” he says.

It is the callousness of the bifurcation process more than the bifurcation itself that has sunk the fortunes of the Congress in both States. Indeed, the bifurcation of other States, like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh was handled more competently because the government of the day was not seeking immediate political benefit from it, the way the Congress Party tried to in Telangana.

While normal life has not been rudely disturbed in Hyderabad, despite initial concern about the sectarian rhetoric that accompanied bifurcation, governmental systems have been in disarray and slow to settle down. The contrast between the normality of life of most people and the confusion that marks the functioning of both State governments draws attention to the incompetence of those who drafted the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, writing it more like an election manifesto than an amendment to the Constitution.

In the event, Telugus across their administrative divide voted the Congress out of power. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress, decimated in last May’s elections, has been unable to revive itself. While prepared for this reaction in coastal Andhra, the Congress was not prepared for the disdain that the Telangana voter showed it. The new State gave the entire credit for its formation to KCR and his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), denying the Congress the fruits of its duplicity in dealing with the Telugus.

Tapping opportunity

While politicians will play their games, the people of both States would like to see the economy regain momentum. For this to happen, both Chief Ministers should be less obsessed with building/rebuilding their respective State capitals, suppress their individual egos and focus on their State’s overall development. Erstwhile Andhra Pradesh was debilitated by the fact that it had only one major urban centre, Hyderabad, around which most business activity was centred. Bifurcation should be used as an opportunity to develop other urban centres in both States like Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Tirupati and Kurnool, in Andhra Pradesh, and Warangal, Karimnagar and Nizamabad in Telangana.

The construction of a six-lane Hyderabad-Warangal highway and high-speed rail connectivity between Hyderabad and the ports of Andhra Pradesh can facilitate the industrialisation of the “Ruhr of Deccan” — Telangana’s eastern districts — and the growth of Warangal and Karimnagar as new urban centres. While TRS leaders are presently seeking to reassure investors about the future of Hyderabad, having unnerved many with their rhetoric in the past, the focus of the Telangana leadership has to be on the overall development of the State and not just of Hyderabad. On the other hand, Mr. Naidu should not be seen as neglecting the Rayalaseema region in his enthusiasm to build a new metropolis across the Krishna.

Mr. Rama Rao was reassuring in his remarks in California when he celebrated the success of several “non-Telangana” Hyderabadis in the U.S. and invited them to invest in Telangana. He specifically named Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Sanjiv Sidhu and the grandson of a very distinguished Hyderabadi and an early supporter of Telangana, the late Dr. G.S. Melkote. While Nadella’s family hails from coastal Andhra, Sidhu is the son of a scientist who worked in Hyderabad and the Melkote’s are Kannadigas settled for generations in Hyderabad, like so many other communities from across the subcontinent. Hyderabad owes its social, cultural and entrepreneurial richness to its cosmopolitan nature. Inviting the Nadellas, the Sidhus and the Melkotes to help build Telangana is a good message to give. But, returning to the divorce metaphor, it should be recognised that many non-Telangana Hyderabadis are not seeking just visiting rights but also residency rights.

If Hyderabad retains its cosmopolitan nature, investors will continue to flock to it and the city’s globalisation and development will continue, benefitting Telangana as a whole. However, before the two States can hope to see a brighter future for themselves, overcoming the agony and ecstasy of bifurcation, the two State governments have to get their administrative act together and settle down to normal functioning.

The political leadership of both States should liberate themselves from narrow caste, communal and identity politics and must focus squarely on development and the creation of new opportunities so that both States can regain their growth momentum. It remains to be seen whether Andhra Pradesh and Telangana will mimic the example of Maharashtra and Gujarat — both of which prospered after their separation — or that of Bihar and Jharkhand — neither of which have really gained from their separation.

In the end, a mea culpa ! I was not in favour of the State’s bifurcation for two reasons. First, I never saw Statehood as a solution to the genuine problems of the economic backwardness of Telangana. Second, I was worried for the future of my home city of Hyderabad. (I elaborated on both themes in my Waheeduddin Khan Memorial Lecture, “The Local and Global in Hyderabad’s Development”, Centre for Economic & Social Studies, Hyderabad, October 2007.) The jury is still out on my first proposition and it is for Telangana’s new government to prove me wrong. But I feel reassured that my worries for Hyderabad have been laid to rest. This great city of the Deccan retains its openness, warmth and charm.

(Sanjaya Baru is Honorary Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)


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