On June 2 last year, Telangana, India’s 29th State, was formed to achieve inclusive growth and equity for the people of the region. These objectives echo the demands of the statehood movement. A perusal of the movement shows that development and self-respect were the taglines of the agitation.
The struggle for a separate State rose in response to the socio-economic conditions of the integrated State of Andhra Pradesh, where dominant communities that acquired power due to historical reasons manipulated the development process to their advantage. The marginalised sections were neither involved in the development process nor did they benefit from it.
As a consequence, in the emerging market economy, the tribals and Dalits were marginalised, as were the backward regions. The rich peasants from resource-rich regions monopolised the State and used its agencies to appropriate all the resources. The outcome of this was jobless growth.
The assertion of Telangana was thus a challenge to this very notion of ‘development’; a demand by marginalised groups for their due share in resources; a demand for inclusive growth. These concerns were presented in the form of ‘samajika Telangana’ (Telangana with social justice). But the demand for a separate State was never seen as an end in itself.
The last phase of the movement that began in 1996 took place in the wake of major social changes initiated by government policies and social movements in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. As part of the garibi hatao scheme, the Indira Gandhi government introduced the land distribution programme. Nearly 42 lakh acres of land was distributed up to 1991. Though this was insufficient to meet the needs of the landless poor, it gave them the strength to assert freedom from the landlords. The conflict that emerged between the landlords and a coalition of poor peasants, agricultural labourers and artisans, was addressed by a radical movement which included Naxalites.
The movement challenged the domination of the landed gentry and helped the poorer sections of society assert their rights. All these developments led to the decline of the power of the landed elite and gave autonomy to the oppressed communities such as the Backward Castes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Yet, despite this, the State never responded to the needs of these groups, as institutions were controlled by the propertied classes of the Andhra region. The sociopolitical processes that evolved from the late 1960s gave an identity to these sections and enabled them to become a political force to reckon with. They took an active part in the agitation, seeking greater access to power and control over resources. This explains the conflict between the marginalised sections of the Telangana region and the region controlled by the Andhra elite. The Srikrishna Committee on Telangana noted that the “Telangana movement can be interpreted as a desire for greater democracy and empowerment within a political unit. As stated earlier sub-regionalism is a movement which is not necessarily primordial but is essentially modern — in the direction of a balanced and equitable modernisation. Our analysis shows that cutting across caste, religion gender and other divisions, the Telangana movement brings a focus on the development of the region as a whole, a focus on rights and access to regional resources and, further, it pitches for a rights-based development perspective whereby groups and communities put forth their agendas within a larger vision of equitable development” (p.413).
The movement intensified in 2009 with the indefinite fast by K. Chandrasekhar Rao. When the decision was finally taken, the leaders of Andhra region united to block its implementation. As stated by the Srikrishna committee, “the upper castes in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra are vehemently against the idea of dividing State; their greatest fear being the loss of Hyderabad” (p.390). Yielding to pressure from the Andhra lobby, the Union government suspended its decision announced on December 9, 2009. In continuation of the struggle, the party and non-party groups in Telangana united to form the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) on December 23, 2009. TJAC led the movement thereafter, and succeeded in realising the separate State. With the formation of Telangana State, the corporate lobby lost direct political control over state machinery.
Strengthening the public sector
The development agenda of the State has been determined by this historical context. For the first time, after a long gap, the issues pertaining to the people of the region dominated the election agenda. There has been demand to use the public institutions in favour of the oppressed communities. In the election manifesto, the party in power, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), promised to strengthen the public sector in health and education — a significant departure from the earlier regimes that followed the path of privatisation in both the sectors. Similarly, the TRS promised government investment in public utilities and assured that if elected, its government would take up the responsibility of reviving agriculture and small, micro and household industry. Rejuvenation of tank irrigation and efficient use of the allocated share of river water was included in the manifesto. In the last one year, the government has invested money in the power sector instead of encouraging the private sector. It has also been trying to revive the tanks. Pensions for widows, the old-aged and the physically challenged have been increased. What we have witnessed is a regime change. In Telangana, the government is taking up a greater role in reviving the economy rather than leaving everything to the private sector.
However, one must note that in a country like India, a vibrant civil society alone ensures inclusive growth. In the absence of a democratic consultation process, decision-making structures are easily subverted by vested interests, particularly the corporate lobby that enjoys privileged access to the government in the integrated State. As a result of the separate State movement, Telangana society has been democratised. People are more informed and organised. Inclusive growth can be assured only if these groups play the role of a watchdog.
(M. Kodandaram is Convenor of the Telangana Joint Action Committee.)