Friday, December 11, 2009

Telangana. Now?!

The second chapter in Rosaiah's stint as the Andhra Pradesh CM began with the fast-unto-death (right?) of K Chandrashekar Rao of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti. The TRS currently has a single-point agenda to establish a separate state of Telangana, although you can rest assured that the party will be around if and when the state of Telangana becomes a reality.
I won't comment much on the politics of fasting because the most important man of the last century used it effectively (and usually for the right reasons), so we as a nation cannot become anti-fasting just because we managed to install democracy.
What I'd like to comment on is the manner in which the high-pitched, high-salaried, law-unto-themselves anchors of national news channels have confused the issue. To these Brands-within-Brands, the formation of Telangana poses a serious threat to national interests. Why so? Because our identities are getting narrower by the day. Because Telangana proclaims a strong regionalism within linguism. And aren't we already suffering the consequences of linguism?
True. We are suffering the consequences of linguism. We, as a nation, are like a divided Europe and our Constitution works a tad better than the EU. Of course, we don't even have the advantage of a single script. So we're more deeply divided by language. (I won't even get into caste and religion.)

To such a divided India, does Telangana offer good news or bad? Good, the way I see it. If this really is the beginning - and if this does lead to the formation of Vidharba, for instance - then it means that linguistic borders don't make sense to people any more. People are looking for something else - sociopolitical equality and economic prosperity. At least, that's what the people of Telangana are looking for. I'm reasonably certain of this because I spent a great deal of time in Telangana a couple of years ago.

I was then researching on the Naxalite movement in AP, for which I camped for different periods of time in all three regions of AP, namely coastal AP (Vizag), Rayalseema (Anantapur) and finally Telangana (Hyderabad and Warangal). In both coastal AP and Rayalseema, most people I met dismissed the idea of Telangana as subversive politics. Damned politicians harping for their own gains, they said.
In Hyderabad, almost everybody was happy with the status quo. In fact, many of my friends - who lived in Hyderabad but were from outside AP - did not even know that Hyderabad fell within the Telangana region.
But in Warangal - where I stayed for almost a month - I heard a different song. The professors of Kakatiya University I met were convinced that the region will prosper only if a separate state was formed. The labourers I interviewed were seething with anger because they felt that the state's developmental work focused on Rayalseema because the most powerful politicians belonged there. Auto rickshaw drivers thought it would be cool to have a separate state. A schoolteacher in the town of Pasra, when I asked him if he wanted Telangana, replied that he was keeping his fingers crossed. One Human Rights activist felt that it would be infinitely easier to administer a carved up AP.

I see immense wisdom in his words. India is an administrator's nightmare. We must find a more delegated model of governance, and if this requires carving up existing states, then so be it. Such an approach offers enormous advantages:

1) Regional parties that do astonishingly well in one election will find it more difficult to blackmail the Central Government. Take the case of Bihar and Laloo Prasad Yadav. The man has been cut down to size, not just by the emergence of Nitish Kumar but also due to the formation of Jharkhand. I can think of many more regional czars who can do with some trimming. Imagine UP being further dissected into Purvanchal, Mithilanchal and more such. Imagine a Saurashtra with a shot at secularism (don't know about this, though). But you get the drift. More players in the Central Government, a more fragmented coalition, but with more leverage for the truly national parties.

2) The ultimate administrative model for India would be decentralized to the extent possible. A model wherein 75% of day-to-day governance is run by the Panchayats. This suggestion usually sends shivers up our spine, huh? But consider this. A rural mango man (aam aadmi) who wants help from the law and order machinery can more easily approach a sarpanch than a District Collector. Been to the DC's office? It still runs on the Raj mentality. The earthquake-proof building, the guards at the gate and the red tape are sufficient to prevent the mango man from entering it. Of course, local governance comes with its own challenges. Village landlords can quickly, and more effectively, use the system for their personal gains. But despite all the challenges, local governance is the way forward. If you're still not convinced, then consider this: when there's a power failure in your area, you call a local number of the Electricity Board. Would you like it if the entire city had one number and someone in that one central office decided if and when your message will be conveyed?
Let's also concede that each region has its own peculiar issues. Blanket policies issued from across hundreds of kilometres are often useless, even counterproductive. Local Thinking will help.

3) End of linguism, as I mentioned before.

4) A more unique landscape. Every new state can use the opportunity to honour their own heroes, resurrect their own distinct arts and crafts etc.

5) A less socialistic distribution of revenue. What the region earns, it spends. There's more incentive to develop. A harsh example of this is the formation of the predominantly tribal state of Chattisgarh. Bhopalis can now say (although they won't) that they no longer fund the darker region. Good for MP.
Of course, the formation of Chattisgarh has not yielded positive results so far. Mining-oriented "development" is happening, but the benefits never reach the mango man. The state is also dealing with Naxalism in Dantewara and Bastar (in the worst manner possible). These are glaring failures, but they are failures of our democratic framework, not the concept that led to the formation of Chattisgarh. Perhaps one day the land will throw up a leader who will solve its own unique problems.

At the moment, the politicians of AP are measuring the formation of Telangana using a political seismograph. Once the dust settles, we will perhaps see it as the will of the people.


  1. Thanks.... Looking at the whole thing from a different perspective now.....

  2. Sound.
    Though, the moot point after all of the carving- up will still be: can our politicians provide good governance, no matter how small the territory being governed?