May 29, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Telangana leader K Chandrasekhar Rao

'No force on earth can stop us from achieving a separate Telangana'

The recent Telangana "Simha Garjana" (Roar of the Lion) meeting organised by the newly formed Telangana Rashtra Samithi demonstrated the mass support for a separate state among the 30 million people of this resource-rich, yet backward and neglected region.

The meeting also catapulted TRS founder K Chandrasekhar Rao into the limelight.

The 47-year-old Chandrasekhar Rao, who was elected four times to the state assembly from his home constituency of Siddipet in Medak district, quit the deputy speaker's post, his membership of the assembly and the ruling Telugu Desam Party to revive the Telangana movement.

Rao, who began his political career with the Congress as a student leader, has served as minister in the governments of the late TDP founder N T Rama Rao and then N Chandrababu Naidu. He, however, wants to avoid the pitfalls that had prevented the people from achieving their goal of a separate Telangana during 1969-71.

In an exclusive interview with Syed Amin Jafri in Hyderabad, he dwells on his strategy for a separate state -- a goal which has eluded the people of the region for the last 32 years. Excerpts:

Why has it taken you so long to realise that injustice has been done to Telangana, even though you were the first to join the Telugu Desam Party which really harmed the interests of this region?

'Chandrababu has done more harm to Telangana than any other chief minister. He will be facing a monsoon of discontent'
True, I was among those who joined the TDP soon after the late N T Rama Rao founded it. But the issue of the backwardness of Telangana has been topmost in my mind right from that time. On many an occasion, I thought of taking up the cause of Telangana in a big way, but other developments came in the way.

Since Chandrababu Naidu became the chief minister, I have been impressing upon him to give a fair deal to Telangana and not to ignore the interests of its people any longer.

When the Vision 2020 document for Andhra Pradesh was drafted by McKinsey & Company, I pointed out to Chandrababu that there was no reference to the development of Telangana as well as dalits, girijans, backward classes and minorities in the document. I asked him how the state would achieve its goal without the welfare of these sections and the development of Telangana.

What was his response?

As a minister and senior party leader, I voiced my concerns over the neglect of Telangana and brought various instances to his notice, but to no avail. After the 1999 assembly polls, he eased me out of the Cabinet. I was made deputy speaker. However, Chandrababu went for a power tariff hike and got "endorsement" for it at the TDP mahanadu [annual meeting] at Vijayawada in May 2000.

Soon after the unprecedented hike was announced, I came out openly and wrote a letter of protest. I said it hit the interests of the Telangana farmers more than anybody else.

You were deliberating on the issue of Telangana since 1999, but why is it that you decided to launch the movement only recently?

I have been deliberating on the issue for the last 18 months or so. I have spent close to 3,000 hours discussing the issue with intellectuals, experts, lawyers, other professionals, academics, students, businessmen and other sections of society. A lot of thought and planning has gone into working out the strategy for the movement for a separate Telangana state. The formation of three new states -- Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh -- recently rekindled the aspirations of the people of Telangana.

However, I was waiting for the panchayati raj elections to announce the formation of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Even the party flag and logo, audiocassettes and other publicity material were readied long ago. Once the Supreme Court set the deadline for holding the panchayati raj elections by July 31, I decided to launch the TRS. I wanted it to build up its support base from the grassroots [village councils] upwards to mandals [blocks] and zilla parishads [district councils].

What is your grouse against Chandrababu Naidu? That he has denied you a Cabinet berth?

This is totally false. After he came to know about my efforts to launch the Telangana movement, he sent his emissaries to me and offered a Cabinet berth and a portfolio of my choice. But I am not tempted by such baits. I turned down the offers with contempt since I do not crave anything except a separate Telangana.

Chandrababu has done more harm to Telangana than any other chief minister. He has given a quiet burial to the six-point formula. The power tariff hike has broken the backbone of the farmers. They are unable to sell their produce at minimum support prices now.

Weavers are in distress. The farmers and weavers are committing suicide. All big public- and private-sector industries are closed, affecting thousands of workers. There is a ban on recruitment in government services. Things have come to such a sorry pass that the poor Lambada women in the region are forced to sell their infants to child traffickers.

But does it not look odd that you do not say a word about NTR though he accelerated the process of economic, social and cultural domination of the region and disturbed political equilibrium by fielding "settlers" [persons from coastal Andhra] for assembly and Lok Sabha seats from Telangana?

True. It was NTR who completed the colonisation process of Telangana by fielding settlers in assembly and Lok Sabha polls from constituencies in this region, though such a thing was not attempted by the Congress when it was in power for 26 years. Chandrababu Naidu has also fielded settlers from Telangana and the Congress seems to be catching up on this. But, successive Congress chief ministers, including those hailing from Telangana, neglected the region and its development.

'The BJP and Congress are betrayers of the cause of Telangana. I am not unduly bothered about them'
NTR did harm by bringing in the coastal culture, language, social mores to the Telangana region and even facilitated its economic domination by settlers. He abolished the regional boards for Telangana and other regions. But it is Chandrababu who is trying to marginalise the people of Telangana in their own region. He even hates to take the name of Telangana. Such is his antipathy and apathy to the people of the region.

Why is it that you are not concentrating on gaining the support of legislators, which can hasten the process of a separate Telangana since the 107 legislators from the region can force Chandrababu to agree to a new state?

No. My aim is not to topple Chandrababu. I have a one-point programme and a single goal -- achieving statehood for Telangana. I am not interested in garnering the support of legislators right now since I am not here for grabbing power. But, in any case, Chandrababu will be facing a monsoon of discontent soon after the summer. He has difficult days ahead and he better watch out for August when things will really hot up for him in the party and government. I need not say more.

There are apprehensions that the TRS movement is directed at "settlers [people from the regions of coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema] who are living in Telangana...

Ours is a peaceful and democratic struggle. There is absolutely no place for violence in our movement. It is not directed at anybody, much less the settlers. They are all our Telugu brethren. Unlike in the past [the Telangana agitation of 1969-71], we are not going to drive out the settlers. They are as much part and parcel of our region as the Telangana people.

In this era of globalisation, our country is seeking investments from all over the world. We want the settlers to contribute to the development of our region. They are welcome to make investments in the region and pursue their business without any hindrance. When there are several Hindi-speaking states, we can have two Telugu-speaking states. There is no harm.

What is your strategy for the panchayati raj polls?

We will contest the polls in the entire Telangana region. We will contest all the gram panchayats [village councils], mandals and zilla parishads in the region. I am sure that given the tremendous response the movement for a separate Telangana state has evoked among the people across the length and breadth of the region, we will sweep the polls. We will bag all the mandals and the nine zilla parishads in Telangana. The other parties are going to be stunned by our electoral success.

How serious will be the challenge to the TRS from rival parties like the TDP, Congress and BJP?

While it took at least nine months for NTR to make the TDP a political force, it has taken just nine days for the TRS to make its presence felt all over Telangana. There has been such tremendous response that soon after launching the TRS on April 27, we distributed about 20 lakh [2 million] membership forms. In just four days, we enrolled 19 lakh [1.9 million] members in all the Telangana districts.

We are flooded with demand for another 20 lakh forms, which we will be distributing soon. The mass support of the people from all sections in the region has surpassed our expectations. About 30,000 active party workers from the TDP, Congress and BJP have joined the TRS.

Even though the leadership of the CPI and CPI-M has opposed the Telangana state, many of their cadres in Telangana are breaking ranks and extending support to the TRS cause. All in all, the BJP is almost finished in the region, the Congress is tottering and Telugu Desam is in a serious crisis. The left parties are in trouble. The TRS has rendered them all irrelevant in the region.

Several leaders from the Congress, BJP, TDP and the Communist parties have already joined the TRS. A number of former ministers, ex-legislators, former MPs and functionaries at the mandal and zilla parishad levels have joined the TRS. They have pledged unstinted support to the cause. In fact, several legislators of the TDP, BJP and Congress are in touch with me. Even half-a-dozen ministers are in close contact with me. Some TDP and BJP MPs, too, sympathise with our cause.

Now, Congress leaders are seeking to take up the Telangana cause and BJP leaders are also asserting that they are still committed to their demand for a separate state. Will not these parallel attempts weaken the cause of Telangana?

The Congress leaders do not enjoy any credibility. They are not sincere about Telangana. The BJP leaders tried to exploit the sentiments of the people of Telangana by promising a separate state at the time of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. They are only making noises about their commitment, but do not want to displease Chandrababu on whose crucial support the NDA government is surviving in Delhi.

So, neither the Congress nor the BJP inspires the confidence of the people of Telangana. These parties are betrayers of the cause of Telangana. I am not unduly bothered about them. The panchayat polls will show where they stand in public esteem.

The TDP has chosen to "ignore" the TRS and instead undertake a propaganda offensive against the votaries of a separate state by highlighting the development of Telangana in various sectors since 1995 under Chandrababu Naidu's leadership...

I don't care for what Chandrababu wants to do. He poses as the champion of an integrated Andhra Pradesh and a bitter opponent of Telangana state, but everyone knows that both Chandrababu Naidu and M Venkaiah Naidu [BJP leader and Union minister for rural development] participated in the separate Andhra agitation that rocked the state during 1972-73. What credentials do they have to oppose a separate Telangana state? No force on earth can stop us from achieving a separate Telangana state.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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