The Rediff Special/George Iype
AFTER Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal, it is Telangana now.
The agitation in this region for statehood brings a host of worries to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu. For starters, he would lose his state capital Hyderabad if the new state came into being.
Activists in Telangana, for their part, say statehood is the only way to wipe out the 'inequality, injustice and discrimination' the rest of Andhra Pradesh has shown to the people of this region.
The struggle for Telangana received new momentum when Telugu Desam Party leader K Chandrashekhar Rao quit as deputy speaker of the state assembly and floated the Telangana Rashtra Samiti a few months ago. He now moves around with a rose-coloured flag, which has a map of Telangana on it.
"It is a legitimate struggle," he says. "In fact, it was not the people of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Uttaranchal, but the people of Telangana who deserved a separate state first. The people of Telangana are being treated as second-class citizens."
Naidu and his TDP claim that the TRS is just a platform for 'faded and disgruntled leaders'. But the fact is that the rising demand for a separate state cuts across party lines; even some senior TDP leaders are said to be for it.
In the 1999 general election, the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party had come out with a 'one vote, two states' manifesto. The Congress, which has 41 MLAs from the Telangana region, too is all for it.
So what prevents the formation of a new state?
"Naidu and his politics," Rao responds. "If the new state is formed, Naidu will lose power."
But can Telangana survive on its own? It would appear so.
To begin with, it is a land of plenty as far as natural resources are concerned. But political discrimination has held it back.
Andhra Pradesh is divided into three regions -- coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana. All political parties agree that the third is today the most neglected.
Telangana consists of 10 districts. The biggest problem in all these districts is scarcity of water -- and this despite having the mighty Krishna and Godavari rivers flowing through it.
The reason is not far to seek: no government has cared to implement any irrigation projects here.
"Everything in Telangana is about inequality," says Congress politician and former environment minister M Shashidhar Reddy. "Nearly 79 per cent of the catchment area of the River Godavari and 69 per cent of that of the River Krishna are in Telangana. But the region barely gets 25 per cent of the river waters."
"Telangana is the best example of discrimination in the country," he continues, "because despite having elected two chief ministers and one prime minister, the region has been given a raw deal in education, irrigation, budget allocation and job opportunities."
Educationally, Telangana lags behind the rest of Andhra Pradesh. While the literacy rates in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema are 46 and 45 per cent, respectively, it is only 37 per cent in Telangana.
Telangana has only one university. Coastal Andhra has three, and Rayalaseema, seven. Of the 91 polytechnics in the state, only 20 are in Telangana. Of the 72 government technical institutes, just 26 are in this region.
Since the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, successive governments have spent Rs 190 billion on irrigation in coastal Andhra. In the same period, less than Rs 35 billion has been spent on Telangana.
Telangana generates 1543 MW of power compared to the 7447 MW in the other two regions -- and it supplies coal to produce power in the other two regions!
Professor Jaya Shankar, a former vice-chancellor of Kakatiya University who has studied the problems of Telangana, says, "Farmers in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema are enjoying all kinds of subsidies. Farmers in Telangana are getting fried in the parched fields."
"The Naidu government is using the Naxalite movement as a pretext to justify the neglect of industrialisation in Telangana," says Kaloji Narayana Rao, an old-timer who was part of the initial Telangana movement.
In 1985, Chief Minister N T Rama Rao pledged 60,000 jobs for youth in the region. "But nothing happened. The youth continues to be jobless here. The farmers in Telangana commits suicides in distress," he says.
Studies have revealed that the Naxalite movement erupted in the region because of inequality in developmental activities. Today, eight of the 10 districts in the region are under the sway of Naxalites belonging to the banned People's War Group.
Telangana's demand for statehood is as old as Andhra Pradesh. Proponents of the new state say Hyderabad existed as a separate state for six years. It was then called Hyderabad State. But when Andhra Pradesh was created in 1956, Hyderabad State comprising the Telangana region was merged in it.
Since then the clamour for a separate state has sparked off violence, especially in the districts of Warangal, Khammam, Nalgonda, Nizamabad and Karimnagar.
Chandrashekhar Rao claims it is only after he formed the TRS that the political aspirations of the people are being aired. Ranganath Reddy, his colleague, goes a step further:
"It is a battle we will win. The city of Hyderabad will be for the people of Telangana. Let Naidu and the people of Andhra Pradesh move their capital to another city, perhaps Visakhapatnam."
Naidu, meanwhile, is playing his cards cautiously. He wants to see the agitation put down peacefully. That could be why he recently laid the foundation stone for an Rs 18 billion irrigation project at Devadula, a prominent village in the region.
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