Sunday, March 07, 2010

Short Thoughts on Telangana

I accompanied my friend to four interviews he conducted with people to talk about Telangana. (I see no reason to name them.)

The last person we spoke to talked about touring all the districts and speaking with all kinds of people. I asked whether landlords, tenant-farmers, labourers and the landless in Telangana were united in their demand for a separate state and whether there really was no conflict of interest apparent to them. I was told in reply, that the people said, ‘Just let’s get these Andhra landlords out of here and we’ll take care of the Telangana ones afterwards.’

I don’t even know where to begin: is this a unified perspective? How many people would one need to speak to before a different opinion emerged? And if they did, would it be reported faithfully? Is there a qualitative difference between exploitation by Andhra landlords and Telangana landlords? (Our exploiters are better than yours.) Were people really willing to gloss over internal differences in the belief that a new state would somehow successfully address all these questions later?


One question that no one in favour of statehood for Telangana has managed to answer is, if it does happen, then what? By what methods will injustices be redressed, and will they only become possible after statehood? And specifically, on whose behalf are people speaking and why do they all appear to be long-time buddies if they really speak for many, many different kinds of views and people? (Which is to say, for a movement that claims to be diverse, why does its vocal component seem so uniform?)

I am suspicious of this tendency to say, ‘let’s get statehood first, and then let’s deal with other things later.’ What happens when that later comes? Whose opinions do you suppose will really be taken on board?


I am also suspicious of anything that causes people to feel fervour. All this fighting for a cause, all this shivery sense of being caught up in making history.

One of the people we spoke to said, protest is performance.

Apropos of which, one person reacting to my column said I had trivialised the whole issue, talking about the Complaints Choir. I don’t see that at all.

On the same day that my column on Telangana appeared, The Hindu carried a news report of a three hour long play that was in the form of a court hearing, where Telangana was filing for divorce from Andhra. At the end of the play, Telangana is granted divorce it seeks.

I don’t see why a complaints choir can’t be as political a piece of art as that play. It might not be as palatable to the pro-Telangana section, but I’ve been told there aren’t nearly enough voices being heard (in journals and opinion-making circles, I mean) on keeping status quo.

(Not that a complaints choir would automatically be anti-Telangana; in fact I’m a little surprised that it was read that way.)


I grew up in Hyderabad. If anything, I should consider myself a Telangani, because if I belong anywhere, it is here. I have felt the change in the composition of the city, mourned the loss of its Deccani speech more commonly heard in my childhood than it is now; the more leisurely pace of life; what I think nostalgically of as its cosmopolitanism.

I am also aware that such a nostalgia-driven view amounts to less than nothing as a political argument for statehood. Cultural identity is a problematic thing. In the last few weeks, I have wondered whether Telangana, with its cultural uniqueness argument, is most like Mumbai or Tibet: does it want to expel those it sees as not belonging to it, so that its unique identity (whatever that is) is preserved; or is it like Tibet, being flooded with outsiders and being homogenised in an demonstration of cultural hegemony?

It’s a flawed comparison, I see that. But I’m just trying to use it as a frame within which to try and articulate this bugbear of cultural identity. I think I’ll stick with aphorisms.


One really disturbing development is the presence of police and militia in the city. Most of it is around the Osmania University, but even on the roads, outside the houses of ministers and near the offices of political parties, I can't remember when there were so many men with guns and so much barbed wire.

I find the argument made by the state, that their presence is necessary on campus because the Maoists have 'infiltrated' the student body, specious and self-serving.

What I find even more disturbing is that civil society doesn't seem to care about what happens on campus or on the roads, so long as it doesn't disturb their daily lives.

This is not all but this is as much as I’m going to say on the subject.


Falstaff said...

You realize that parts 2 & 3 would imply condemning pretty much every struggle for independence, ever?

Anonymous said...

మన తెలంగానాంధ్ర లొల్లి హాలీవుడ్ ని కుడా తాకినట్టుంది…….ఇక్కడ చూడండి

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Thanks for both posts. Unfortunately I'm none the wiser. Nor even better informed.

As an outsider it seems to me that the pro-unity arguments all boil down to (1) Telengana people are lazy and unproductive, (2) The rest of us made Hyderabad what it is and we're not letting it go. Neither of which is convincing to me. If they're lazy, let them go: you'll be better off. And if you can build Hyderabad, you can build Visakhapatnam and Kakinada. We need more metros anyway.

And, on the other hand, maybe it's not true: maybe the Telengana region really has been exploited and the rest of the state has prospered at Telengana's expense.

But if there are better reasons than the above for not giving Telengana statehood, let's hear them.

Space Bar said...

falstaff: well, if you qualify that substantially, i might agree with you.

for one thing, even if we take the necessity for separation as given, i would still want to know that someone is thinking of a road map. i would expect some of those ideas at least to be shared with what sujai (pro-telangana blogger. will link later)likes to call the foot soldiers of the movement.

in the absence of such sharing, i would be - not unnaturally - suspicious.

second, it is one thing to participate in a movement one thinks is legitimate and another to use any cause, any movement as an excuse to feel involved because it feels good to be seen to be doing something.

i'm not accusing everyone in the telangana movement of this kind of dissonance, but i wouldn't dismiss it either - push button activism, candle light vigilantism, human chain-making is our generation's chosen form of protest. i find that disingenuous.

finally, you do realise that my post comes at the subject from several sometimes contradictory positions, don't you? this is because i am uncertain, unwilling to accept that statehood is the solution to several very genuine problems; but at the same time, worried about how easy it is to turn the majoritarian view into what appears to be common-sensical - we've been down that route several times in our collective histories. i'm also worried about the non-civilian nature of dealing with the protests, however misguided i may think the protests are.

dedicated: sorry; you'll have to translate that for me. i can't read telugu.

rahul: well, i could point you to all kinds of reading, later. briefly, i'd think before 'boiling down' anything to one or two facile points of contention. telangana is and has been a complex issue for decades.

those who are opposed are as varied in their responses as the people in the telangana movement: yes, one set of people are anxious about the potential loss of investment and power; but others are concerned that (1) not everybody's voice is being heard and perhaps it is a particular class and caste that is now ready for power that is engineering the movement; (2) that bifurcation will not really solve the issues that the telangana movement raises, such as sharing of water, development and so on; (3) that large parts of northern telangana are tribal regions, and unless we rethink the question of the rights of tribals not just within a new state, but across the country, we will have done nothing of any use by splitting a state and (4) that by isolating telangana and its maoist areas, it would make it easy for the govt to escalate its war against them as they are doing in the other recently created smaller states.

these are my own partial expositions. you can read more about this on kuffir's blog (linked to in the post). he has been posting on various aspects of this for a couple of months now, and you should read his posts if you want to get a perspective that is not rehearsed and pat.

all: i will not be able to respond to comment until after the 13th. don't let that stop you from making comments, though.

km said...

I found this more useful than most things I've found on the web. Esp. #2, which, I think is being overlooked by everyone.

Falstaff: *every* independence movement? Really?

Falstaff said...

SB: My point, in response to both this post and the last one, is that this is nothing new. It is the nature of political movements to be rife with competing agenda - if we didn't overlook those differences to make common cause we'd never achieve change at all; it is the nature of political protest to be fueled by raw emotion rather than rational self-interest - because political struggle requires the kind of self-sacrifice that logic would consider unacceptable; it is the nature of revolution to be myopic - partly because the oppressed lack the means to define what the new order will look like, and partly because arguments about the nature of the new order would undermine the fragility of the coalition that makes that new order possible; and it is the nature of 'popular' protest to be channeled and manipulated by those standing in the wings - because that's the only way that public outrage can be directed to any purpose at all. All this is political action 101.

All you're really saying is - people don't seem to have thought this through as well as they might. True. But people almost never do. To be suspicious or uncomfortable of a political movement built on conflicting agenda and ill-informed judgment is to be suspicious and uncomfortable of democracy itself.

Cheshire Cat said...

"...I had trivialised the whole issue, talking about the Complaints Choir."

Irony is un-Indian.

"I find the argument made by the state..."

If the state is the adversary, how does it matter if there's one state or two?

This is the paradox of democracy, part of what makes the idea so powerful. On one side of the coin: the terrifying State. On the other side: our faces, unity in diversity, & all that. Our voices, raised in unison (singing the anthem, perhaps?)

And so, as the State is infinitely divisible, each of us has two sides as well, and we are not as innocent as we appear (how deftly we use the logic of oneness and diversity, how the seams of this fabric of rhetoric are hidden even to ourselves!). Nor is the State guilty, for how could guilt appertain to a mere State? There is only the ragged crowd of human faces, crying out for a new one (it must be new, it must be pure...), the one that will redeem them.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

sb - the simple thing that is being left out of the anti-separation arguments is: what do the people of Telengana want? NOT "what is good for them": they are not children and the Andhra politicians aren't the adults. What do they want? I see little in Kuffir's blog addressing this question, and as for your four points, only the first point is relevant. The others amount to "The Telengana people don't know what's good for them."

As for the first point: I think if there was a significant pro-unity faction in the Telengana districts (excluding Hyderabad), we'd have heard about it by now. But why not have a referendum, then?

Meanwhile, I see no attempt from the Andhra side to reach out to the Telengana people. The absurd "united Andhra" bus tour did not even enter the Telengana districts.

Not impressed.

Rajeshwari Kalyanam said...

The separate Telangana movement according to me has taken an ugly turn. Today its more from the political view than the welfare of the people from any region. The pro telangana leaders and the pro united Andhra leaders have just one aim "Make Hay While the Sun Shines". So I believe that every action of theirs is aimed at strengthening their position in their area of interest. A separate state or a unified state is of no relevance to them.
And the masses, specially the students from both regions are just instruments that are being cleverly used by the so called leaders.
The backwardness of Telangana is a real issue. But that does not mean that the rest of the state is prospering (like the Pro T leaders would like us to believe).
Is separate state, a solution for all the problems? A big question indeed.

kuffir said...

cheshire cat,

'If the state is the adversary, how does it matter if there's one state or two?'

very interesting. but i don't think two states will divide the state. more like multiply its strength through more arms.