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Nineteenth Century politics over Telangana

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When passions subside, the pain and deprivation will be felt.
When passions subside, the pain and deprivation will be felt.

The casual and arbitrary approach of the Union Government, short-term vote-bank politics of parties and shameless political duplicity have led to a wholly avoidable crisis over Telangana, says JAYAPRAKASH NARAYAN.

Suddenly, the State of Andhra Pradesh and the whole nation are in turmoil. The tranquil climate, so vital for economic prosperity at a time of tough global challenges and great opportunities, has been vitiated by the pursuit of vote-banks and the arousing of primordial loyalties.

Politicians playing with fire have now opened the Pandora's Box and have sown the seeds of discord in many pockets of India. A dangerous message has gone out: Elections, constitutional process, reasoned and healthy public discourse are not important; indulge in rabble-rousing, promote violence and obstruction, and the government will yield.

To understand the tumult in Andhra Pradesh now, one should imagine what would happen in Tamil Nadu if a new state of North Tamil Nadu, along with Chennai, is carved out; or the consternation in Karnataka if South Karnataka with Bengaluru is carved out as a separate State.

For the first time, a region with a large capital city wants to separate as a State. So far, every demand for a new State has been from far-flung areas away from the State capital. Hyderabad is not just another city. It is on par with Chennai and Bengaluru, and with 85 lakh people, accounts for over 25 per cent of the population of Telangana and 60 per cent of the economy of the region. Millions from all over the country and the various regions of AP have made it their home.

Every significant political, business or civil society leader has made Hyderabad home, and is emotionally attached to the city, even if the political base may be elsewhere. In such a situation, the all-too-casual approach to separate Statehood is calamitous.

Firm stand

The Indian nation is still in the making. Indira Gandhi was both powerful and, on occasion, autocratic. But even when her party had monopoly of power, she understood the fragility of the nation and worked hard to find a compromise on demands for Statehood.

Two major agitations for separate Statehood shook Andhra Pradesh — in Telangana in 1969, and in the Andhra region in 1973. Indira Gandhi had complete political sway over the whole State without any challenge, and yet she recognised and stated that if each group of districts, or sub-region, wants separate Statehood, eventually every district would become a State and the nation would be ungovernable. At that time, the population of Hyderabad was 10 lakh.

Once the Congress government in Delhi amended the Constitution (32nd Amendment), inserted Article 371-D, and hammered out a six-point formula to protect the interests of Telangana, there was peace and quiet for over 30 years. Hyderabad grew very rapidly and became a major economic hub. And now, again, the casual and arbitrary approach of the union government, short-term vote bank politics of parties and shameless political duplicity have led to a wholly avoidable crisis, that has further undermined the eroding legitimacy of politics and parties.

Losing resources

There are serious economic issues to be examined on the issue of carving out a separate State in Andhra Pradesh. First, the capital city is a serious bone of contention, and once people and investors lose faith in the future, it will decline rapidly.

This will hurt both Andhra Pradesh and India, because large cities are now important clusters of growth, and if a Mumbai or Delhi faces economic hardship, the whole nation will be impacted by the fallout.

Second, parts of the coastal region are agriculturally well-developed and have resources and surpluses. For instance, the coastal region generates surplus revenues in the power sector, and is subsidising power for farmers in Telangana and Rayalaseema. A separate State will be burdened by an unviable power sector.

Costal regions are always engines of growth all over the world. Telangana is land-locked, and losing the costal region would retard growth and opportunities. Again, this is the first time a land-locked region is seeking to separate from the coastal belt. When passions subside, the pain and deprivation will be felt.

Water resources are always a bone of contention in a monsoon-fed country. Even in a relatively well-managed city of Mumbai, enjoying abundant rainfall on the West coast, water riots took a life recently. In a water-starved region, river water disputes will escalate, and sharing of Krishna and Godavari waters will be a nightmare.

In the K-G basin off the Andhra coast, abundant natural gas reserves have recently been found, and are being tapped. Already, there is the challenge of sharing natural resources between the home State and the rest of India, and now Telangana will be further depleted.

Large, unviable lift irrigation projects — at a capital cost of Rs 3-4 lakh per acre and Rs 40,000 per year per acre maintenance cost — have been unwisely proposed in Telangana. They will be a permanent drain on the economy of the region, undermining it without ensuring benefits.

Politics of inclusion

Poverty, backwardness, corruption, lack of opportunity and unemployment are endemic to many of the country's States and sub-regions. These are caused by failed policies, misgovernance and the politics of plunder, leading to kleptocracy.

Large parts of Telangana and Rayalaseema, most of north coastal Andhra Pradesh, upland areas of delta districts, and many families suffering discrimination by birth in every village — all of them are victims of terrible misgovernance and political failure.

The perpetuation of poverty and under-development is largely the result of the plunder of local politicians and bureaucrats. A change of the State's name or boundaries or capital will not alter anything.

The need of the hour is to accelerate growth and promote equity and opportunities. What every sub-region of Andhra Pradesh, indeed every part of India, needs is empowerment of people, district governments and third-tier of federalism to help people fulfil their potential.

We cannot use 19th century notions of divisive politics in a 21th century world

Related Stories:
‘Telangana' turns AP industry jittery
Telangana trouble
Telangana decision plunges AP into a crisis
Osmania greets Telangana with song and dance
Andhra shocked and angered

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 12, 2009)
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