The politics and politicians of Osmania University

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on January 11, 2018

It will be interesting to see how politics will play out in India’s youngest State as 2019 approaches, and what role the Osmania University essays   -  G Ramakrishna

India’s university campuses have always bred politicians. Among them, Hyderabad’s Osmania University stands out for being among the few that have produced netas of all hues - Left, Right and Centre.

The varsity, which is now celebrating its centenary, has produced a Prime Minister in PV Narasimha Rao; Union Ministers including SB Chavan, Shivraj Patil, Ch Vidyasagar Rao and S Jaipal Reddy; Chief Ministers such as M Chenna Reddy, N Kiran Kumar Reddy, N Bhaskara Rao, and the incumbent K Chandrasekhar Rao.

There is no denying that OU played the pivotal role in the four-and-a-half decade-long struggle for a separate Telangana State (1969-71, 2009-14). It is also a key breeding ground for Left politics.

The Statehood movement

The Telangana movement and the consequent protests on the campus brought the national spotlight on OU.

The iron-handed move by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s government to suppress the statehood movement was a dark phase in the varsity’s history. During the first phase of the agitation in 1969-71, police firing took the lives of over 365 students. The agitation threw Hyderabad’s academic year into disarray for colleges and schools. OU was also blacklisted after the agitation was brought under control.

Leaning Left

Soon to follow was the sensational, on-campus, daylight murder of George Reddy, a brilliant physics scholar and committed Leftist in the early 1970s, which only made matters worse. Reddy was the founder of the Revolutionary Students Movement, with an ‘angry young man’ image. Many old-timers still remember his slogan: “ Jeena hai toh marna seekho/ kadam kadam par ladna seeko (Learn to die if you wish to live/learn to fight at every step of the way)”.

He is credited with inspiring a generation of Left-wing politicians, even as organisations such as the PDSU, the RSU and the SFI ruled over campus bodies for decades. The intensity of student politics was such that Koora Rajanna, alias Anandji, an engineer-turned-naxalite, and his brother, Amar, eventually founded the Janashakthi Party, a wing of the CPI(ML), which later contested elections. OU’s Yerram Santosh Reddy, alias Mahesh, reached high up in the Maoist echelons. Inspirational leftist leader and writer Makhdoom Mohiuddin too was a product of OU.

So was Krishna Rao Jhadhav, a fervent advocate of a Telangana State, and K Jayashankar, the ideologue of Telangana’s ruling TRS. The present crop of politicians, including MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, and senior Congress leaders Madhu Yaski Gowd, Damodar Raja Narasimha, et al, got their first lessons in politics on the OU campus.

The Right’s share

Over the years, the RSS student wing ABVP, and the Congress’ feeder organisation NSUI have failed to get a foothold in the campus. Nonetheless, a string of BJP leaders such as the party’s former National President Bangaru Laxman; the present Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu Governor, Ch Vidyasagar Rao; State party chief K Laxman;N Ramchander (MLC) and National General Secretary P Muralidhar Rao (who survived two on-campus attempts on his life during the 1980s) learnt the ropes in the portals of the sprawling university.

Such was the sway student politics held over the university that the administration banned elections in the mid-1980s. With discontent simmering among the student community, attempts were made to find a middle path. Leaders such as VP Singh (who would later become PM), socialist leader George Fernandes, Devi Lal of the Lok Dal, and BSP founder Kanshi Ram addressed large gatherings, with sections of students trying to forge newer groups.

Telangana again

After a lull of over a decade, the Telangana agitation of 2009 breathed fresh life into campus politics. The students formed a Joint Action Committee that provided the fuel for the movement, led by Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the JAC of political parties under OU professor M Kodandaram.

The spirited protests often led the last, Congress, government of united Andhra Pradesh to order police crackdowns, with the students having to deal with tear-gas shells and rubber bullets. Just ahead of the 2014 elections, the Grand Old Party decided to take the gamble and announce Statehood; ironically, the move did not beget any dividend, and the Congress had to eat humble pie.

That OU’s student community continues to hold sway over the State’s politics was amply demonstrated by the forced silence of Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao at the opening of the university’s centenary celebrations. Frustrated with the TRS dispensation not fulfilling its promise of jobs, the students’ threat to protest if the CM were to speak sent across a stern message. It will be interesting to see how politics will play out, and the role the OU will play in India’s youngest State as 2019 approaches.

Published on May 04, 2017

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