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Sanjaya Baru: Local and global in Hyderabad

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Political expediency should not stunt a great city’s growth.

In his engaging book on a love affair between a Hyderabadi princess and an Englishman in the 18th century, reminds us that “the road from Hyderabad to the port of Masulipatam was one of the most beautiful in the Deccan”. In unearthing this fact from travelogues of the time, Dalrymple draws attention not just to the wealth of Hyderabad, inherited from the richest kingdom of the Deccan, , and to the city’s dependence on trade with the outside world, but also to the umbilical link between landlocked Hyderabad and a great port of the Andhra Coast.

Golconda (from golla konda or shepherd’s hill) traded through the Andhra sea with markets as far away as China to the east and Italy to the west. The formation of British India and the creation of the port cities of Madras and Calcutta not only resulted in the decline of the Andhra ports but also disrupted the link between Hyderabad in the Telangana region and coastal Andhra. Even as British rule, and investment in canal irrigation, contributed to the prosperity of the coastal regions, the Nizam’s despotism contributed to Telangana’s backwardness.

While linguistic emotionalism re-united the Telugus, disparate rates of development has remained a point of contention. After the 1969-70 agitation for a separate state, in part triggered by intra-Congress party rivalries, various solutions were devised to spur Telangana’s development but neither ’s nor Congress party’s paid much attention to the simmering discontent in parts of Telangana. It is this discontent that has spilled out time and again.

Four decades ago, I also walked the streets of Hyderabad declaring, like many teenage students, Pachchi pulusoo khayengey, Telangana leyengey (We will subsist on soup, but secure Telangana). In the decade I spent teaching and researching in Andhra Pradesh, during the 1980s, I understood the structural, socio-economic and political barriers to the region’s development. But it also became increasingly clear to most analysts of the region’s development that parts of Telangana were beginning to perform better than others, and were racing ahead of some of the more backward parts of coastal Andhra, like Srikakulam, and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh.

There is no question that the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh lags behind coastal Andhra on almost all development indicators. There is also no denying that a succession of governments dominated by politicians from the Andhra and Rayalaseema region, cutting across political parties, have neglected Telangana. Indeed, successive governments in Hyderabad have cheated parts of Telangana by not investing adequately in basic infrastructure like irrigation and roads.

All these grievances have been fully articulated and yet the people of Telangana did not vote for separatism in the elections of 2009. Rather, they voted for a government which they thought would address their genuine grievances. They asked and addressed the question whether their developmental problems will get sorted out merely through the creation of a separate administrative unit and the grant of statehood to Telangana. An overwhelming section of the electorate did not see statehood in itself as a solution to Telangana’s real problems.

Uneven development is not a feature peculiar to Andhra Pradesh. Most large states are characterised by uneven development. Indeed, India as a whole is characterised by uneven development. If statehood is the answer to economic backwardness of a region within a state, would one argue that nationhood is the answer to backward states within the country? That would lead to the balkanisation of India.

Any solution to the problem of Telangana’s backwardness should not, however, hurt the future development of India’s sixth largest metropolis. From being the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad, this urban conglomeration has become a triplet city with the growth of Cyberabad. When former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu first promoted the idea of building a new international airport outside Hyderabad, he saw it as a hub airport that would compete with Singapore to the east and Dubai to the west.

Indeed, this vision of Hyderabad as a global city is rooted in its medieval history going back to the glorious days of Golconda. A story I narrated in a lecture dedicated to Hyderabad’s distinguished economist, the Late Waheeduddin Khan. (“The local and the global in Hyderabad’s development”, Economic and Political Weekly, 27 October 2007.)

It was in recognition of Hyderabad’s uniqueness, also as a cosmopolitan city and a bridge between both Hindus and Muslims and the north and south, that Jawaharlal Nehru dubbed it India’s second capital and the President of India would visit annually to spend the summer months residing at the Rashtrapathi Nilayam, a practice given up a couple of decades ago. Hyderbad is rapidly emerging as a major metropolis and its growth should not be hurt by the uncertainty created by an unwise and myopic political leadership in New Delhi.

In a rapidly urbanising India, the future of cities is as important a policy priority as the issue of backward areas’ development. India needs more viable, modern and cosmopolitan cities and Hyderabad was emerging as one. It has been fortunate so far not to be destroyed by the kind of chauvinism that is contributing to the decline of Mumbai and the slow growth of Chennai, or the politics and economics of negativism that has stunted Kolkata. Hyderabad, like Bangalore and Delhi, is a rising urban metropolis.

Neither Telangana’s politicians nor the central leadership of the Congress and the Union government have paid any attention to larger and long-term issues pertaining to the future of Hyderabad. Rather than take more precipitate action, the Union government must appoint a second States Reorganisation Commission and take a long-term view of the political, economic and cultural basis of state formation and the future of Hyderabad.

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