Parakala Prabhakar, spokesperson of the Visalandhra Mahasabha, tells Aditi Phadnis that those in favour of a separate state need not be the well-wishers of Telangana.
Your organisation, Visalandhra Mahasabha, is dedicated to a united Andhra Pradesh. With so many people out on the streets agitating for a separate Telangana, don’t you think the unity is artificial?
The agitators for separate statehood for Telangana are visible on the streets and their voices are shrill. But, it is a mistake to think they are a majority. In fact, many leading members of our organisation are from Telangana. The majority of people in the region, we feel, are for a united state. They don’t support the agitation.
This is clear from the electoral performance of parties that contested polls on the platform of separate statehood for Telangana. In 1998, the Bhartiya Janta Party contested the Lok Sabha polls with the slogan “one vote-two states”. The party’s performance was pathetic in the region. In 2004, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) faced its first electoral test. In spite of its alliance with the Congress, it won only 26 of the 54 seats it contested. It won these seats against Telugu Desam candidates. Wherever TRS candidates faced CPM or CPI or even a Congress rebel, they lost. It’s clear the 2004 verdict was a beneficiary of the anti-TDP vote than a vote for Telangana. When TRS MLAs resigned in 2008 and sought re-election on the Telangana issue, only 7 of 16 candidates were returned. In the 2009 general elections, of the 50 Assembly seats the TRS contested it won only 10. Its leader scraped through the Lok Sabha seat with a paltry margin of 15,000. The BJP won only two Assembly and didn’t win a single Lok Sabha seat although it promised Telangana state within 90 days of coming to power. There were no takers for Devender Goud’s Praja Telangana Party. He wound it up. When Indra Reddy dabbled with the idea, he had a flop show.
The agitators, however, are well organised. They are intolerant of any other opinion. They threaten, intimidate and suppress the voices of unity. They attack (physically) anybody who says the state should stay united. An attack on my house a few days back is the latest example.
Therefore, people who are for unity don’t come out. They don’t speak out. This gives the impression that everybody from Telangana is for the division of the state.
The cause celebre of Telangana activists is the backwardness of their ‘state’. This sense of grievance cuts across representatives of Telangana in all parties, left to right. Something is wrong, surely?
This is something the separatists have successfully canvassed for in Delhi. But it doesn’t square with the facts. Take any sector. Telangana region has registered rapid and significant growth. In fact, the progress is phenomenal. Two or three decades ago, it was East and West Godavari districts in the coastal region that had the highest rice yield. But, now, it is Karimnagar, Warangal and Nizambad that have taken their place. In per capita income, power consumption, new industrial units, education, health care, jobs, roads, bore-well as well as canal irrigation, livestock, commercial crops... take any sector, the region’s growth rate is on a par with, if not higher than, that of the coastal region. Actually, it is Rayalaseema which is lagging behind.
If you compare the developmental performance of the Kannada and Marathi speaking areas of the erstwhile Hyderabad state which went to Karnataka and Maharashtra with that of Telangana, it is even more impressive.
A disaggregated view of the data gives you a better picture. In every district, there are backward and developed blocs. In every backward bloc there are developed villages. And, in every developed bloc there are backward villages. Some blocs and villages in Telangana are far more advanced than some of the coastal regions. A voluminous study done by Sodhana Research Centre, Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, gives an excellent micro as well as macro picture.
The charge that Telangana is economically backward, exploited, and discriminated against has no basis whatsoever. No data support this formulation.
There is also the language issue: Telangana claims it speaks a different language from other regions. To us it sounds like Telugu but...
What is the politics behind the separatist movement? Would it be correct to say that every time the Congress has a decent majority in the Legislature, the issue is mooted by disgruntled Congressmen and dressed up as a popular, mass issue?
Marginalised parties and leaders who fell from grace and on the lookout for a platform took up this issue and whipped up passions. Look at the persons and the outfits. Channa Reddy was debarred from contesting elections by the courts. At the end of the six-year period, in 1969, he used the issue for a political comeback. The BJP, unable to open its account in the state, took it up in the late 90s. The Maoists (then PWG) in 1997 jumped on when their influence was on the wane. Chandrasekhar Rao started on this path in 2001 only when he didn’t get a cabinet berth in Chandrababu Naidu’s ministry. Devender Goud courted it in 2008 when he fell from grace in the TDP. Most people don’t remember this: Even Rajasekhar Reddy tried his hand at this. When Chandrababu Naidu seemed invincible, YSR encouraged some Telangana Congress leaders to agitate.
And, look at how the issue was abandoned once their political purpose was served. Channa Reddy was twice the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He didn’t remember the separate statehood. Once it came to power at the centre, the BJP junked the issue. Rajasekhar Reddy simply ignored it once the TDP was defeated.
What did the Centre do wrong in handling the agitation — both during the YSR regime and later?
The Centre seeems clueless. It has not taken a clear position on the defining principle of the architecture of the Indian republic: the linguistic state. Should we bifurcate a linguistic state and thereby jettison the basis for the political organisation of the republic? And if so, what should be the alternative principle? Caste? Religion? Ethnic group? Plains? Hills? Geographical size? Size of the population? The present leadership lacks clarity on and commitment to linguistic states which Mrs Indira Gandhi had.
Therefore, the Centre does not know whether to say yes or no. They do not know whether they have to maintain the unity of the state and manage the consequences of the decision, or to divide the state and manage the consequences. There is a drift.
Where is the issue headed, with all the resignations?
Resignations are a result of political competition. Parties want to upstage one another — prove that they are more committed to the cause than the others. The Centre should be firm. At the same time, it should be tactful. It should make its position clear and give the MPs and MLAs an honourable exit route; they will take back their resignations in no time.
The agitationists have successfully cast a spell. They want you to believe all those who love Telangana should demand a separate state. And, those who want a united Andhra are anti-Telangana. This should be decoupled. One can be a well-wisher of Telangana and yet want a united Andhra. More importantly, all those who are in favour of a separate Telangana state need not be the well-wishers of Telangana. Visalandhra Mahasabha is working to break the spell.