Telangana: To be or not to be?

Telangana supporters gather to advocate for the region's statehood.

The concept of statehood has always been a contentious debate in India. It’s recently gotten international press as Telangana, a region of Andhra Pradesh, is fighting a stormy battle for statehood.

When India gained independence from the British in 1947, the modern-day Indian map began to emerge. States were created and borders were drawn. The map continued to take shape in 1956 with the States Reorganization Act, a piece of legislation resulting in the single largest change in state borders since India’s independence. The act called for state boundaries based on linguistic differences.  So, Karnataka was created for Kannada speakers, Kerala was created for Malayalam speakers, Gujarat for Gujarati speakers, and so on. Modern day Andhra Pradesh was created for Telugu speakers. 

It seems despite their linguistic alignment with the other regions of Andhra Pradesh, the people of Telangana were unhappy from the start. Movements for their secession have been arising for decades, with major uprisings occurring in 1969, 1972 and 2009. Over the past few months the Telangana movement has gained new momentum, and despite strong opposition from Andhra Pradesh, it seems now that it will indeed become a state.
Telangana protests over the last few months have clashed with police.

Telangana is the largest of Andhra Pradesh’s three regions, covering 40% of its total area, holding 40% of its population, and making 76% of its revenues. The state capital, Hyderabad, lies at its core. Hyderabad is one of India’s most important cities from an economic standpoint.  As the statehood plan stands now, Hyderabad will serve as the capital of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for the next ten years.

If Telangana does become a state, it will be the first state in India created due to dissatisfaction with the political community. The people of Telangana feel they have been suffering from political neglect in the state and in the nation.  They feel their representation in the national government over the last 50 years has been unfair, as most of the state’s chief ministers (equivalent to a state governor in the US) have come from other regions. Chief ministers from Telangana have served for 10.5 years, while chief ministers from the rest of Andhra Pradesh have served for more than 40 years. As a result the people of the region feel ignored and exploited by the national government. They feel they are on the state’s peripheral agenda, leaving Telangana a backward region. Some of the injustices they decry include poor water distribution, budget allocations, and government job allotments.  Water distribution in particular, is a major concern for the people of Telangana. Not only have there been issues with receiving a reliable supply of clean drinking water, but also there have been issues with receiving water for irrigation. A dependable irrigation system is crucial to the livelihood of the Telangana people, as agriculture is one of the region’s main sources of revenue. Also, due to a recently constructed dam, some mineral rich sections of Telangana are not receiving an adequate water supply to sustain their mining communities. The dam has redirected the river’s water to other regions of the state, away from Telangana. In addition to the water injustices, the Telangana people feel that despite the revenues they contribute to the state, they are not seeing sufficient returns in terms of government development projects and government jobs.

Critics have called the recent national attention to the issue nothing more than a “short-term electoral maneuver.” The Indian national elections will take place in May of 2014, and as candidates are being selected it is no secret that they are seeking votes in the region. Congress, the current leading national party, says Telangana will be created before the next election.

The fight for the state of Telangana brings to light many issues. If the federal government grants Telangana statehood this may lead to other marginalized communities vying for statehood too. The people who live along the slender neck of West Bengal, in the region of Darjeeling, have been struggling for a state called Gorkhaland for decades. Like the people of Telangana, these people too feel ignored by their state’s government.  Will they too receive the status of statehood? Why Telangana instead of Gorkhaland? This will become a particularly controversial issue, when the national election passes and the typical insouciance of the national government returns. Other issues will arise beyond the dissatisfaction of other marginalized Indian communities. How will Telangana continue to share its state capital with Andhra Pradesh? What happens when their ten-year agreement expires? What are the other repercussions in store for Andhra Pradesh after the split is made? Is Telangana prepared for the administrative responsibilities that are required to run a state? Many questions still need to be answered on both India’s and Telangana’s preparedness for the new state. It is not something to be rushed, simply to meet the deadline set by the national election.

Written by: Lynn Bernabei


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