The manner in which the Telugu Desam MLAs from Seemandhra region tore copies of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill, sent to the state assembly by President Pranab Mukherjee, said it all. A side show was the burning of their set of copies by the YSR Congress legislators. You need not look beyond these images to realise how much the divide in Andhra Pradesh is showing.
Telangana Rashtra Samiti leaders took the moral high ground to describe the act as an insult to the President. Obviously memory of these public representatives is short for they forgot how members of their ilk tore copies of the Governor’s address (hope they know the Governor is the President’s representative in every state) during earlier sessions of the Assembly and threw the scraps of paper on him when they were unhappy with the lack of progress on Telangana. When it comes to setting standards in decorum and behaviour, MLAs from both sides of the regional divide, are a mirror image of each other.
But what the political grandstanding does is to highlight that the divorce process is turning out to be extremely bitter. The pity is that this `We versus Them’ theme has percolated down the strata of society so much so that hate has become the dominant emotion in Andhra Pradesh today. In fact, more than the political and economic cost of bifurcation, handling the emotional cost of the separation that will prove to be the biggest challenge.
`Fear’ is an emotion that Varsha Bhargavi talks a lot about these days. A tour operator based out of Hyderabad, Varsha says despite Hyderabad declared the common capital of both Telangana and residuary Andhra Pradesh states for ten years, she would feel unsafe to work in the city. Her roots are in coastal Andhra and her manner of speaking Telugu, is a giveaway.
“We are at the crossroads. We do not know where to go. We would love to stay back in Hyderabad and see the city grow, be a part of it. I have seen the bridges built, the roads expanded, the new airport coming up. I can stay on but I have this inherent sense of fear within me. I do not want to sound very negative about it but the fear is certainly there. Because these people have the mob mentality so I cannot talk anything against them. I could not do anything when four students entered my office and told me why are you keeping the office open, today is bandh,” says Varsha Bhargavi.
Parakala Prabhakar, a votary of united Andhra Pradesh, endorses what Varsha is going through and says it is no surprise that non-Telanganites will feel like second class citizens in Hyderabad given the hatred and bitterness that has marked this separation.
“The apprehensions are very very real. People are afraid. People are getting some kind of menacing signals from those who have been agitating for separation all these years. It is very true. People are fearing that after the bifurcation, their life, their properties, their business will be in danger inspite of the TRS leaders saying we are there to protect you. No one is taking those assurances seriously because the same people have created this hate and bitter atmosphere,” points out Prabhakar.
Telangana activists argue that people of the region have been at the receiving end of the domination by those from coastal Andhra since 1956, when Andhra Pradesh was formed by the merger of then Hyderabad state with Andhra state. And say therefore it is no wonder then that there are many who feel it is payback time.
M Krishank, a pro-Telangana student leader from Osmania University in Hyderabad says, “If there are conditions on people of Telangana and if the Seemandhra dominance is still there through jobs and investments, and if Telangana people are not given their fair share even if Telangana state is formed and if opportunities are not provided, definitely payback on to Seemandhra will happen. The mindset will go against the Seemandhra people.”
In January 2010, at the height of the Telangana agitation, TRS leaders suggested that the local population in Hyderabad should not allow the coastal Andhra folks who had gone to their villages for Sankranti to return. “That shrill and strident tone created too much tension and acrimony. Those wounds are yet to heal,” says M Shashidhar Reddy, Congress MLA from Hyderabad.
But it is not as though only those from Seemandhra are feeling the pain of losing something. Clinical psychiatrist Dr Purnima Nagaraja says depression and stress among those participating in the Telangana movement was a common phenomenon during the years that the agitation was at its peak.
“Three years ago, when Telangana conflict was in full swing, most of the patients who would come would be depressed and worried about their future. Lot of them were university students who were in the fervour of the movement. Some had stress-related disorders, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders. They had suffered lathicharge and suffered nightmares and feared about their future,” says Dr Nagaraja.
Sitting at his home in Alwal in Secunderabad, balladeer Gaddar sings the `Amma Telangana’ song that emphasises that the native of Telangana wants his land, his water, his forest and self-rule. Which is why Gaddar, who agitated for statehood for Telangana feels a sense of emptiness at gaining a mere geographical entity. “The bifurcation is only transfer of power from the powerful in Seemandhra to the powerful in Telangana. It is only a geographical division and then there has been a class collaboration.”
The Telangana agitation also took roots in what is perceived as a non-inclusive nature of the intellectuals and political class from coastal Andhra. To ensure more people from Telangana were on board the movement for a separate state, the agitation was constructed on the basis of self-respect for people of the region. That drew strength from Telangana culture, its songs, its festivals.
Sociologist P Raghavendra who wrote his M.Phil thesis on Telangana, says, “The intellectuals for Telangana who are clamouring for statehood are mobilising masses and classes from Telangana on the basis of culture. This is our culture, this is our identity, our culture is superior to Andhra culture. There is a cultural hegemony that has been directed by the coastal Andhra people towards the Telangana people and just in order to give a counter hegemonic strategy, intellectuals have used the culture as a political vehicle in mobilising the masses. And they have achieved tremendous success in creating a political economy. It is an emotional gain for the Telangana people but an emotional loss for the Seemandhra people.”
The worry is that over a period of time, the language spoken by all the three regions has begun to sound the same – sharp, biting and hurtful. More so in the online space, where anonymity gives many the license to abuse.
“This probably gave them some kind of vent. But it vitiated the atmosphere so much. Then people who wanted integration were psychologically forced to return the abuse in the same coin thereby forfeiting their claim for integration. Because once I abuse you as a separatist and you return the abuse as an integrationist, then there is no integration. So many integrationist by returning the abuse have actually converted into separatists,” says Parakala Prabhakar.
So will the Hyderabad of tomorrow be a city where a man’s roots will decide how tall he will be allowed to grow? Gaddar does not think so, saying, “My neighbour, a bank employee is from Guntur. And I from Telangana am here. But he is sleeping peacefully. People are not worried about Telangana and Andhra. They are engaged in their own work. Only the rulers and those who want to continue their hold over land, real estate and elections, are doing this. But we have to ensure that the poor people should not get victimised in this.”
These are certainly testing times for the people of Andhra Pradesh. More so for the 422-year-old city of Hyderabad, which has hitherto been known for its tehzeeb or culture of being a welcoming host.