Telangana’s Super Friday

By T S Sudhir

The people of Telangana have filled full tank petrol in Chandrasekhar Rao’s ambassador car. On what was a super Friday, KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s latest resignation drama was declared a superhit at the electoral box-office. This even though the `resign and recontest’ formula has been used by KCR several times in his decade-long career with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

In the past, the ploy of `losing to win’, by way of `sacrifice’ to attain more strength didn’t click, with the people of the region seeing through KCR’s game. But this time, KCR had brewed the T just right.

Coming just months after Andhra Pradesh was polarised on regional lines and the formation of the Srikrishna committee to study the contentious issue, nearly 65 per cent voters in 12 assembly constituencies in five districts turned up to say `We want Telangana’. With the TRS and the BJP the only two parties to have taken an unequivocal stand on statehood to Telangana, the endangered pink panther species was roaring once again. And pink slips were handed by the dozen to Congress and Telugu Desam candidates.

Contrary to the May 2009 results, when the TRS won just 10 of the 45 assembly seats it contested, forcing KCR to take moral responsibility and resign and allow himself to be persuaded, this time KCR’s hard work ahead of the 27th July exam paid off. What makes this whitewash noteworthy is that this came despite the TRS having a truck with the BJP in Nizamabad and their leaders campaigning together in several other constituencies. The lotus didn’t scare the minorities away.

Does this mean that the TRS can repeat this feat in the remaining 107 constituencies in the Telangana region, if elections were held tomorrow? Yes and No, depending on KCR’s assessment of his own steering skills.

While this victory will give a fillip to the TRS cadre and the party is also likely to gain from migratory birds from the TDP and the Congress, it will do well not to overestimate its own strength. A 100 per cent result plus picking up the Vemulawada seat is fantastic but KCR, the astute politician he is, will recognise that much of the verdict is an emotional vote for Telangana and not entirely for the TRS.

At the moment, jubiliant TRS workers point to the Congress and the TDP and joke, `For who the bell tolls’. No doubt, alarm bells are ringing for both the parties. The aam aadmi in Telangana did not extend his hand to the Congress nor did he trust Chandrababu Naidu, to hitch a ride on his bicycle. For both these parties, most dominant on the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh, the time has come to shed their wishy-washy attitude on bifurcation and come clean.

TDP leaders on Friday behaved like an ostrich with its head in the sand. As if the bypolls did not matter. Naidu himself muttered something like “we were all very busy with Babhli and couldn’t campaign”. It sounded like a `marriage at home so can’t come to work’ kind of excuse. And after Jaganmohan Reddy’s Sakshi TV put a `x’ mark over Naidu’s right eye (wickedly indicating that his Telangana eye had lost sight), the fencesitter TDP supremo changed the screenplay to a father and his two sons, implying as a father, he wouldn’t choose between Telangana and Seemandhra.

Contrary to TDP hope that Babhli would work some magic, it only poured cold Godavari water. None of the voters had an appetite for listening to Naidu’s tales of horror, likening the Maharashtra police to the Britishers. End result was the TDP even lost its deposit in many constituencies, a matter of shame for a party whose cadre strength in Telangana used to be a matter of envy.

The Congress got a zor ka jhatka, zor se lage, when its chief, Dharmapuri Srinivas bit the dust in Nizamabad. Here was a political heavyweight whose supporters initially tomtomed about how DS could be CM if he won. Realising Nizamabad has 12000 Vysya votes (the community to which K Rosaiah belongs) who wouldn’t relish the prospect, CM-aspirant was brought a notch down to DCM (deputy chief minister). But none of his efforts `paid’ off and DS lost to his BJP rival by 11981 votes. I wonder if they were all Vysya votes !

But no one is shedding tears for DS’s second downfall in 15 months. Everyone knows, it is just a matter of time, before the APCC chief is shown the door and the next few weeks will witness an ugly race to succeed him.

The real target in fact, will be Rosaiah. While the chief minister can smile now that the man from Nizamabad is no longer building castles in Hyderabad air, the Jagan camp is already loading its ammunition and asking why Rosaiah shouldn’t answer for why, as the commander-in-chief of his army, he did not even campaign in the byelections. The CM obviously calculated that staying away would absolve him of the disaster that almost everyone knew was waiting to happen.

But Jagan, though the thorn in Rosaiah’s throne, is also a red rag to many Congressmen from Telangana. One of them being bete noire Madhu Goud, MP from Nizamabad. To Jagan groupies who claim that not allowing YSR’s son into Warangal for his Odarpu yatra was a mistake, Goud counters that if Jagan had stepped into Telangana, all Congress candidates would have lost their deposit.

Polemics aside, the fact remains that post-YSR, the Congress does face serious questions on who its real leader with a pan-Andhra Pradesh appeal is. The answer is no one. The ruling party can ill-afford to continue batting with a night watchman, who doesn’t have the complete support of his team. Especially when the situation post 31st December 2010, irrespective of what the Srikrishna committee recommends, could throw Andhra Pradesh into chaos. The state needs a leader, whoever it is, who can control and more importantly, perceived to be able to control. It is for the Congress to launch a talent hunt within its ranks and soon.

The million dollar question is whether this 12/12 result will hasten the process of formation of Telangana. There will be now pressure from the Telangana Congressmen on the leadership in Delhi, to recognise and respect the verdict. For the sake of the party’s own political future, if not out of love for the people of Telangana. But don’t rule out an equal and opposite reaction from the Seemandhra Congressmen, Chiranjeevi and TDP’s yellow brigade.

Two, the Congress decision will depend largely on whether it is able to blunt KCR’s image. It will not want to be seen as granting statehood under pressure and definitely not allow anyone else to walk away with the credit. And it knows KCR is ready with his acceptance speech, when he receives the `Father of Telangana’ award.

Either way, Telangana’s super Friday has set the tone for churning in Andhra Pradesh’s political theatre. Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost !

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Babu aur Babhali

By T S Sudhir

This week, Andhra Pradesh’s health minister P Satyanarayana blamed the mosquitoes of Orissa for the high incidence of malaria in the tribal belt on the Andhra-Orissa border. Didn’t know the female anopheles came with her domicile status. But yes, mosquitoes have become the cause of Andhra Pradesh’s latest border disputes.

On the state’s north-western front, 75 Telugu Desam leaders led by party supremo Chandrababu Naidu are suffering the sting of the mosquitoes of Maharashtra, at Dharmabad since Friday night. So livid are the TDP honchos with the insult to Telugu atmagauravam (self-respect), that they plan to petition the National Human Rights Commission against this `inhuman’ treatment.

To protest against the bites, the party wants Andhra Pradesh to be `bandh’ on Monday. Naidu drove towards Maharashtra’s Nanded district on Friday morning to inspect the Babhali barrage being built on the river Godavari. But the neighbour’s government refused permission for any kind of dam tourism. When Naidu did not budge, the Maharashtra police took him into preventive custody for violating prohibitory orders. Bail was offered to him but Naidu was adamant he will not return home till he got a darshan of Babhali.

Naidu’s contention is that the Babhali barrage project is designed to enable Maharashtra to exploit more water, that would result in `desertification’ of six district of Telangana that are irrigated by the Godavari. Waterflow into the Sri Ramasagar project in Nizamabad, the lifeline of the region, would be severely affected.

From Maharashtra’s perspective, Babhali will bring over 8,000 hectares in Nanded under irrigation. A year after construction began in 2004, Andhra Pradesh complained to the Centre that if the barrage was completed, it would cause a reverse flow of water and Andhra Pradesh would be denied its share of waters awarded under an accord by the Godavari tribunal. The Central Water Commission set up a technical committee to investigate.

In 2006, Andhra Pradesh filed a suit in the Supreme Court urging it to restrain Maharashtra from proceeding with the construction. The following year, the court passed an interim order giving Maharashtra the go-ahead to construct the barrage, but asking it not to install the proposed 13 gates till further orders. The Maharashtra government claims it has not installed the gates as per the apex court order. TDP wants to physically verify that claim.

“We are not demanding demolition of the Babhali dam. We only want to see ourselves if they are following the Supreme court guidelines. We want to see what is happening on the ground at the dam site,” says M V Mysoora Reddy, TDP leader.

In response to Andhra Pradesh’s strident position on Babhali, a `Save Babhali Action Committee’ has sprung up whose chief Balaji Kompalwar points out that Naidu was the chief minister when the project was sanctioned.

“Now that he is in the Opposition, he is trying to make an issue out of it. It is nothing but a political stunt.”

Naidu’s critics in Hyderabad agree, pointing out that when the Supreme Court is hearing the matter and chief minister Rosaiah will lead an all-party delegation to the Prime Minister on 23rd July to voice Andhra Pradesh’s concerns, where was the need for Naidu to jump the gun.

It is an emotive issue, no doubt, for the people of Telangana and TDP must be given credit for being focussed on Babhali since 2006. In 2007, it sent a team of leaders to the same place. They were caned by the Maharashtra police and packed off to Hyderabad.

Naidu’s yatra at this point, however is seen as nothing but an attempt to indulge in televised campaigning for the byelections on 27th July, even while sitting in `judicial custody’ at Dharmabad’s ITI campus.

How would this help the TDP? By `fighting’ and `sacrificing’ his health and sleep for the Telangana region, Naidu would hope the region’s animosity to him will cease. With Telangana votaries not allowing him to move around freely in the region, this `campaign’ from an Industrial Training Institute campus is reminiscent of the Naidu of old. Hi-tech and out of the box.

The former CM, hailing from Rayalaseema, is seen as a votary of unified Andhra Pradesh. He has had a kabhi haan kabhi naa stance on the Telangana issue. The latest is his `two eyes’ theory where his one eye is for Telangana and the other for Seemandhra and therefore, he will not choose one over the other.

But Naidu watchers aver the wily politician will go with any eye that makes the Governor swear in `I, Nara Chandrababu Naidu’ as chief minister.

If the TDP is indeed able to reap some electoral benefits out of this stay at Dharmabad, you bet many a political party would start similar gimmicks. Already the `nataka’ of the opposition MLAs in Karnataka to move bed and bedding into the House in Vidhana Soudha, has triggered a chain of events that may see the Reddy brothers move out of their ministerial bungalows. (Though, I suspect that also has to do with some clever match-fixing between a section of the BJP and a section of the Congress to discharge some of the inconvenient ever-Reddys in both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh).

As I write this, TDP managers text to report the death of a party activist Nelson Raju, who reportedly committed suicide, aggrieved by Naidu’s arrest. I hope this doesn’t start a spiral of statistics of suicides by people upset with Naidu_arrest@dharmabad.

In this monsoon and election season, Andhra Pradesh is clearly in the grip of a political malaria, with each neta trying to ensure his rival gets the shivers.

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Aal izz well ! Where?

By Uma Sudhir

I strongly recommend Andhra Pradesh chief minister K Rosaiah to watch `3 idiots’. And, just like Aamir Khan’s character Rancho in the film, try telling himself `Aal izz well’. Pat his heart and repeat : `Aal izz well’. `Aal izz well’. If writer-director Rajkumar Hirani is to be believed, it works.

Rosaiah could also try another one of Hirani’s now-part-of-cinematic-folklore gimmicks. Give a `jadoo ki jhappi’ to all those who have given him a political headache. Start with Jagan and KCR and then proceed to Chandrababu Naidu, Osmania University students and finally P Chidambaram. A `jadoo ki jhappi’ to Chiranjeevi will be a Kodak moment, for the megastar played Sanjay Dutt’s role in `Sankardada MBBS’, the Telugu remake of `Munnabhai MBBS’.

It is perhaps because of my desperation to see a way out of what seems the intractable Telangana tangle that I am looking for escapist solutions inspired by the cine world. Where Gandhian goodness and honesty, triumphs over every sort of guile.

Hyderabad’s Osmania University is in sharp contrast to the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE) featured in `3 idiots’. ICE director, Virus Sahasrabuddhe (unlovingly called `Virus’ by the students) is a no-nonsense guy, who neither allows nor forgives any break from the pursuit of academic excellence. It is a do-or-die battle. Those who can survive the rat race are considered winners. There is no place for the rest.

At Osmania University and its many affiliated colleges, it is a do-or-die battle of a different kind. There have been virtually no classes here for over one month now. Exams have had to be postponed twice. If one were to go by visuals flashed in the media, one would imagine, academics is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Both the students and the faculty it seems, have been sucked into the vortex of the Telangana struggle. Students who were sitting on a hunger-strike told me they will achieve Telangana the Gandhian way. In the India of 2010, the only Gandhian connect they achieved was when they were forcibly shifted to Gandhi hospital.

I must admit that in the last one month, every time I have set foot on the campus and stood amongst the students and others, and watched them as they raised in a chorus, slogans for Telangana, sang in the lilting typical Telangana style about their life and deprivation, as they clapped and danced, I have felt the atmosphere, the music, the lyrics, pull at my heartstrings.

The beauty of the Telangana `janapadam’ style of singing is that it is so rustic and real, the lyrics simple, everyday words that make no unnecessary scholarly pretensions and so allow everyone to participate. The subjects deal with issues that everyone can identify with. It is difficult not to be moved, physically and emotionally. I often found myself tapping my foot and joining in almost unconsciously. And yet, pro-Telangana supporters point out, this is a language and culture that has found little respect in the popular `mainstream’ of Andhra Pradesh.

And the stories of disparity, backwardness and neglect, being denied the irrigation projects and river waters, that have turned large areas into notoriously drought-prone and suicide-prone districts, the years of turning a deaf ear to desperate cries on being pushed into helplessness, turning a blind eye to fluorosis-affected Nalgonda where lack of safe drinking water has distorted human beings beyond recognition, all those stories are not without truth.

As I think of all that, it seems perfectly justified, and even inspiring, that the youngsters, as aware and concerned citizens of the region, want to play a historic role in correcting the wrongs of the past. You can almost feel their idealistic excitement at being part of a `revolution’ that they hope and believe is going to give them an opportunity to transform their own life and the life of people in the region. You can’t blame youngsters for living those moments in the exhilaration of doing something adventurous, something that makes life more meaningful than the routine.

Mohammed Kaleem, a post-graduate student of history, comes from Medak district. He says his younger brother too has joined the agitation because both of them dream of a Telangana where “their jobs will not be snatched away by the guys from coastal Andhra”. Kaleem’s father is a farmer and he says having been witness to the deprivation in his village, is a direct, immediate trigger for their energies and turmoil to be channelised into the struggle.

But then there is also another world beyond the din of `Jai Telangana’. The possibility that these youngsters are being supported and even encouraged to take on these roles by vested interests. Agitations of this sort need funding and political support as well. And the vulnerability of youngsters can be exploited by militant, anti-social organisations. Frustration with the inadequacies of the delivery system of governance can be turned into anger against the State, with disastrous consequences.

It is more than obvious that students with passionate young blood can easily be used as shikhandis. They very often are. There is a strong emotional appeal in projecting the failure of the state and system to be just and equitable as rationale to fight for one’s own state. You are led to believe that is an answer to many of your problems as you will be your own master and decide your fate and future. So to dare and take on the police becomes a heroic act.

A student told me that is why they need political support. So when the battle is over, they can prevail on the government to withdraw cases. “It is only because students are in the struggle that there is public sympathy and support. The politicians know it too. That’s why they support us.” A senior police officer calls it “a symbiotic relationship.”

Last week, I was with two M.Tech students as we watched the police removing the students on hunger-strike by force. One of them, Sridhar is from Nalgonda district, supports statehood for Telangana but like many of his collegemates, has not been active in the agitation. Sridhar told me December is when campus recruitments take place.

“We have lost one month. Companies are not interested to come here. Today for instance, TCS was to come here for campus recruitment. They have not. So the students have gone to the TCS office,” said Sridhar. It is to the credit of the talent that the institution produces that companies have recruited many who will pass out this year. But that can happen only if there is no more disruption. If there are a few more weeks of forced holiday, Osmania University and its affiliate colleges, could risk losing an academic year.

No one is asking any questions about why a centre of learning should be allowed to be politicised. Why the thousands of students who are not part of the agitation should pay a price for the politics of Telangana being allowed a free run on the campus. Anyone raising these questions faces the danger of being dubbed anti-Telangana, a traitor singing the tune of the `coasta’ (coastal) or `seema’ (Rayalaseema) `rulers’.

Outside the Arts College, I met students who are part of the Osmania University Joint Action committee with several cases slapped on them. One of them has 28 cases against him. The sight of a police jeep is enough to make him duck behind other students. I asked a student if he fears police cases will ruin his future.

“Yes, our future will be spoilt. But not with the cases. It will be spoilt because of living in an united Andhra Pradesh. We don’t have jobs, we don’t have water. There are no irrigation projects in Telangana,” he argued. He and many others see the struggle of 2009-10, coming forty years after the aborted agitation of 1969-70, as a historic opportunity to rewrite their future. So some losses today don’t matter when they hope for the anticipated gains of a tomorrow.

But the losses aren’t for them alone. The whole of Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh has lost out in the battle that has pitted a Telugu against a Telugu. Industry is insecure, it is eyeing other cities instead of Hyderabad for future investments, no delegations are coming visiting, travel and hospitality industry has been grounded. It is as if the epitaph has been written for Hyderabad.

Telangana has been Keralafied, the way we brace ourselves for a bandh every other day. The idea is perhaps to tell Delhi that we will be closed till you say `Open sesame’ to a Telangana state. Ditto is the pressure from the coastal Andhra-Rayalaseema side where too bandhs have become a way of life. Faceless groups that call themselves `Joint Action Committee’ decide there will no `action’ on a bandh day and we shut down. Meekly. In fear. And there is no one to reassure us that all will be well. Not even the CM. He himself gives in and cancels a scheduled cabinet meeting on December 30 “because of the bandh”.

On second thoughts, Rosaiah does not need to see `3 idiots’. After all, he `presides’ over a land that is home to 760 lakh `idiots’. At least that is what the politicians of this country are reducing us to.

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