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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