by Jonathan DeHart
There are a few very big questions on Indians’ minds today. The more pressing one is simple: Will Telangana become India’s 29th territory to be granted statehood? The second question is more complex. Put simply: What will the consequences be if the state is formed? More specifically, if Telangana becomes a reality will other separatists want the same? Further, what impact will the decision have on the Congress party; not to mention – on the upcoming national elections?
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) is expected to make the call on Telangana at a meeting that begins at 5:30 pm today, with many expecting the group – the highest policymaking body of the Congress – to give the green light for the creation of the state.
If given the go-ahead, the state would be made an official reality during the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, scheduled to begin August 5, when a bill would formally be passed. The actual state would not come into being until early next year, dependent upon both houses of parliament passing the bill.
While the prospect of a state is big news, it won’t be the first time that India has redrawn its internal boundaries. At present, Telangana is a region in the southeastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh, India’s fourth largest state by area and fifth largest by population.
This state, which may soon be dissolved, was originally formed in 1956 under the States Reorganisation Act, by melding the Telugu-speaking regions of the former state of Andhra with the then extant state of Hyderabad. Other parts of the former state of Hyderabad broke away as well, with the Marathi speaking areas being subsumed by what was once Bombay State and the Kannada-speaking parts going to what was formerly Mysore State. The city of Hyderabad – an IT powerhouse today – is the capital of Andhra Pradesh.
If Telangana is formed, the capital city’s status becomes a prickly matter. Will Hyderabad be the capital of Telangana? Or will it serve as a joint capital of both states that emerge, should they split? Further, will the new state comprise the 10 districts of the Telangana region, or will it also include a few from the Rayalaseema region as well – both part of present day Andhra Pradesh?
If anything, these kinds of questions are at the forefront now more so than the more basic debate over whether it is in India’s “national interest” to create the new state.
The call for the existence of a separate Telengana state was initially spearheaded by K Chandrashekar Rao (or KCR), a member of India’s lower house of parliament from the Mahaboobnagar constituency of Andhra Pradesh. After founding the separatist political party Telangana Rashtra Samithi in 2001, KCR fasted for nine days in 2009, whipping up a wave of support for the cause.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi is among KCR’s backers, and is expected to lay out the proposed state’s road map today. Regarding the issue of the state’s capital, a report published by NDTV states that sources have indicated Hyderabad will likely serve as a joint capital for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, rather than a Union Territory.
While this is well and good for supporters, the level of dissent is significant. Kirankumar Reddy, Chief Minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, for one, has allegedly threatened to resign should the breakaway state come into being.
“That’s a certainty,” one minister said regarding Reddy’s potential resignation, following the chief minister’s meeting yesterday with fellow state ministers T G Venkatesh, Erasu Pratap Reddy, Dokka Manikya Varaprasad, Ganta Srinivasa Rao, and MP Ananta Venkatarami Reddy, among others.
Other ministers in Reddy’s cabinet have also threatened to resign should the state be formed, while an additional 1,000 paramilitary soldiers have been dispatched to the coastal regions of Andhra and Rayalaseema where protests for a “United Andhra” have broken out. This is in addition to the 1,200 paramilitary troops already stationed in the region.
Once protests subside, those opposed to the creation of Telangana have suggested that they will hold Congress responsible and vote accordingly come election time. This could be a significant blow to Congress. Telangana is home to 17 of Andhra Pradesh’s 42 parliamentary constituencies and 119 of its 294 assembly seats.
While the possibilities that ministers could resign, protests could escalate, and votes could be swayed at next year’s polls are all significant in themselves, perhaps the larger issue to mull over is whether the creation of one break-off state will fan the flames of other separatist groups across the country calling for the same.
“Our resignation is not an issue but keeping Andhra Pradesh united is,” said T G Venkatesh, a minister who serves in Reddy’s cabinet. “If at all the state is divided it will create new problems and demands. Already, the demand for Gorkhaland has started. Similar demands will come up in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir.”
Indeed, from Gorkhaland to Bodoland (in present day Assam), India is rife with separatist movements. Just this week, Gorkhaland separatists seeking to break away from the northern part of the state of West Bengal launched a three-day bandh (protest), burning a motorcycle and a car, and picketing along National Highway 31.
Could Telangana simply be the first domino to fall? Only time will tell, but the question looms large on the minds of many who oppose the division. Whatever the aftermath, should Telangana’s statehood be announced, Congress will be making history.
Jonathan DeHart is assistant editor of The Diplomat.