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Divide and rule
Wednesday December 16, 2009
A friend's father would often boast that Telugu is the Italian of the East, one of the sweetest languages this side of the globe and that the best Carnatic music compositions are in Telugu because of the beauty and sound of the language. The last two weeks it has been used to heap abuse, not on non-Telugus, but on the 'others' within the Telugu family, to say I am better than you, my language is better than yours, conveniently forgetting that its regional variations have only made it more vibrant and enchanting.

Suddenly even journalist friends seemed to be becoming acutely conscious of which part of the state each one hailed from. And friendships and loyalties were being redrawn. A friend from Vijayawada chuckled as he told me, "The first ten days, pro-Telangana journalists had a field day, building up KCR's fast and the Telangana agitation. Now when there was a strong reaction from the Coastal Andhra-Rayalseema side, they have no choice but to lie low.''

In what was a terrible low, lawyers at the Andhra Pradesh High court fought a pitched battle outside the courtroom last week. Advocates hailing from Nalgonda, Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Warangal vs those from Krishna, Kadapa, Guntur and Kurnool. No one intervened to say 'Order, Order'. And for all you know, the case would come up in another court, another day, very soon. But there will be no winners, only losers.

The events of the last two weeks in Andhra Pradesh have been the most tragic in recent history. A separatist politician goes on a fast-unto-death inside hospital, the media goes on an overdrive showcasing the vandalism and police action in two streets in Osmania University and rail roko incidents in a few districts and the Union government enacts 'Freedom at Midnight'. P Chidambaram could well have been Pt Nehru Part 2. "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the rest of Andhra Pradesh sleeps, Telangana will awake to life and freedom.''

If PC thought the rest of Andhra Pradesh was sleeping, he was dreaming. What followed has been PC's and the UPA's government's worst nightmare. Congress MLAs, MPs, MLCs and ministers from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema quick to stand up and revolt against the leadership. Their demand : status quo. "All Telugu-speaking people should live together in a unified Andhra Pradesh,'' says L Rajagopal, the MP from Vijayawada, who has emerged as the ringleader of the 'We are for Unity' chorus.

Rajgopal's critics say he is just protecting his business interests in Hyderabad. They say he is flexing his financial muscle in full public view and media glare because he knows a unified Andhra Pradesh and more importantly, retaining Hyderabad, is critical to him remaining one of the richest MPs in Parliament. He is worth 299 crore rupees according to his affidavit before the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The same, pro-Telanganites say, goes for most of those MLAs and MPs who are opposing Telangana. "Each one of them is protecting his or her own economic interest. Did even one of them stand up and make such a hue and cry when farmers and weavers were committing suicide in rural Andhra Pradesh,''commented my colleague.

T G Venkatesh, MLA from Kurnool, admits there is economic interest. He points out that an entire generation from Rayalseema that had invested in the erstwhile Madras state had to left Chennai and move to Hyderabad."Why should we be uprooted twice? We have worked hard to develop the Hyderabad of today.''

Film producer Suresh Babu recalls how the entire Telugu film industry that used to operate out of Chennai was wooed by the Andhra Pradesh government to move to Hyderabad. Today all the film-related infrastructure is created by people like Suresh's dad, Rama Naidu, Ramoji Rao, Krishna and Akkineni Nageswara Rao. But they are the ones who are anathema to TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao. "My Andhra waale bhago slogan was not against the rickshawallah who has come to Hyderabad to earn a living. I want those guys who have grabbed land, made money by exploiting the poor of Telangana to be chased away,'' he told me before he set out to Siddipet to undertake his fast-unto-death.

Which is why many filmmakers are looking east. To the city of destiny, Visakhapatnam. Going back to their roots in coastal Andhra would well be a homecoming for many of them. "I don't think many of us belonging to coastal Andhra would feel safe in a Hyderabad which is the capital of Telangana. Which is sad, because this city has been home to us for several decades now. But we cannot take chances when the potential rulers of Telangana are people with a separatist mentality,'' an industrialist told me. And he did not wish to be quoted. Such is the fear factor.

In fact, Rajagopal's Lanco group offices in Hyderabad have been attacked and vandalised several times by KCR's men. He knows in a Telangana state that includes Hyderabad, ruled by parties like the TRS, the famous Hyderabadi tehzeeb will not be extended to Andhrites like him. Which is why he is going all out, including a hungerstrike, to ensure Hyderabad does not slip out of the hands of industrialists from the coast and Rayalseema. Staying hungry today is to ensure there's enough in the tomorrow's to come.

But even as agitations break out in coastal Andhra and Rayalseema, Telangana is quiet. "We have been promised by Sonia Gandhi and it is now for her to deliver on her promise,'' says KCR's nephew Harish Rao. For the moment, TRS leaders are waiting for the Congress to douse all the fires in its Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema camps. But when I ask the TRS if it is willing to wait for one or two years, pat comes a senior leader's reply : "Aag laga denge''.

It is to stay away from this 'Aag' that investors have already ticked off Hyderabad from their list. If the leadership in Delhi thinks taking no decision will be the best decision now to cool tempers, it will be doing a huge disservice to Andhra Pradesh. It took several years of hard work, lobbying and persistence for Chandrababu and Rajasekhara Reddy to make Hyderabad an attractive investment destination and a truly global city. Post 9th December, that is beginning to sound like an adjective of the past.

The exuberance of the TRS leaders is already finding an echo in the cadre below and perhaps even some goons who see Andhra businessmen and factory owners with units in the Telangana of tomorrow as the new milch cows. Already protection money is being sought from factory owners by goons. A friend who owns a factory in the city's outskirts confided he has been asked to part with five lakh rupees.

Most cite the dismal electoral performance of the TRS to say there is no sentiment for a separate Telangana. How the Grand alliance consisting of the TDP, TRS and the Left fought the elections together on the plank of statehood to Telangana. And yet the Congress, which under YSR, never said, "Yes we will give Telangana,'' romped home with more seats than the TDP and TRS put together.

But then a huge number of Telanganites in the region have always aspired for a separate state. Who feel, despite being merged with the rest of Andhra in 1956, they were always treated as second-class citizens. They say people from Andhra and Rayalseema cornered the bulk of the jobs which otherwise should go to the locals. "We may speak the same language, Telugu but the way we express is very different from those in Andhra. We are more rooted to the ground,'' says Kavitha, KCR's daughter.

The question no one answers is where were all these people in April-May 2009. If they wanted a state of Telangana more than anything else, why didn't they give 119 out of 119 assembly seats in Telangana to Naidu and KCR. When the same Telangana chose to vote for a YSR, isn't Sonia Gandhi now subverting the people's mandate? That too, within just six months of the election and three months of YSR's death.

But now as KCR says, the arrow has left the bow. It is no longer a situation of whether Telangana needs statehood or not. Sonia Gandhi has decided it will be. Andhra Pradesh is now left with dealing with an unhappy, messy and traumatic divorce. People's minds and hearts have been divided. And the tribe of politicians is busy posturing, only to ensure their business and political interests are safe. I wonder how Sonia will manage to campaign in the non-Telangana areas after this. And as far as Naidu is concerned, he is trying to ride both the Telangana and the Andhra boats. I hope he knows how to swim.

Just as a child suffers the emotional scars when his parents go through a divorce, Hyderabad looks on helplessly as both Telangana and Andhra-Rayalseema fight for its custody. KCR says there can be no Telangana without Hyderabad. The rest of Andhra Pradesh says without Hyderabad, it will be just another agrarian state. Besides, crores of rupees will be needed to develop a Vijayawada or a Vizag into a state capital of international standards. Is the taxpayer's money to be squandered away like that?

A third proposal is making Hyderabad into a Union territory, to be shared by Andhra and Telangana. KCR, the political expression of the Telangana movement, has vetoed the Chandigarh model. But as a citizen of a modern state capital of a big and powerful state, why should I be reduced to a resident of an Union territory? When a Delhi years ago, wanted to graduate to being a state from a UT, why should my Hyderabad be Draupadised?

The 'successful' campaign for Telangana has already ignited similar minds fighting for smaller states elsewhere. But what happens tomorrow, if in a future Telangana state, all the development takes place only in Warangal and Karimnagar. And the neglected district of Adilabad wants to be a separate state. Will we let them go?

An angry financial analyst asked what gives the right to Sonia Gandhi to cut Andhra Pradesh like a cake on her birthday and distribute it. Industrialist-turned-politician Sudhish Rambhotla says public opinion is not a few hundred people pelting stones, throwing stones or shouting slogans. If we have a time-tested democratic process of eliciting public opinion through elections every five years, then politicians also need to show the maturity to respect that public opinion.

This has been a story that has left me very disturbed and drained out. I moved to Hyderabad in 1995. I came here for just 3 years but the love affair with the city and this state that started then still continues. Which is why I now say I 'belong' to Andhra Pradesh, that this state is mine.

I have nothing against statehood to Telangana but it breaks my heart to see the crude manner in which the surgeon sitting in Delhi chose to sever the body into two. With everyone now asserting their regional identity, instead of growing, we have been turned into pygmies. Big is beautiful and also powerful. And power always threatens. A powerful Hyderabad, just like a powerful Mumbai or a powerful Lucknow will always be a threat to Delhi. The Britishers were known to divide and rule. 62 years on, we are doing the same.

 
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About Me
T S Sudhir is Resident Editor (South) and has been with NDTV since February 1995. He has reported extensively on politics, Naxalism, business, sports, entertainment and is one of the seniormost television journalists in the country today.
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