Telangana Inc. - The Battle for Hyderabad

Telangana Inc. - The Battle for Hyderabad

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Hyderabad:  The battle for Telangana has become a battle for Hyderabad. Those demanding a separate state say they want to end the dominance of the contractor - politicians from the rest of Andhra Pradesh who have made crores from India's cyber city, because it is the political class of the same region which also controls the politics of their state.

On the western edge of Hyderabad lies the Lanco Hills luxury township. Spread over 100 acres, it one of the biggest real estate projects in the city.

It is the brainchild of Lagdapati Rajagopal, Congress MP from Vijaywada in Coastal Andhra, who is the founder of the Rs. 600 crore Lanco group, with interests in power and infrastructure, and a fierce opponent of Telangana.

But the land has been at the centre of an ongoing bitter legal battle with the Waqf Board claiming it is their land, the site of a religious shrine, the proof of which is a religious flag atop the Lanco Hills.

The Supreme Court has allowed Mr Rajagopal to sell flats in Lanco towers till the dispute is settled, but to his critics, the project explains his anti-Telangana stance.

The Congress MP told NDTV that the Waqf ownership documents were forged, and that he was only targeted since he is against Telangana.

But KT Ramachandra Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) says "all of these top-notch industrialists who have now metamorphosed into Members of Parliament and representatives of people are actually more in public life to protect their business interests and less the public interest, lesser priorities to public interests."

It is true that the list of contractor politicians from the coastal region of Andhra Pradesh is long.

R Sambasiva Rao, Congress MP from Guntur in Coastal Andhra, runs an infrastructure company, Transstroy India, which won the contract for the prestigious Polavaram dam project across the Godavari river.

M Venugopala Reddy, a Telugu Desam Party MP from Guntur heads Ramky Infra, which faced charges of wrongful land grab in the scam involving YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy.

And the most recent addition to the Union Cabinet, K Sambasiva Rao, a parliamentarian from Coastal Andhra is the founder of Progressive Constructions. The company was named by the World Bank in a list of contractors who allegedly paid bribes to secure highway contracts.

Mr Rao said it was wrong to allege that politician-businessmen like him opposed a separate state because of their business interests.

But the TRS argues that while the seat of Andhra Pradesh's government is based in Hyderabad which falls in Telangana, only four of the 16 chief minsters since the state was formed have been from the region - a discrepancy given that Telanagana accounts for a third of the Assembly.

The same bias, they claim, is reflected in the cabinet and in higher levels of the state bureaucracy. Of the 3,500-strong staff in the secretariat, only 500 are from Telangana, as revealed by government figures.

But activists for Telangana claim that they have been discriminated against even in lower-rung government jobs, where there are quotas for each region.
According to statistics, Telangana, by its sheer size, is entitled to 40% of the 13 lakh government jobs (around 5.5 lakhs). But only around 3.5 lakh employees are presently come from the region.

This, the activists say, is because rules which define the status of a local as a qualification for a government job have not been followed.

According to existing rules, anyone who has been a resident of Telangana for four years before getting a qualifying degree is a local, a rule which activists say is not followed.
The focus on breaking the dominance of businessman from the coastal region, and on government jobs, is the new rhetoric of the Telangana movement. It is no longer about a neglected region, but about self-rule - where local politicians will not discriminate against local entrepreneurs, an argument that comes with its own risks.
For starters, not all coastal entrepreneurs who have put Hyderabad on the corporate map may be political cronies. A case in point being infrastructure giant GMR, started by GM Rao, or GVK, the company founded by GVK Reddy and Reddy Labs, founded by Anji Reddy.

Dr BVR Mohan Reddy, the founder of Infotech Enterprises which outsources engineering consultancy to the world's biggest aerospace companies, says coastal entrepreneurs should be seen as pioneers, not outsiders.

Dr Reddy hails from Rayalaseema and went to college in Kakinada along the coast. He says the coastal towns had a long history of quality education, the legacy of British Rule which Telengana, under the rule of the Nizams, lacked.

He seems unperturbed by the change, and is more relieved at the end of the uncertainty over Telangana which had slowed Hyderabad's growth.

But Harish Chandra Prasad, whose recently-formed Malaxmi Group specialises in agribusiness, energy and real estate, takes a stronger view. Mr Prasad says he is putting together a group of businessman from the coastal region - from where he belongs - who, he claims, might contemplate shifting to the capital of Seemandhra, comprising Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.

"What we are trying to do is bring few industrialists, bring few thinkers, few bureaucrats, who are basically from Coastal Andhra but some of them are based in Hyderabad, some are based in those coastal areas, who are more worried about the growth of that area. One of the easiest ways is to change the registered offices of all these corporates to the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions; whoever feels you know their native place or town, the registered office can be shifted, income tax will move," he said.

The TRS is quick to point out that they don't want an exodus of businessmen from Hyderabad, but equally maintain that there is no level-playing field.

Vishweshwar Reddy, one of TRS's newest members, is cited as an example. Mr Reddy runs a software company and is one among a handful of businessman from Telangana.

He says he has been a victim of discrimination by a non-Telangana officialdom, who refused to give him electricity connections because "the electricity board is full of people from coastal Andhra, and unfortunately, our society has become a divided society, divided along regional lines. And therefore, there is discrimination along regional lines."

The claim is all the more ironic given Mr Reddy hails from a family of landlords that owns vast tracts of land around Hyderabad. The businessman is the grandson of Ranga Reddy, a former deputy chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, and is married into the family which owns Apollo Hospitals and who come belong to the Coastal Andhra region.

But will a Telangana government be fair to businessmen from the region? It is not yet clear whether this will help address the challenges of rural hinterland - lack of quality education and industry. The track record of the current representatives of Telangana doesn't inspire much hope.

G Vivekananda, who recently left Congress to join TRS, is an MP from Karimnagar, one of the poorer districts of Telangana. His Visaka Industries runs a string of asbestos cement factories across the country. "I have one factory in Tamil Nadu, one in Karnataka, one in Midnapore, one in Pune and one in Uttar Pradesh," he said.

When asked why he had a limited presence in Telangana, he said, "I have already set up two factories in Telangana so that it takes care of the market here and it's not economically viable to sell a factory in West Bengal, having a factory in Hyderabad. So naturally, I had to take logistics into consideration."

Self-rule may give Telangana's new masters greater control of the levers of power and wealth, but it's far from clear whether that will transform into greater opportunities for its rural interiors.

What is certain is that either way, the political elite of Andhra Pradesh will never be at a loss for opportunity. As Lagadapati Rajagopal said, "For politicians and business people, there is a lot of opportunity if states are divided. New capitals are formed, you get new positions, new contracts, for politicians we get better positions and elevations."

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