Is small beautiful? Four and a half years after Telangana was created and the new state is on the verge of an assembly election, this question is being asked by analysts. Of course, Telangana was not carved out of the bigger Andhra Pradesh because a smaller state would mean better administration. Rather it was an issue of self-identity of the locals who felt that their aspirations were being overshadowed by the designs of Andhra people who managed to dominate Andhra Pradesh given that they had far more seats in the state assembly and had a more empowered background when the state was created. Though the Andhras said that the people of integrated Andhra Pradesh had a common culture, the Telangana folks disagreed.
Andhra Pradesh was created as the first linguistic state in India in 1956 by merging the Telugu speaking areas of Andhra (in Madras state) and the Telugu areas of the erstwhile dominion of the Nizam of Hyderabad. At that time, it was believed the language was the basis of culture. But the merger had created severe disparities because the Telugu-speaking areas of Andhra were more modern and less backward in every way compared to the Nizam’s territories.
The demand for separation began within a decade of the creation of composite Andhra Pradesh with a massive agitation in 1969-70. However, it was only — decades later — in 2014 that Telangana became a reality.
The ‘King’ Of Telangana
Although K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) based his agitations on the grounds that Telangana was a distinct region that was being ‘exploited’ by folks from Andhra and spoke stridently against them, he changed tack once in power. For practical reasons, he did not ‘drive out’ the Andhras from Telangana, only forcing his bête noire Chandrababu Naidu out. He also pursued keenly Naidu’s strategy of promoting Hyderabad as an attractive investment destination by inviting businessmen from all over to set up shop in the city. This has kept the brand equity of Telangana intact.
At the same time, he began promoting Telangana culture – festivals, dances and food – in the new state to give the impression of it being unique and to underscore how different it was from Andhra Pradesh. However, KCR’s administration is blatantly feudal. He has built a new palace-like chief minister’s residence in the centre of the city from where he operates. He does not go to the Secretariat and often functions from his farmhouse on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Ministers and secretaries do not have access to him all the time and his ways are quite arbitrary, say insiders. KCR’s son is his virtual number 2 in his cabinet, which includes his nephew too. KCR’s daughter is an important Lok Sabha MP. The media, through a slew of measures, has been kept under control and never raises important points.
Analysts say KCR implicitly believes that after a long period under the Nizams of Hyderabad, the populace is quite fine with a feudal chief who will look after their needs. Thus, KCR has been freely distributing sops in rural Telangana and promising more to win their hearts. This includes double bedroom houses for the poor, agricultural loan waiver, unemployment doles for the poor, piped drinking water in villages, rejuvenation of village tanks and crop insurance scheme for farmers. The problem is that most of this largesse has not fully reached those intended for.
The result: KCR can’t take voters in rural Telangana for granted. Just because Telangana was created due to KCR’s agitations will not automatically mean that the electors will plump for him. This is especially as Sonia Gandhi’s munificence as UPA chairman gave the nod for creation of Telangana when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. The Congress is now leading a coalition against TRS – which strangely includes Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP as well.
Highly-placed inside sources say KCR is confident of winning the forthcoming polls – likely on December 7. His only doubt is that he is unable to figure out how much of the sops he gave to the rural poor have actually reached them. If they have not, KCR will face rough weather.
Not to be undone, KCR has also entered into an informal tie-up with the BJP. The two parties are not talking of it but the saffron party will provide an umbrella of sorts for TRS and in the post-election scenario work out an alliance.
So is Small Beautiful? In the game of political maneuvering that marks the electoral process, it does not really matter.
Kingshuk Nag is an author and journalist.