Telangana – Rhetoric & Muslims

The decision of  the Congress Party to favour bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh (AP) to carve out a new state, Telangana, appears loaded with some promises for Muslims in the area. If Telangana is formed, those favouring it, are talking loudly about the “new” importance that Muslims will gain.  Muslims have been projected as “kingmakers” in the proposed new state. How seriously should these promises be taken? At present, these should be dismissed as nothing but rhetoric. Those favouring Telangana have no option but to indulge in such rhetoric to attract support of Muslims. Interestingly, just as the rest of India and people of AP seem divided over the formation of Telangana, Muslims are visible on both sides.

If formed, Telangana will be India’s 29th state. Lack of united support behind the formation of Telangana was visible on the opening of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament on 5 August. While those opposing the move protested against it, others raised demand for smaller states in their areas too. This raises the billion dollar question: for how long is India expected to consider formation of more and more states to appease various socio-political elements? There is also a view that smaller states will ensure political stability, better administration and also economic development. There is, however, no guarantee that this process will solve problems faced by those demanding smaller states.

Everybody from AP does not welcome the division of their state to form Telangana. Tension prevails in AP with several groups, including students, sitting on a hunger strike in protest against the proposed division of their state. There prevails the fear that the state’s division will spell a loss of employment opportunities for millions in Andhra region.

At present, the Congress has only announced its decision. It is not likely to become a reality this year. The Congress has apparently declared its support for the formation of Telangana with an eye on cashing on it politically in the next parliamentary polls. The tense situation, however, does not project bright prospects for those favouring Telangana. It may be recalled, the central government had earlier announced formation of Telangana on 9 December, 2009. Violent protests against the decision led the government to hastily put in on hold only two weeks later.

More than a dozen Congress legislators from AP have threatened to quit in protest against the  formation of Telangana. They have taken this step in pressure from massive protest demonstrations in their constituencies. Of these, nine, including four Union ministers, have agreed to backtrack after being assured that a high level panel will be formed to look into the issue.

Clearly, on one hand, the Telangana proposal has ignited demands for separate statehoods of other groups. At the same time, many regional leaders are against their states being divided into smaller units. The only leader who has voiced support for formation of smaller states is the former U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati. However, except Uttar Pradesh (UP), which during the Mayawati-led BSP government proposed to create four states dividing the country’s most populous state, no state government has put forward any recommendation for carving out a new state. When Mayawati was chief minister, the state assembly had passed a resolution to divide UP into four states, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, Pashchimanchal and Avadh Pradesh.

Even though, at present, formation of Telangana seems a distant reality in the near future, demonstrations in favour of smaller states have gained strength in several areas. These include Bodoland from Assam, Gorkhaland from West Bengal, Vidarbha from Maharashtra and Saurashtra from Gujarat, among several others. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee has strongly rejected the demand for division of West Bengal to carve out Gorkhaland. Similarly, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has ruled out prospects of J&K being divided for creation of Jammu as a separate state and Union territory status for Ladakh.  

It may be recalled that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government justified the creation of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in 2000 by pointing to their economic development and political stability being threatened by security problems posed by Naxalities.  It has been observed by Justice Sri Krishna Commission that Chhattisgarh “has not been able to control and even contain successfully the violence and extortions perpetrated by the Naxalites.” In ten years, Jharkhand has had “”eight chief ministers, besides being under President’s Rule twice. Its economic performance has been dipping steadily and internal security problems created by the Naxals continue to exist”” the Commission said. Telangana, if created, is likely to face similar problems. The five districts of Telangana, facing high Naxal activity, comprise 46 percent of its population.

Whatever may be the political motive behind the decision of the Congress Party to support the formation of Telangana, developments suggest that the party may be forced to again put it on hold, at least for now. Though an attempt is being made to announce benefits that formation of Telangana would spell for them, Muslims remain guarded about being swept by the same.  Politically, it is wise of Muslims to maintain this stand. They can shrewdly play their political cards in AP, whether Telangana is formed or not.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2013 on page no. 11

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