Thursday, January 7, 2010

Divided We Stand, United We Fall...

The latest to emerge out of our political circus is the demand by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for a new state of Telangana, to be carved out from the present state of Andhra Pradesh. This, eleven days after TRS Chief, K. Chandrashekher Rao (KCR) began an indefinite fast for Telangana.

Not being aware of these developments (apparently, the demand for this new state had been tabled quite some time back and announcements regarding the same had been in the offing), my first reaction on reading the morning newspapers was that of shock; quickly followed by dismay, turning to anger, a feeling of frustration, helplessness and finally, revulsion.

Let us look at both arguments. While many may dismiss Mr. Rao as a one-trick pony, there may be merit in the argument for a separate Telangana, especially given that other big states have been carved up into smaller ones for issues ranging from better governance to correcting a perception of neglect. The issue has already taken on ugly connotations in Andhra Pradesh, reinforcing the fact that the region has been getting stepmotherly treatment from the state capital. Successive regimes in Hyderabad have given Telangana short shrift resulting in a simmering cauldron of resentment on socio-economic lines that is now being seen through the filter of caste differentiations. The agitation has rapidly transformed into a platform for the region's predominantly backward castes seeking their share of the pie.

On the other hand, the sticking point in any formulation will be the status of Hyderabad that falls in the Telangana region. “Who will get Hyderabad?” is the million dollar question. Forget Hyderabad, given how interlined the region is with the rest of the state and how underdeveloped it is, a separate state may not be economically viable. Andhra Pradesh as it exists now would serve the region's interests better than two separate states. The immediate task before the state government is to entrust the position of Chief Minister to a man of integrity who is committed to developing Telangana. High-quality education systems, effective irrigation systems and the like can transform it into a centre of excellence in all spheres, much like coastal Andhra. Even the language and culture of Andhra and Telangana are the same except for some minor differences.

These are academic debates, ones which won't change the ultimate decision to be taken by the Congress-led government. But, being a strong opposer of further dividing the country into different states on the basis of regionalism, castes, etc. (lets call this practice as ‘statehood’), what makes me laugh is the fast-unto-death ploy resorted to by the TRS Chief. Just for the record, he finally sipped coconut water late on Wednesday after the Congress high command set the ball rolling to hive off a separate Telangana. Today it is KCR, tomorrow some other crack-pot will begin an indefinite fast to get his party’s demands met. Demands reeking of vested interests and collusive bureaucracy. Get a load of this. Already there are proposals pending with the Centre for 9 new states – Mithilanchal, Coorg, Saurashtra, Gorkhaland, Bundelkhand, Bhojpur, Cooch Behar, Vidarbha and Harit Pradesh. These demands have been languishing for years! These guys will soon be plumping with renewed vigour and fervour for their separate states.

A dangerous precedent has been set. A Pandora’s Box has been opened. Call it whatever, you like, but this is bad news. I, for one, will be highly disappointed with the Congress top brass, if they do give in to TRS and KCRs demands (though the division seems inevitable). Hindsight offers us a leisurely review and repeated snapshots of our decisions, their result and criticisms. However, the government has itself to blame for letting things come to such a sordid pass. It just goes on to confirm the reactive nature of our leaders. In this era of political red-tapism and knee-jerk reactions, we need proactive leaders and constructive visionaries.

The question must be asked – Do we really need this statehood? Nothing will be achieved by repeatedly carving out new boundaries and cutting up our nation into minuscule slivers of land. Those brave souls, the architects of our freedom struggle and countless other countrymen fought against the British and laid down their lives for the idea of a united nation. They gave their blood, sweat and tears for India. Surely not for us to cut it open again and again from the inside!

Forget the Taliban, forget Al-Qaeda, forget Pakistan, forget Dawood Ebrahim, forget Uncle Sam, forget China, forget the hawks circling ominously. First we need to cleanse our country from within, the rot that has set into our system, the apathy that has crept into our minds. Because, the greater danger lies within our country and not without.

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