Monday, May 20, 2024

Tale of two Telugu States


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By Kingshuk Nag

Now that the votes have been cast there is a lot of speculation about the results in the first week of June from the two Telugu speaking States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Will the BJP move beyond a few urban parts of Telangana or will the Congress keep its new stronghold? How far will Chandrababu Naidu, now in alliance with the BJP, get with Jagan Reddy’s YSRCP, the BJP’s former ally? The questions surround the fate of 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana and 25 in Andhra after old alliances have made way for newly forged ties in a battleground that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has described as his “Kurukshetra”. The YSRCP is contesting all 25 Lok Sabha seats and is also battling to retain Andhra where assembly elections are being simultaneously held
The State was bifurcated in 2014 to form Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. For the last ten years the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) under K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has ruled Telangana. Originally an important member of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chandrababu Naidu, KCR rebelled because of his career not advancing rapidly and propagated the Telangana cause. The demand for Telangana has been around since the early 70s. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had doused the fire by making a Telangana man the chief minister of the integrated State of Andhra Pradesh. This was none other than P V Narasimha Rao who two decades later became the Prime Minister. But the old demand came up once again in the 1990s as locals were troubled by NT Rama Rao’s ideas of ‘Andhrafication’. This meant the import of Andhra culture into Telangana areas. The two areas were different in food habits and local cultures and even how they spoke Telugu.
KCR’s plan for Telangana was successful because he was supported by the Congress party then the principal opposition in the State. The Congress allowed the creation of the new State and tied up with the TRS under KCR to consolidate their political position against Chandrababu Naidu who was part of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). But KCR even as he made of a show of aligning with the Congress ditched the party in the elections that followed the creation of Telangana in 2014. Incidentally KCR had successfully lobbied with the public to show he was the sole creator of Telangana and champion of its cause as he had fought hard for this including a fast unto death. He took advantage of the sentiment, winning 63 seats of the total 119 seats. The Congress party came a poor second with 21 seats. He won again in 2019.
Once in power, KCR converted the Telangana government into his personal fiefdom ruling the State with son K T Rama Rao and nephew Harish Rao as important ministers. His daughter K Kavita became an MP and played a key role. Many of his ministers and important leaders were from his own Velama caste. A prosperous caste, the Velamas are not numerous. Even Velama businessmen were promoted. In his battle for Telangana, large sections of civil society had supported KCR. But once in power KCR cut himself off from these sections, losing his support base without realising it. Hyderabad State of the Nizams- part of which was taken over by Telangana state – was a feudal non democratic state in its heydays. Though independent India was a democratic State, the nature and work ethics of the people had not changed. It seems that KCR thought he could effectively rule the State by behaving like a prince, distant from the people. But the new State required huge resources. How would Telangana get this? His son K T Rama Rao came up with the plan to intensify the commercialisation of Hyderabad. He stated so in 2014 when asked how he would find resources for the newly created State. “We will expand Hyderabad so much that it – in a way – covers the entire State,” he said.
This expansion plan was initiated by predecessor N Chandrababu Naidu who had created the Hi-tech city and a global scale airport and brought in new investments in the education and IT sector. The KCR regime went ahead with fancier real estate, buildings and a financial district that’s coming up. All this led to land prices going up and brought in new investors from Bangalore and Mumbai among other places. A new metro rail by L & T covering large parts of the city was also initiated. Visitors from other metro cities were highly impressed. All this increased the revenues of the government and was spent in creating more roads, dams and irrigation works. But the government failed to keep effective control on the work of contractors. As a result, shoddy roads and irrigation lead to public angst which could show up in the election results.
Meanwhile Andhra Pradesh had been a bastion of the Congress from the beginning. So much so that when ousted from the north just after the Emergency, the party maintained its position in Andhra Pradesh. But the bifurcation demolished the Congress in the newly created State. The party drew a blank and many sitting union ministers lost the election. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) who was earlier chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh won the election. New Andhra Pradesh had no capital and earlier people migrated to Hyderabad. Now the new chief minister Chandrababu Naidu zeroed in on a green field area, Amaravati, to establish his capital. Amaravati, on the banks of the river Krishna, contains fertile land. Naidu was adamant on it against all arguments. The area was under the control of rich Kammas (Naidu’s caste) who had migrated to the US and wanted to divest from it. Naidu’s plan was to establish the new capital to attract investments from Singapore and Japan. Amaravati was a traditional Buddhist centre, so countries like Japan, Thailand would be attracted, Naidu has argued. Jagan Reddy has always opposed this, believing Amaravati was chosen to further Kamma business interests. The Kammas are a rival caste of the Reddys and the two groups are deeply opposed to each other. Jagan Reddy, son of the late Congress chief minister of integrated Andhra Pradesh Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, fell out with the Congress after the demise of his father.
In the 2019 elections Jagan Reddy swept the polls with his party YSR Congress capturing a whopping 151 of the 175 seats. Jagan Reddy planned to move the capital to a far more developed city Visakhapatnam and announced it as his new headquarters. But with assembly and high court buildings ready in Amaravati, the move can only be partial. Andhra Pradesh is caught in this position and people hope that after the results are announced, the State can move forward with the capital finalised. Jagan Reddy is hoping his policy of giving free or cheap grants to the people will also help him sweep the polls.
The BJP, making an effort to enter south India, has recently tied up with the TDP breaking its earlier unwritten alliance with the YSRCP. As they race to the finishing line in Telangana and Andhra, hopes are high. YSRCP wants to keep its space, the Congress which won the recent assembly elections in Telangana wants a greater share, while the BJP is hoping to make a dent.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author based in Hyderabad) (Syndicate: The Billion Press) (email:[email protected])


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