A woman covers her face as protesters angered by a plan to partition the state of Andhra Pradesh burn barricades in Kurnool district (AFP photo/Noah Seelam)
Southern India’s largest state of Andhra Pradesh is to be divided. The Congress Party-led federal cabinet on October 3 approved the creation of the new state of Telangana, to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh.
Telangana will be India’s 29th state with a population of 35 million people and will comprise 10 of the 23 districts of the existing Andhra Pradesh state. Hyderabad, the present Andhra Pradesh capital, is to be jointly used by both states for the next 10 years.
The new state will contain a larger share of the land, reducing the parent state of Andhra Pradesh to a small block and coastal strip.
Divisions and partitions in India have historically been highly emotive. The administrative division of Bengal by the British in 1905 brought the colonialists to their knees. So violently anti-British were the local protests that it was reunited within six years.
In 1947 when British India was divided into the two countries of Pakistan and India, there was a cataclysmic upheaval of about 15 million people crossing borders, resulting in butchery and roughly 500,000 deaths, besides fostering a permanent hatred and distrust among the two nations.
Understandably, the division of Andhra Pradesh is not the division of a country, just the creation of a new state within India. Nonetheless, the division could suffer similar fallout.
Normal life in the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh has in recent days been paralyzed with protests after the announcement of the division. Authorities have imposed a curfew and issued “shoot on sight” orders to quell any acts of violence. The power supply has frequently been cut, highways have been blocked, trains cancelled and shops and educational institutions forced to close.
This and more used to be the case in the Telangana region where the stir for a separate state has been going on for more than half a century. Now calm prevails.
Supporters for the new state say they feel vindicated for the neglect, poverty and unemployment they faced as part of Andhra Pradesh because of political underrepresentation and unequal sharing of resources, jobs and budget allocations.
Fewer than 20 percent of government employees come from Telangana, division supporters say, and few chief ministers over the last 12 years have hailed from Andhra Pradesh since it was constituted in 1956.
Moreover, primarily agricultural Telangana had more than 60 percent of the catchment area of the two main Krishna and Godavari rivers but remained arid since most planned irrigation projects disproportionately benefited other parts of Andhra Pradesh.
Now, people in the residuary state (what will remain of Andhra Pradesh after the division) feel a similar fate awaits them. Hence, the violence and unrest.
Partitioning states does not guarantee good governance or even better economic development. If a place is not developed or neglected, those reasons must be addressed. No region within India should be left neglected and no Indian discriminated against or exploited.
People should see that the division has been perpetuated by politicians stoking a divide between the united Andhra and pro-Telangana peoples. Politicians or government officials in Telangana stand a far better chance of being elected and promoted in separate states than in a unified one. Those not in favor of partition want to cling to whatever power and benefit is available to them.
Moreover, India is heading for general elections next May and by dividing the state, the ruling Congress Party is hoping for a clean sweep of the 17 parliamentary seats in Telangana, giving it a chunk of the undivided state's 42 seats.
The election is predicted to be a tight race between the Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. So in a scenario where every seat counts, a chunk such as this will make it possible for the Congress Party to remain at the helm of affairs, given that it is not particularly popular in the state’s non-Telangan areas dominated by regional parties.
The people of Telangana who are a part of Andhra Pradesh must see through this – that politicians are regurgitating a myth that only a separate state will help develop a neglected region and its people.
Perhaps the most contentious issue of the bifurcation is the fate of Hyderabad, India's sixth biggest city, home to major pharmaceutical companies and the national IT hub. Close to 50 percent of the revenue earned from Andhra Pradesh is from Hyderabad.
Andhra Pradesh through design has invested in making Hyderabad, in the heart of the Telangana region, a home for all people, a safe place for women, a safer place for Dalits, a place for entrepreneurship and multinational companies.
Lessons should be learned from the Hyderabad experience, where if goodwill and governance is proper all can have a stake in the resulting prosperity.
Here there are “Hyderabadis”, “Telangana” and “Andhra” people, those from other parts of India, foreigners, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, those who speak Hindi, English, Telegu.
If it was done in Hyderabad, there is no reason why such success can’t be duplicated in the rest of the region.
Telangana region was originally part of the Nizam's princely state of Hyderabad, which then became Hyderabad state in 1948, a year after India became independent from British colonial rule. In 1956, during a national reorganization of states on the basis of language, the Telangana part of Hyderabad was merged with the Andhra state to consolidate Telegu-speaking people.
Now by bifurcating Andhra Pradesh, the government will only undermine national integrity by fostering parochialism through the sub-division of states. This is evident from demands for the formation of Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Vidharbha in Maharashtra, Bodoland in Assam, Saurashtra in Gujarat – to name only a few.
In the meantime, the Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police has requested 25 additional companies of federal forces to maintain law and order. “The state heads for a civil war. Get ready,” warns a reader commenting about the news of the bifurcation on an internet news portal.
Ivan Fernandes is an analyst based in Hyderabad