Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Telangana Issue - No End In Sight

It is a peculiar situation in every way. I would not think it possible in any state capital that state transport is off the road for almost a month, that schools and educational institutions are shut for the same period, that a major producer of coal like Singareni Collieries is shut, that government officials are away from work (at least most of them), that trains are stopped every now and then, that autorickshaws also strike every second day, highways blocked at will - and still there is a government in place - doing almost nothing. What surprises me in all this is the complete inaction of the government machinery. It seems helpless, toothless and is plodding along as the protestors demanding a separate state for Telangana press their demands and increasingly put the common public to inconvenience.

Acts of protest are an accepted norm in Indian democracy. The demand for a separate state is not a new one - many states have been formed before. However in the curious case of Telangana, there seems to be no stand, no clear cut understanding of the situation. Is there a case for a separate state, in which case the Central government has to make its stand clear, or is there not, in which case also the government has to make its stand clear. Much time has elapsed, committees were formed, reports given, deliberations done, talks held - now its time to come out with some direction instead of prevaricating further. In its inaction, lack of clarity, the Central Government, where the power to handle this situation appears to lie, has failed its people. In playing the waiting game, in waiting for political advantage, the Centre is not doing its primary duty - that of governance. No state capital, least of all an important one like Hyderabad, can be allowed to slide backwards so fast due to its inaction. The primary culprit then to me is the Centre for its uncertain and doddering approach to the issue.

The state government is the second culprit in dragging its feet and doing nothing despite a month long siege on the people of Hyderabad and Telangana. It is common to see people stocking up food, petrol and other essentials whenever a strike is announced. But in emergencies, people really must be suffering. Students can very well kiss this year good bye as Hyderabad state turns a blind eye to schools and educational institutions being closed. How can any student sustain the intensity of studying with constant breaks like this, with no instruction is a mystery to me. From not providing any protection to schools, to transport systems, to even emergency services such as hospitals, and any reliable system of governance, any form of secure environment for its people to earn a livelihood, the state government has completely failed in its duty. To say that it is engaging in talks with striking government officers after almost a month after they went on strike is ridiculous.

The various people, irrespective of party, who are involved in stopping schools, stopping transport and putting the common man to a lot of convenience are guilty of using the helplessness of the common man to further their demands. Clearly the most gullible sections of society are being targeted by them to act as their shields. The common individual, to whom all that matters is a secure environment, a way to earn a living, a means to educate their children, to run their business or do their job, to get state support in the form of transport and emergency services - the students and the individuals - to whom it does not really matter either way - Andhra or Telangana - are the targets of their movement. As one newspaper pointed out the malls are open, the liquor shops are open, movie theatres are open - are they not in support of the Telangana movement? Demands and protests have validity when there is a sacrifice that goes with it that is evident from those who demand. In this movement I see no sacrifice from the people behind these strike calls, no fasts, no giving up positions, nothing. Why has not a single leader sat down for a fast like Anna Hazare did? Why have they all sat down on a relay strike? Why do the Ministers continue to hold posts but not come to the Secretariat? All they have sought are sacrifices from the common people - the ones who have given up their lives for the cause are also poor common people, the ones who are sacrificing their studies are students, the ones who are losing their livelihood are the poor. Where is the sacrifice from those that matter? To me this part is what rings hollow about these people who demand sacrifices from others.

A rational demand for a separate state is fair. But somewhere along the line it has been subverted in the manner that the Shiv Sena had famously done in the sixties, into an us versus them story. They have created a villain, about a people who they feel have exploited them, they have sown seeds of doubt among the people and divided the people. Today most people in favour of Telangana believe that people from Seemandhra have come and taken away what belongs to them. That they have conspired to take away their jobs, their wealth. It is not as if someone has attacked the region and exploited it. The two components lived together as one for so long and together they have created what they have. But to foist conspiracy theories against one section of people - when the region is composed of so many different classes and peoples that have both contributed and benefited in many ways - is downright mischievous. It will only lead to divisive politics. More importantly they will always be used to blame - today this class, tomorrow that class, day after someone else. Anything big can be achieved only on the promise of a better alternative that is evident - not on mere blame.

On the same note I also find the protests for a united Andhra ridiculous. States are not sovereign entities and based on the validity of the demand a people are entitled to a separate state. People from all over the country have equal opportunity to live and earn a living wherever they are. So even if Telangana is formed, people from other regions can live here and make a living. It is not about patriotism surely, or of oppression - so what is their rationale save as a reaction to the allegations against Seemandhra people.

The formation of a state will most certainly impact the politicians, the government workers in the region at the most. Those outside this will merely go under a new label. Schools will run, banks will run. Nothing will change for the other people except perhaps bearing the cost of all that has been lost in the past few months. What the politicians have in mind for the new state if and when it is formed is to be seen but I hope that they will start taking the responsibility to create, to take the region forward. From all indications that we have seen so far, the state has only regressed considerably and undoing the damage itself will take a long while. It must be borne in mind that every struggle has its place and the welfare of the people has its place too. If the leadership is wise, it will be able to get its point across without troubling the common man, without disrupting production, without weakening the economy which it proposes to inherit, and without playing divisive politics with the people based on flimsy grounds and promises. Hopefully wiser counsel will prevail and the common man's misery comes to an end soon with a decision taken either way.

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