Jairam Ramesh tells the story of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Seemandhra and Telengana with a remarkable clarity and frankness.
Claiming to “provide the context, text and subtext to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into the two Telugu-speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh” in February 2014, this well-written book by Jairam Ramesh, former Union Minister, attempts to bring clarity to the public discourse about “the nuts and bolts of the bifurcation process regarding which there are many myths and misconceptions”. Ramesh is well qualified to perform this much-needed task, as he is not only a member of the Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, but was also of the Group of Ministers (GOM) set up by the UPA government in October 2013 to study and make recommendations on several critical legal, economic, social and administrative issues that needed to be covered by a State Reorganisation Bill.
Ironically, the two most active members on the floor of Rajya Sabha when it considered the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill were M. Venkaiah Naidu of the BJP, who hails from Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, but got elected from Karnataka, and Ramesh, who was born in Chikmagaluru in Karnataka, but was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh.
The Constitution of India permits the formation of new states and alteration of areas and boundaries of existing states through an act of Parliament. Andhra was the first new state to be created in 1953, following an agitation by the Telugu community seeking separation from the Tamilian-dominated Madras province. The Telugus’ demand was met in 1956, when the creation of states on the basis of language was recommended by the States Reorganisation Commission, which, however, had reservations about the merger of Hyderabad state with the Andhra areas. Prime Minister Nehru compared the merger to the “marriage of an innocent girl (Telangana) with a clever boy (Andhra)”.
Ironically, the grievances felt by the Telugus against the Tamils in Madras were later echoed by Telangana residents against people from Andhra. There was not only mutual distrust among ambitious political leaders, but also charges of uneven social and economic development in the two regions, resulting in separatist agitations in Telangana in 1969 and in Andhra in 1972-73. The Union government had to step in to control the situation and set up institutional mechanisms like the Regional Planning Boards for Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana (the three main regions in undivided Andhra) as well as enactments to ensure preference to locals in public employment and new higher educational facilities. These measures, however, could not douse the periodic eruptions of separatist claims that reached a climax in 2009 when the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram had to make a statement in Parliament and follow it up with the setting up of a commission to develop a report on bifurcation.
It is this six-decades-long separatist saga that Ramesh seeks to highlight in his book, which is presented in four parts. Part One, “Old History”, narrates salient aspects of the separation of Andhra from the Madras province in 1953, and its merger with Hyderabad to form Andhra Pradesh in 1956. Part II, “New Geography”, deals with the geographical and legal issues of the formation of Telangana. Part III, “High Drama and After”, sketches the proceedings in Parliament. Part IV, “Recollections”, provides Ramesh’s account of deliberations in the GOM, bringing out his contribution to the drafting of the State Reorganisation Bill.
Ramesh has done well in showing his academic flair and archival research in the earlier chapters, and enables the readers to delve deeper into the complicated issues by providing 14 relevant documents including the Gentlemen’s Agreement 1956, All Party Agreement 1969, Six Point Formula 1973, and letters of various political leaders from 1956 to 2014. The book, on the whole, is remarkable for its clarity and frankness in admitting that it “does not deal with the merit of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, only with its mechanics”. In a way, with this claim, Jairam ensures that no blame will be laid on him or his colleagues in the Congress for the populist decision to bifurcate the states on the eve of the 2014 elections. However, the party was thrashed in both the new states and regional parties (Telugu Desam and Telangana Rashtra Samithi) came to power in them. Ramesh himself admits: “The results proved catastrophic for the Congress in the new state of Telangana and cataclysmic in the new state of Andhra Pradesh, something that the champions of bifurcation had not expected.”
All that the Congress can do now is to heave a sigh of relief that it will not have to deal with the complex issues arising after bifurcation, like sharing of the Godavari and Krishna river waters, tussle over Hyderabad and the task of creating a new capital for Andhra Pradesh, dealing with internal security and Naxalite problems, financing infrastructure and coping with the agrarian crisis, allocation of staff and officers to the two states, among other things. But as the GOM had dealt with these issues, Ramesh’s book provides some valuable insights that should enable the governments of the two new states to move ahead, with the Union government and the common Governor umpiring the developments.
While admitting to having been traumatised by the defeat, Ramesh argues that “the merits and the demerits of bifurcation could not be judged by the Congress’s electoral fortunes but had to be measured by more fundamental socio-economic concerns and political factors”. Even more striking is his admission that “the manner in which the bifurcation legislation was passed in Parliament in February 2014 did not portray our democracy in good light”. This candid confession is remarkable and may explain why, two years after bifurcation, Ramesh moved away from Andhra Pradesh to his native Karnataka, and Venkaiah Naidu from his native Andhra Pradesh to Rajasthan to get elected into the Rajya Sabha.
As a civil servant who served in the Rayalaseema, Telangana and coastal Andhra regions of the erstwhile state, and is aware of the differences in the dialects, the resource endowment and living styles and standards of the people of the three regions, I feel that the book would have gained greater weight, had Ramesh chosen to focus on some of these core issues and proposed solutions for issues like demand for special category status made by Andhra Pradesh and the long-term development plans and interests of the two states.
I also had the opportunity to observe the manner in which, when faced with separatist agitations, Nehru and C. Rajagopalachari acted in the larger national interest in the early 1950s, and how Indira Gandhi displayed a steely determination in the 1970s. The high-handed and hurried manner in which the UPA government handled the political, economic and administrative aspects of the separation provides a sharp contrast to the approach of the earlier leaders. Ramesh seems to be aware of this and even mentions this, but carefully avoids apportioning blame or responsibility for the mishandling. Did he let the politician in him overcome the academic he is at heart? Readers of the book will have the last word.
V. K. Srinivasan is a former Special Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh