I have started writing this small piece on the 17th day of the general strike also calledSakala Janula Samme, which roughly translated means, Strike by all people. It’s an amazing coming together of different forces; government employees, political leaders, students, workers, men, women and children. It is one of the most affirming acts in support of the demand for a separate state of Telangana. The protest has been largely peaceful and nonviolent - credit goes to one and all, participating in it.
The governments (more particularly, the parties in power) at state and union level however have chosen to remain conveniently silent. Prime reason to a layman like me appears to be pure opportunistic politics. None of the parties can be excused for causing the logjam. The apportionment might vary. It is not that alternatives do not exist. It is not that the problem is insurmountable. The only problem is dirty politicking. Everyone wants his or her pie undivided. The problem is not the protest by ordinary people on either side. The problem is, which party gets the access to their loyalty – at least in the next election. The one after that is nobody’s worry; at least for now.
Congress and Telugu Desam Party are caught in the crossfire and their opportunistic politics have been exposed to the core. Their only hope is to somehow retain their political base in both the regions and to enable this and using a strange logic, allow their local leadership to play hard on both sides of the fence. BJP is trying to re-gain foothold in a dicey situation. Telangana Rashtra Samithi is trying to be the sole champion in its region and in the process falls back to aggression of the crudest kind to increase its vote base. Whenever the movement seemed to pause, the party dished out vitriol in copious quantities.
The past few days (some days before the start of general strike also included) however have started to throw up bits and pieces of information on incidents in some places and proclamations by certain groups on their action plan, which cause immense worry in me as an observer. The incidents or statements mentioned below might be a relative minority among the multitude of voices and actions and could have been ignored but for the fact that there were no opposing voices against them from Telangana. These could be the possible beginnings of consolidation by the fascist elements in the movement.
I would like to re-iterate that the views expressed are purely on certain happenings in the separate statehood movement in the recent past and should not be interpreted as an opposition to the demand for Telangana state. I recognise and endorse the democratic demand for Telangana. The endorsement or recognition however does not mean a blind support to the struggle. Happenings that are unacceptable against established principles of democracy and human rights have to be stated and condemned even if some see it as antagonism.
To those who question my logic of focussing mainly on Telangana agitation and not the United Andhra Pradesh movement, my answer is as follows – I retain hopes on Separate Telangana movement being one with the potential to bring in real change in socio-economic structures currently aligned against the poor and working classes. The separate state movement has raised many hopes in people like me; hence the high expectation levels on it as well as higher level of anxiety on seeing undemocratic trends. As they say “ends always match means”.
I will mention the incidents and statements as well as my views on the same.
Protesters belonging to employees JAC (Joint Action Committee) destroy buses and thrash employees willing to attend the job - mostly from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema near NGOs colony in Vanasthalipuram.
Some miners in Singareni collieries who were willing to attend work during the strike were threatened by other miners who were supporting the strike from doing so.
If the protestors want to strike work for a demand, they are very much in the realm of democratic methods of protest. Their right to protest is to be respected and protected. This right however is not a right granted in isolation for that select group of protestors but is part of the universal recognition that rights are equal for everyone. The movement should recognise that there are differing views and compulsions for different groups. Refusing to recognise the same and resorting to violence to browbeat the opposition into acquiescence is not democratic. This is nothing but violation of the willing to work, workers rights. Right to protest does not mean there is a right to obstruct against wishes of others or right to punish others.
Protesters burned a bus being used to transport software employees within the city.
The grouse was that private transport vehicles were being used to cushion the adverse impact created by the state-run Road Transport Corporation employees going on strike in T region. If the powers that be are ignoring the strike- it is not because they are being misled or misinformed. It is only because they chose to. Victimising innocent people by vandalising private property is not the way to go about it. What is the objective of the movement? Separate state and self-rule or unilateral acceptance of their demand?
Protestors vandalise house of Minister Ponnala Lakshamaiah.
Where is the democratic spirit in this act? What gives anybody a right to vandalise private property? Even if the person is a betrayer there are ways to handle the person, particularly a politician. A resounding defeat in the electoral process is the way to show dissent in unambiguous terms. Vandalism is nothing but a return back to jungle law.
Mr. KK states that he is very anguished and worried and would commit a suicide if the separate statehood demand were rejected.
Mr. KCR states that, he would commit suicide by consuming poison, if T is not granted.
These, self–declared and to a large extent, accepted champions of the movement are again indulging in the talk which lead to hundreds of innocent people ending their lives tragically in suicides. For a long time, during the early days of post December 23, 2009 statement by Mr.Chidamabaram, many young couple were dying by dozens, consumed by a combination of despair and angst. The political parties and intellectuals uttered not a word against suicides. The political parties shamelessly tried to exploit the situation by glorifying these suicide victims as martyrs and heroes. None had the guts to admit that these deaths were unwarranted and misguided. I was privy to discussions among intelligentsia of Hyderabad where people were scared to issue statements condemning suicides. The atmosphere was so emotionally charged.
For one and a half year all the talk in popular media was about counting numbers – 200 suicides.. 400 suicides… and 600 suicides. The politicians of Telangana were happy inciting people and their emotions using suicides as a rallying point. They only added fuel to the fire, never trying to douse the flames. Who are these leaders trying to fool? And for how long? If they had conviction and commitment to the cause, they should have been issuing statements that suicide is normally seen as a misguided act and not one of courage. They should have exhorted people to live and fight but not any other way.
Mr.Kodandram the convener of political JAC alleges that the union government is not being responsive to the aspirations of people, hence there is a need to make the struggle a militant one.
Coming from Mr.Kodandram this is a very disappointing statement. He was sounding like he was playing to the galleries but knowing him reasonably well I think he lost his emotional balance for a second. He should have retracted his wording but he did not. He tried to justify his statement by saying that Gandhiji and his struggles were militant too. This is nothing but a weak attempt to justify his slip of tongue. A learned and accomplished academic like him should recognise that words in vocabulary have a certain meaning for the majority section of people. Interpretation of their meaning in other ways than popular ones in a sensitive issue like this is unacceptable.
The words Gandhi and militant are miles apart for people comprising the majority. To me, the words militant and Gandhi would have been used synonymously only by some elements belonging to the British imperialist class. The word militant used in this context can only signify more physical violence for the “worried against aggression” ordinary person.
A group of students proclaiming to represent Telangana students union held a press meet and issued a threat to launch a campaign with the slogan “Andhra go back”. The students talked of targeting individuals and their establishments in Hyderabad city if they belonged from outside of Telangana and are suspected to be against the formation of it.
The statement brings back memories of many unpleasant things from history. Quoting following examples might elicit violent protests but this trend if not condemned is nothing short of being the starting point of a violent anti-Muslim or anti-Jew propaganda which all humanists condemn. Inciting hatred against individuals belonging to one group is nothing but bringing to South India the horror of Narendra Modi or Raj Thakre’s divisive politics. The wrongs perpetrated by a minority cannot be attributed to the majority. The people from Coastal Andhra or Rayalaseema have come to the capital city of their state in a free country. They are not the enemy from a foreign country. We are a nation that has seen the horrors of partition and should be wiser for it.
In these extraordinary circumstances, one should go through the book “The Argumentative Indian” by Amartya Sen. He brings out in simple and beautiful fashion, our history as a nation, which largely allowed dissent and contradicting views. From Ramayana through Ashoka and to Akbar the tradition has been kept alive. He also expresses alarm on how right wing forces are becoming dominant in the society and pushing people to subscribe to their unidirectional approach. If further delay is caused by irresponsible governments with opportunistic politicians at helm it will only strengthen these hawkish forces. The ordinary person tired of this delay will be a gullible target for malicious indoctrination. Hopefully Telangana region, with it’s rich history of revolutions, social movements and openness to outsiders will be bale to resist and fight back any such attempts to vitiate the socio-cultural fabric in the region.
The people in both regions need to act and express carefully and responsibly. The demand for a separate state is a just and democratic demand and it needs to be given sooner or later as the division between the regions is almost complete in the recent times. The emotional gulf is too big to be bridged. The list of injustices is too long to be ignored. The people of Telangana need to forge ahead with their demand using democratic and non-violent tools.
People who support separation or keeping it united have to be allowed to express it peacefully without being threatened in the spirit of upholding democratic values. Proponents of both theories – separate state and unified state should put forward their theories/claims in manner that is not disrespectful/demeaning to the other side. Media at state and national level should focus on transmission of news regarding opinions which will help progression in the discussions instead of trying to look at hardcore or sensational material.
Provocative statements like the ones issued by Lagadapati Rajagopal or incendiary ones like those by Payyavula Keshav (Suicide Bombings for keeping the state united) etc should be condemned without fail by one and all – especially from ones supporting a unified state. They do not create any sense of brotherhood or oneness. Proponents of Telangana should similarly refrain from painting one and all from Coastal Andhra or Rayalaseema as villains. Their case is strong enough without a need for demonising any group.
Government at both levels – state and union, should act with a sense of commitment to resolve the issue at the earliest to avoid further escalation of tensions and animosity between the regions. They should put politics aside and work with the welfare of people in mind. Like the popular slogan “Let us separate as brothers and be one as well-wishers”.