Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Telangana: Few Thoughts - Filter Coffee column in Kindle this month

I try not to write opinion pieces or commentary on trending issues. Not just because there are always too many of both out there, what with people given the free rein by the w.w.w. to scream and shout at the sound of a cough. But in the November issue of Kindle, it was Andhra Pradesh's turn to be written about. I spent many days trying to waddle through the different arguments for and against Telangana. Old friends came to the rescue and helped me understand the tapestry of politics, hopes and history that lends grey shades to the issue. No news can be black and white. This piece has also been tinted with some grey.

Read the story here. Or see below.

P, my friend from the University days, always gets me Karachi biscuits from Hyderabad when she visits. Sometimes over pasta and wine, we talk of old times and giggle like the way we did the first day we met in class. We don’t talk politics or ideologies, our borrowed time is expended on what the rest of the boys and girls from college are up to. I have never met her husband J, we have only said our hi-hellos over the phone. A few days ago I had a long conversation with them, about politics, perceptions, the larger picture and the audacity of hope – not the book. We also considered making plans to rob a bank. Skipping that part, this is how the conversation went.

J has lived in Hyderabad for 14 years now, P for six. He is an economist, a professor. She is in public relations. Both are from different states, but speak the same language, and English, with each other. I am interested in what they think of the whole Telangana issue, whether they are affected at all, if they have an opinion, if it matters, because they are urban migrants who have ‘homes’, families elsewhere. I ask them to explain and J does, with a professor’s rigour, breaking down the issue for me, giving me an insider-outsider’s POV.

Most of his students are from outside the state, very few are invested in the regionism, and its many other tentacles, that is leading to the creation of India’s latest state. But he has friends who come from both coastal Andhra and the Telangana districts. The issue is all about Hyderabad, J tells me. It is the land of opportunity, the glitzy metropolis where everyone wants to be, to work, to live. Everyone’s favourite city will go to one state, not the other, though it will be the joint capital for the first ten years after AP breaks up. J wonders whether the new capital, whichever city it is, cannot become just as good, just as golden as Hyderabad. There are many perceptions at play here, many politics, fractured parties, history and its violations, clever people’s manipulations, emotions, the regular drama.

It would have remained regular drama if not for how the state machineries have been paralyzed because of it. There are politicians from the coastal Andhra region and there are politicians from the Telangana region. Both sides will not stop shouting the House to a standstill. The possibility of a government that might transcend this issue and attempt to run a state is absent, for there are too many emotions and precious vote banks at stake.

To make it a little easier, J gives me the analogy of two friends. One wants to remain friends, remain best friends even, while the other does not want to have anything to do with him. Draw this line further and you arrive at the state of AP where a traditional oppressor is uncomfortable with change and would rather have the status quo, ignoring demands and denying rights. The traditionally oppressed want to finally have control over their land, their resources, their rights. The first group demands a united Andhra Pradesh, it is the second group that will get the new state to itself.

To J and to my friend P, the strikes, the agitation and the whiff of trouble brewing doesn’t make them stop and take notice. But every other person they meet will bring up the issue and substantiate why they think the way they do. When P hires a taxi and goes out on work, the taxi driver will tell her why he is happy there will be a Telangana state, she tells me. Other colleagues, friends, think otherwise. Many don’t have, or want to share, an opinion. Both agree that if Hyderabad was taken out of the equation, no one would shout so much.

I ask them if normal life is affected at all in the city, whether they see, hear, read anything. J tells me they know only as much as I, in Bangalore, would read in the papers. News channels show the opinions of their rich political owners. But really, he tells me, the people from both the regions are in a way punishing themselves. In smaller towns and nerve centres of the whole issue, life came to a standstill. Not many of those living in the city could go back home for the festivals last week.

J has an idea for how the agitation might be deflected. The Centre ought to announce which city will be the capital of the new state, he thinks. People there would stop agitating, those elsewhere will argue for and against the proposed name, moving on from the bifurcation issue. There are many rumours and no favourites for the new capital. I ask him what cities figures in his list. There is Kurnool, Vijayawada, Ongole and the region within the triangle area of Guntur, Tenali and Vijayawada, each with cases for and against them that J points out for me. The final name will of course be more politically motivated than chosen on a strictly practical basis, we both agree.

J and I have been talking for an hour by now. Given the history of the issue, the cold facts, I know which side I will lean toward, but for arguments sake, I ask him if there is a case for a united state. The only one he has for me is a scenario where there will be more demands for non-linguistic division of regions. Where would that end, he mulls. But then, that is for the Centre to deal with, he says, for, a person sitting in a backward village in a corner of Telangana should not have to bother with this larger picture; he might not understand the greater question, he need not be expected to care.

For now, the mood of the people is one of hope, J tells me. The idea and attraction of two different states is driven by money. It is laden with the hope that magically things will change and that a new golden land will emerge. Practical souls understand that golden lands aren’t created overnight, that dreams don’t always turn hopelessness on its head. Disillusionment, carrying old cracks under its arms, usually walks behind hope. But that’s the thing about hope, isn’t it? It is audacious, not always practical. Hope though is nearly the only thing that most people got.

This piece has been inspired by a real conversation with real people.

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