In terms of economic changes in 1970s there was considerable central government investment in Hyderabad and there was overall expansion of industrial and infrastructural base. The Andhra political elite felt more encouraged, empowered and reassured of their investment after the Jai Andhra agitation. As the Telangana leadership could not protect the mulki-rules, nor could protect the Chief Minister office for Telanganite, the Andhra elite came to believe that once for all the demand for a separate Telangana State was over. This has enthused them to invest more freely in industry and infrastructure in the city of Hyderabad. The agrarian surplus and leakages of public funds through contracts made the class more prosperous almost suggesting an arrival of some brand of regional bourgeoisie. The rich farmers, powerful peasant community and regional industrial class coupled with the restless masses laid a new base for the rise of alternative political force. There was realignment of political forces at the state and national levels. In a multi-class society, alignment and realignment of political forces is an unending process. The lumpen mafia class became a political force to reckon with. It is in the wake of these developments, the TDP – a regional party under the leadership of NTR – was born.
NTR hailing from powerful Kamma peasant community was a very popular movie hero who played several mythological and social roles in Telugu cinema. He was equally popular in both the regions; his popularity coupled with his rhetoric on welfare programmes, which Mrs. Gandhi was abandoning, made him a great ballot box-office hit. It was a record that a political party came to power in less than a year’s time after it was formed. This resounding success of NTR and his unquestioned leadership in the TDP further pushed the Telangana political leaders to margins of politics and political power. Their political survival depended on the vagaries of capricious NTR. Identical to Mrs. Gandhi’s style was the despotic or monarchic style of NTR. There was no single cabinet minister or political leader from the Telangana region who could have talked to him as a colleague in the cabinet. This style of NTR not only marginalized the political leaders but politics itself. It reduced cabinet system of government into a caricature of parliamentary democracy.
The Telugu regional identity was so articulated that the Telangana identity got submerged in the larger Telugu identity. The self respect of Telugus which TDP raised as an important issue obviated the Telangana identity for the time being. It is not that what happened through the rhetoric of Telugu identity was integration of the regions but subjugation. It is always the case with such identity politics that instead of negotiating with the sub-identities, it leaves the space and scope for the aggressive reemergence of the identities. The rise of Telangana identity in late 90s was a part of this social and political dynamic of societal change.
The style of NTR and his arbitrary impulsive decision making left all the political elite of the state desperate but it was more so in the case of the helpless Telangana representatives. Their entire mass base was lost. It was this political void in Telangana region that was gradually occupied by militant politics of CPI (ML) movement which questioned the political relevance of parliamentary democracy. The political leadership lacked moral and mass base to confront a militant movement. This made the weak Telangana political elite insecure and they came to depend on police force to such an extent that the Superintendent of Police or even a subordinate police officer would decide whether a MLA or a Minister would attend a meeting or not, visit a village or not.
During this phase amassing of wealth and grabbing of land around the city of Hyderabad was one major “political” activity of the mafia class. NTR either allowed this activity or was indifferent to it. This led to fattening of the lumpen mafia class. They saw that sale of liquor or Arak liberalized, private capital allowed in education particularly professional education and opens more and more corporate hospitals. A neat nexus between the contractors, land mafia, liquor mafia, cinema industry, corporate hospitals and corporate educational institutions has been struck. The media provided the necessary support and propaganda for these classes. In fact the media became a part of this nexus: the role of one news paper baron during this period is something that all the Telugu people are fully aware of. He was called Raja Guru by the political circles. The Telangana political elite on the margins of this economic activity were contented with a few sub-contracts, land deals, liquor licenses and land grabbing. The power of this nexus has become so formidable that there was no countervailing democratic force.
The monarchic style narrowed the scope to carry on the other powerful community- Kapus who aspired for greater share in power when they aligned with the TDP. The killing of one of the Kapu leaders in Vijayawada led to serious hostilities and there was a violent backlash on the Kamma community. There was also the rupture with the Dalit community with the Karamchedu massacre which led to a vibrant dalit movement not only in the Andhra region but whole of the state. There was opposition because of reckless liquor sales from women, thus the antagonism from women, kapus and dalit hit the social base of the TDP resulting in its setback in 1988-89 elections. The rhetoric of Telugu identity proved to be too inadequate to hold the people together and so called unity of Telugus cracked and left scope and space for the revival of the sub-identity. The law of identity politics seems to be that either it has to transcend the identity to strike linkages with similar or larger identities to pursue larger interests or they get struck in the identity which has a propensity for internal fragmentation. This seems to be true of linguistic politics, caste politics and regional politics. Rise of sub-regionalism is a part of this political phenomenon.
The Telugu Identity: Ups and Downs
The congress party in its five year term (1989-1994) under the faulty model of development triggered by LPG misruled and mismanaged the governance to such a point that it scripted its own defeat in the 1994 elections. The two major causes for its defeat were that it tampered with the two rupees rice scheme and also further encouraged and patronized liquor sales. This withdrawal from peoples’ welfare programme was under the pressure of global market forces. Congress had no imaginative policy framework. The lumpen mafia class that has fattened during the Telugu Desam period was in a position to dictate the policy choices to the government. With the result the distinction between the Congress Party and TDP in reality was largely blurred. In a situation of this kind where the social base is common and policy choices are externally forced upon, the changes in political leadership through electoral politics carried no meaning whatsoever. This could be seen nowhere more strikingly than in the agricultural sector. The neglect of agriculture has been so phenomenal that it lost its voice in the policy process and its significant place in the economy giving rise to electoral jolts. Taking advantage of the Congress Party’s misdirected development, NTR promised total prohibition and also restoration of two rupees rice scheme which proved to be electorally gainful and got TDP and its leader NTR back to the power.
Given NTR’s disposition and style he was adamant on implementation of these two programmes. As they were enforced it dented into State revenues and was adversely hitting the dominant economic interests particularly of the lumpen class. This approach was also not to the liking of global economic interests. The power of this class was so decisive that when NTR went ahead with these two schemes, they got him overthrown. It is ironical that those MLAs and MPs who won with the help of NTR’s charisma and populist promises turned against him overnight and humiliated him when he personally went (Vice-Roy hotel was the place where the conspiracy was hatched) to appeal to the party MLAs not to let him down. It is in this shady palace politics, Chandra Babu Naidu –his son-in-law –manipulative and cunning became the obvious choice of these classes. This formidable power of the lumpen class along with the other interests remains unquestioned till to-day and it is they who are calling the shots.
The power in the state is so structured and manipulated that the linkages at the national level are so worked out that within no time the image of Chandra Babu Naidu was built. A large section of Indian middle classes believed that he was a potential Prime Ministerial candidate. His assuming of power may not be illegal but certainly it was immoral. His governance was ruthless, it was during his regime two civil liberties leaders were hacked to death and the president of A.P. civil liberties committee was kidnapped by a vigilante group which was fully patronized by the state police and backed by the Chief Minister. He projected himself as a CEO and not CM. Politics have come to be seen through the techno-managerial prism. This was greatly useful to the classes in amassing the wealth in whatever form that was possible. Politics have come to be reduced to wealth chasing power and power chasing the wealth. This approach facilitated the easy entry of the global capital which treated the Andhra State as guinea pig for its experiment.
It is paradoxical that while identity politics were gaining momentum all over India, there was the super imposition of globalization on a backward, iniquitous and unevenly developed economy. This model was sold to the Indian people under the guise of serious balance of payment crisis. The people were told that there was no alternative except to borrow from the International Agencies and open up the Indian market to foreign capital. The state which is expected to be a protector of the sovereign power of the people and resources has turned into a facilitator of the movement of the global capital- a shift in the very role and character of the Nation-State. This model of development is intrinsically undemocratic and against the core values of Indian Constitution. Since there was no viable opposition the process led to widening of inequalities across the castes, classes, gender, rural, urban, and forward and the backward regions. It is these widening inequalities between the agriculture and service sector, between metropolitan Hyderabad and rest of the State, between the backward regions and relatively advanced regions that unleashed new political forces. The TDP was not opposed to global capital. This means their identity politics were more cultural in their approach than opposing the swamping of Telugu identity in economic terrain. The revival of the Telangana movement is a direct fallout of this path of development-the process on which rulers have had no control.
The determination with which Naidu ‘encountered’ the problems and wielded ruthless power is unbelievable. The TDP had 29 Members of Parliament, which was critical for the survival of NDA government at the national level. He very cleverly used this number and the BJP had not many options except to concede whatever Chandra Babu demanded. The NDA government had no moral qualms about the globalization as BJP’s nexus, notwithstanding all the RSS postures and claims about nationalism and patriotism, with imperialism was smooth and strong. In the normal course it would have been problematic for a state government to deal directly and enter international agreements without much of intervention from the national government. The ruthless suppression of all the democratic voices was possible with the backing of the bank and sangh parivar.