Idli Sambar Go Back

In 1952, there was a student agitation in the Telengana region against the peoples of Seema-Andhra region. The Telengana people referred to them as non-mulkis, meaning non-locals. They were also, curiously, called ‘Idli Sambar’ after the staple breakfast item of the Seema-Andhra region and, of course, Tamil Nadu that was the major unit of the then Madras Presidency. The agitation famously demonstrated placards that said ‘Non-Mulkis Go Back’ and ‘Idli Sambar Go Back’.

The roots of the Telengana agitation started pretty much from there. From the beginning, ever since the seeds of separate states were laid, the people of Telengana wished to remain on their own, but were never allowed by the people in Andhra. There were incessant protests, hard work, struggles that battered and bruised the region to finally get their statehood declared. It should have happened long back. Some people say what’s the hurry, and I say why so late.

When the state of Andhra Pradesh was set up, many were against merging Telengana with it, including the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) which felt that the Telengana people wished to go it alone. The key concern is, historically Telengana is less developed economically than the Andhra region, but with abundant natural resources. The people of the region feared that they will be exploited by Andhra. However, despite everyone’s warnings, concerns and protests, it was merged with Andhra and a new state was announced. On its formation Nehru famously referred to the merger of Telengana and Andhra as the matrimonial alliance with the provision to divorce.

The merger took place with two assurances, that the question of ‘divorce’, if required, will be considered after five years and the leaders of Telengana will have a say in the resource-sharing and the economic development of the state.

Neither did happen. Exactly after five years, the people submitted the divorce petition, which was summarily rejected. Since then they have been struggling for their statehood whilst the draining up of the resources continued to happen.

AP comprises three regions, Seema-Andhra, Royalaseema and Telengana, of which Telengana is the largest, by land mass, population and revenues. It contributes about 76% of state’s revenues, of which 31% are from Hyderabad. 68.5% of catchment areas of the Krishna River and 69% the catchment area of the Godhavari River are in the region.

Yet, the benefits of irrigation under major projects are accruing at 74% to the Coastal Andhra while Telengana gets 18%. The share of education funding for the region is in the range of 10% for schools and 38% for colleges, which, of course, includes Hyderabad. Budget allocation to Telengana is usually around 1/3 of the total AP budget. Only 20% of the total government employees are from the region and less than 5% are department heads. Of its total existence of 50 years, persons from Telengana held the CM post only for 10 years while persons from Seema-Andhra held it for 42 years. Clearly the promises made during the merger weren’t kept!

Except losing these economic benefits, there is no other reason for the people of Seema-Andhra to oppose the formation of the state. Arguably, no other region in India has fought for their own statehood as fiercely, passionately, consistently as the Telengana people have. And no other statehood question was lingering continuously for this long, except perhaps Gorkhaland movement, which also largely ceased in 1988 upon setting up of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and only resurfaced in 2008.

There are murmurs that this may lead to more statehood requests. That’s quite possible, but is that a bad thing? When the idea of linguistic states was first floated many feared that it may be the preamble for the country to be torn into pieces. However, the move to create the states based on their language has only helped India come together more passionately. The more the centre listens to regional voices, the more it accommodates their grievances, the more the people of these oppressed regions get political representation, the more they begin to identify with the idea of India. Andhra Pradesh itself was formed only after a bloody movement that culminated in the sacrifice of Potti Sriramulu who died in his fast-unto-death protest. Then itself it should have been carved as two separate states. Someone somewhere thought that the forced marriage will work. It usually does in India where the girl is submissive and doesn’t question her husband’s exploitations. Telengana struggled to lead the life of that oppressed bahu, whilst continuing to battle for separation. The divorce has come 45 years after its application. It’s about time the idli sambar left the house.