India Table of Contents

The formation of states along linguistic and ethnic lines has occurred in India in numerous instances since independence in 1947 (see Linguistic States, this ch.). There have been demands, however, to form units within states based not only along linguistic, ethnic, and religious lines but also, in some cases, on a feeling of the distinctness of a geographical region and its culture and economic interests. The most volatile movements are those ongoing in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab (see Political Issues, ch. 8; Insurgent Movements and External Subversion, ch. 9). How the central government responds to these demands will be an area of scrutiny through the late 1990s and beyond. It is believed by some officials that conceding regional autonomy is less arduous and takes less time and fewer resources than does meeting agitation, violence, and demands for concessions.

Telangana Movement

An early manifestation of regionalism was the Telangana movement in what became the state of Andhra Pradesh. The princely ruler of Hyderabad, the nizam, had attempted unsuccessfully to maintain Hyderabad as an independent state separate from India in 1947. His efforts were simultaneous with the largest agrarian armed rebellion in modern Indian history. Starting in July 1946, communist-led guerrilla squads began overthrowing local feudal village regimes and organizing land reform in Telugu-speaking areas of Hyderabad, collectively known as Telangana (an ancient name for the region dating from the Vijayanagar period). In time, about 3,000 villages and some 41,000 square kilometers of territory were involved in the revolt. Faced with the refusal of the nizam of Hyderabad to accede his territory to India and the violence of the communist-led rebellion, the central government sent in the army in September 1948. By November 1949, Hyderabad had been forced to accede to the Indian union, and, by October 1951, the violent phase of the Telangana movement had been suppressed. The effect of the 1946-51 rebellion and communist electoral victories in 1952 had led to the destruction of Hyderabad and set the scene for the establishment of a new state along linguistic lines. In 1953, based on the recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission, Telugu-speaking areas were separated from the former Madras States to form Andhra, India's first state established along linguistic lines. The commission also contemplated establishing Telangana as a separate state, but instead Telangana was merged with Andhra to form the new state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956.

The concerns about Telangana were manifold. The region had a less developed economy than Andhra, but a larger revenue base (mostly because it taxed rather than prohibited alcoholic beverages), which Telanganas feared might be diverted for use in Andhra. They also feared that planned dam projects on the Krishna and Godavari rivers would not benefit Telangana proportionately even though Telanganas controlled the headwaters of the rivers. Telanganas feared too that the people of Andhra would have the advantage in jobs, particularly in government and education.

The central government decided to ignore the recommendation to establish a separate Telangana state and, instead, merged the two regions into a unified Andhra Pradesh. However, a "gentlemen's agreement" provided reassurances to the Telangana people. For at least five years, revenue was to be spent in the regions proportionately to the amount they contributed. Education institutions in Telangana were to be expanded and reserved for local students. Recruitment to the civil service and other areas of government employment such as education and medicine was to be proportional. The use of Urdu was to continue in the administration and the judiciary for five years. The state cabinet was to have proportional membership from both regions and a deputy chief minister from Telangana if the chief minister was from Andhra and vice versa. Finally, the Regional Council for Telangana was to be responsible for economic development, and its members were to be elected by the members of the state legislative assembly from the region.

In the following years, however, the Telangana people had a number of complaints about how the agreements and guarantees were implemented. The deputy chief minister position was never filled. Education institutions in the region were greatly expanded, but Telanganas felt that their enrollment was not proportionate to their numbers. The selection of the city of Hyderabad as the state capital led to massive migration of people from Andhra into Telangana. Telanganas felt discriminated against in education employment but were told by the state government that most non-Telanganas had been hired on the grounds that qualified local people were unavailable. In addition, the unification of pay scales between the two regions appeared to disadvantage Telangana civil servants. In the atmosphere of discontent, professional associations that earlier had amalgamated broke apart by region.

Discontent with the 1956 gentlemen's agreement intensified in January 1969 when the guarantees that had been agreed on were supposed to lapse. Student agitation for the continuation of the agreement began at Osmania University in Hyderabad and spread to other parts of the region. Government employees and opposition members of the state legislative assembly swiftly threatened "direct action" in support of the students. The Congress-controlled state and central governments offered assurances that non-Telangana civil servants in the region would be replaced by Mulkis, disadvantaged local people, and that revenue surpluses from Telangana would be returned to the region. The protestors, however, were dissatisfied, and severe violence, including mob attacks on railroads, road transport, and government facilities, spread over the region. In addition, seventy-nine police firings resulted in twenty-three deaths according to official figures, the education system was shut down, and examinations were cancelled. Calls for a separate Telangana state came in the midst of counter violence in Andhra areas bordering Telangana. In the meantime, the Andhra Pradesh High Court decreed that a central government law mandating replacement of non-Telangana government employees with Mulkis was beyond Parliament's constitutional powers.

Although the Congress faced dissension within its ranks, its leadership stood against additional linguistic states, which were regarded as "antinational." As a result, defectors from the Congress, led by M. Chenna Reddy, founded the Telangana People's Association (Telangana Praja Samithi). Despite electoral successes, however, some of the new party leaders gave up their agitation in September 1971 and, much to the disgust of many separatists, rejoined the safer political haven of the Congress ranks.

In 1972 the Supreme Court reversed the Andhra Pradesh High Court's ruling that the Mulki rules were unconstitutional. This decision triggered agitation in the Andhra region that produced six months of violence.

Throughout the 1970s, Andhra Pradesh settled into a pattern of continuous domination by Congress (R) and later Congress (I), with much instability and dissidence within the state party and constant interference from Indira Gandhi and the national party. Chenna Reddy, the erstwhile opposition leader, was for a time the Congress (I) state chief minister. Congress domination was only ended by the founding of the Telugu National Party by N.T. Rama Rao in 1982 and its overwhelming victory in the state elections in 1983.

Polls taken after the end of the Telangana movement showed a certain lack of enthusiasm for it, and for the idea of a separate state. Although urban groups (students and civil servants) had been most active in the movement, its support was stronger in rural areas. Its supporters were mixed: low and middle castes, the young and the not so young, women, illiterates and the poorly educated, and rural gentry. Speakers of several other languages than Telugu were heavily involved. The movement had no element of religious communalism, but some observers thought Muslims were particularly involved in the movement. Other researchers found the Muslims were unenthusiastic about the movement and noted a feeling that migration from Andhra to Telangana was creating opportunities that were helping non-Telanganas. On the other hand, of the two locally prominent Muslim political groups, only one supported a separate state; the other opposed the idea while demanding full implementation of the regional safeguards. Although Urdu speakers were appealed to in the agitation (e.g., speeches were given in Urdu as well as Telugu), in the aftermath Urdu disappeared from the schools and the administration.

The Telangana movement grew out of a sense of regional identity as such, rather than out of a sense of ethnic identity, language, religion, or caste. The movement demanded redress for economic grievances, the writing of a separate history, and establishment of a sense of cultural distinctness. The emotions and forces generated by the movement were not strong enough, however, for a continuing drive for a separate state. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the People's War Group, an element of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), renewed violence in Andhra Pradesh but was dealt with by state police forces. The Telangana movement was never directed against the territorial integrity of India, unlike the insurrections in Jammu and Kashmir and some of the unrest in northeastern India.

Jharkhand Movement
The Northeast

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress