India's backing for new state ups the stakes in the battle for Hyderabad

Campaign for a new Indian state want the IT hub as their capital

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The Independent Online

It has served as both a home to ancient kings and a base to a dynamic, modern IT industry. Now, the city of Hyderabad is in the grip of a fierce political battle, the effects of which have reverberated across India.

This week, protesters in the east of Andhra Pradesh (AP), the state of which Hyderabad is the capital, have been burning effigies of politicians and closing down towns after the ruling Congress party announced its wish to divide AP to create a new state called Telangana. 

The protesters in the east argue that they share the same local language as their cousins in the west – Telugu – and that there is no real need to split AP. But their most pressing concern is the future of Hyderabad, the booming urban jewel that generates more than half the revenues collected by the local government and which would be lost to them under the new proposals.

“This is why they are protesting,” said Srinivas Ayyadevara, president of the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “The issue is not about parting the waves or geography, it’s a question about what happens in Hyderabad.”

The struggle for a separate state of Telangana dates back to even before the creation of AP, which was established in two stages in the 1950s out of territory previously governed by the large, unwieldy Madras state and Hyderabad. From 1724 to 1948 Hyderabad was ruled by the Muslim Nizam, or king, who was once one of the richest men in the world. It was one of more than 500 “princely states” eventually incorporated into the new India.

But in recent years the people of Telangana have complained of discrimination at the hands of politicians from the east of AP and say they have lost out when it comes to jobs, government services and education. They argue they have also suffered because under the rule of the Nizam the official language was Urdu, whereas in the east of AP, which was then under British rule, official business was conducted in English.

As Hyderabad has grown and its economy blossomed – with a population of seven million it is now India’s fourth largest city – so the campaign for a separate Telangana, in which it is located, has gathered pace. Since 1969, hundreds of people have died in clashes, protests and even hunger strikes.

“There are many practical benefits to a new state,” said KT Rama Rao, an elected politician with pro-split Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party, who is also the son of its president. “The revenue collected within Telangana will be spent in Telangana. Now, we do not have roads, we do not have clean water.”

Mr Rao, whose party offices were on Friday still filled with bouquets of flowers and pink celebratory balloons, said data from other recently-created Indian states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, suggested their economics had benefitted from breaking away from their “parents”.

He acknowledged too, that this week’s announcement over Telangana would encourage other “new state” movements within India. Indeed, following the announcement there have been fresh demands for statehood from the Gorkha area of West Bengal, various communities in the state of Uttar Pradesh and Bodo tribespeople of Assam. Protests in Assam have led to the closing down of towns and transport links and extra security personnel have been rushed to the area.

The announcement by the Congress party and its national leader, Sonia Gandhi, to support a new Telangana, appears to have been made for purely political reasons ahead of general elections scheduled to take place next year.

Already facing an uphill struggle to secure a third term, the party has been concerned about losing support in AP to a local, break-away faction and was worried that the main national opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its charismatic but controversial leader, Narendra Modi, had made clear their plan to support a new Telangana state.

As it is, many of the local politicians who have resigned this week in protest over the announcement from Delhi have been members of the Congress party itself. Other parties which risk losing support from voters in different parts of the state are simply putting off making an announcement on whether or not they support the move.

Activists say those politicians opposed to the creation of Telangana are acting out of self-interest because they have invested heavily in property and business in Hyderabad. But the politicians dismiss this claim.

“I have no property in Hyderabad. I live in the politicians’ official quarters,” said Payyavula Keshav, a member of the Telugu Desam Party who resigned this week from his seat in the local assembly.

"If they split the state, we will be left with no money. All the development that has taken place has been centred in Hyderabad.”

Ordinary people appear divided along geographical lines, and perhaps on economic status A 50-year-old mason called Narsimha, waiting for a bus on Friday evening, said he supported Telangana because it would enable his son to get a job.

Meanwhile, Sirusha Amarnath, a businesswoman originally from the east but who had been based in Hyderabad for 25 years, said she saw little benefit from the split. “We have just got the city decent,” she said. “Why spend more on a new capital?”

The Congress party has suggested that Hyderabad could be a common capital for the two states for the next ten years, by which time a new capital will have been found for the east. As it is, nothing can happen until a formal bill is passed by India’s two houses of parliament, something that is by no means certain.

Activists in Telangana say they will not celebrate until the bill is passed; in 2009 the Congress previously announced its support for a new state, only for the move to go nowhere.

This time, however, the Congress says things are different. Digvijaya Singh, the senior Congress leader who announced the proposal, said this week on social media: “[The] division of a state, like a division of a family, is an unpleasant decision but a time comes when it has to be done in the interests of both.”