Language alone cannot be the basis of statehood. The story of Telangana is of a deep cultural divide between two peoples united by language but divided by habits, values, history and culture

Mohan Guruswamy Delhi

On November 1, 1956, my father, who was the District Magistrate of Hyderabad District, and his SP Abdus Salam Khan, were tasked with the job of ensuring security and order at the ceremony of the formation of the new linguistic state of Andhra Pradesh, being held at the historic Fateh Maidan grounds. The maidan was given its name by Emperor Aurangzeb, whose army camped there while the siege of Golconda was underway. Golconda’s reputation of having never been reduced by assault stood firm and the emperor finally took it down by bribing the commander of the main gate of the fort. Aurangzeb nevertheless considered it a great victory and renamed the campground, Fateh Maidan, for a victory that never was.

Thus, it was not without much irony that a new dispensation was celebrating the assumption of power at the Fateh Maidan, next to the Nizam College campus and the Madras-e-Aliya School. As the procession of Andhra leaders approached the Fateh Maidan grounds, the students began jeering them and soon bedlam followed as students surged forward to stop this ridiculous victory parade. My oldest sister, who had just joined college, was among the protesters. My father and Salam Khan, who were both former students of Nizam College, watched aghast as their children and their friends’ children, and an entire young generation of Hyderabadi elite, revolted in front of their eyes. Quite early that day, it was decided that come what may, the ceremony would take place, but the police would show maximum restraint. Salam Khan’s force held firm and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was sworn in as CM amidst boisterous jeers, catcalls and hoots. My father later told me that it was the saddest day of his life.

Quite ironical considering that Sanjiva Reddy was a bit of a family friend, having shared a cell at the Vellore Jail with my maternal grandfather for their part in the 1942 Quit India agitation. Since my grandfather had a large and palatial home in Vellore, the families of the political prisoners often used to stay at the bungalow at Officers’ Line. The families of two later Presidents of India were frequent guests in that house, and it was also the venue of one Congress Working Committee meeting in which MK Gandhi took part. The Mahatma also had stayed in that house at various times.

When the re-organization of states was undertaken in 1956, the people of Telangana expressed apprehensions about being forced into a shotgun marriage with Andhra, then a three-year old state with its capital in Kurnool. The people of Telangana also spoke Telugu but it was quite different from the Telugu of the coastal people. Telangana boasted of a heritage quite different from Andhra’s. The Kakatiya kings of Warangal and the Vijayanagar kings were Telangana dynasties. The Muslim rulers of Golconda and later of Hyderabad only came to the fore when the Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan, along with some Hindu rulers of coastal Andhra kingdoms, ganged up on Vijayanagar and defeated it in the decisive battle of Talikota.

The Andhra region was also much more developed and wealthier than Telangana, with the British having invested a good deal in education and infrastructure, while the Nizam of Hyderabad seemed more preoccupied with collecting baubles like the Jacobs’ diamond, and accumulating a huge personal fortune. He was reckoned to be the richest man in the world. In fact, this took him to the cover of Time magazine well before Mahatma Gandhi! So wealthy was the Nizam that he gifted an entire Spitfire squadron to Britain when the German Luftwaffe was pushing it to the wall.

As the Nizam thrived, so did his court and the feudal bureaucratic elite. Hyderabad blossomed into a beautiful and well laid out city. What began as the Muslim citadel in the Deccan had now acquired its famous cosmopolitanism. But the common people of Hyderabad, like other princely states, remained excruciatingly poor. The Hyderabad model of development ended a few miles out of the city where the wide and smooth concrete roads terminated into narrow and pockmarked bitumen topped roads. There was little irrigation and the only sign of any government usually was the police station.

Thus, in the aridness of the Deccan, a fertile ground was created for a popular communist movement, which morphed into India’s first armed insurrection. This was the first Telangana movement, which was terminated on orders from Joseph Stalin himself. Stalin also saw in that Telangana movement the glimmerings of Maoist dogma that postulated that the villages would strangle the cities and take over the state. In the first Lok Sabha election of 1952 the Communist leader Raavi Narayan Reddy won Nalgonda with a plurality that exceeded even Jawaharlal Nehru’s margin in Phulpur. After Stalin’s diktat that it will be the workers who will spearhead the revolution, the Communist Party of India reverted to trade unionism, which it soon discovered was a far more lucrative proposition than the grind of revolution in the hinterland.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2014