Naxalism in Telangana
Many detractors of Telangana movement are trying to blemish our genuine people's movement by calling it a Maoist-led movement, and that the student protestors are none but 'Naxals'.
Unlike what most other people think outside Telangana, calling someone a Naxal is not derogatory to most people of Telangana. He is not seen as a terrorist as most people think. Naxalism, according to us, is a socio-economic problem, something that needs to be addressed as a collective responsibility, the way we would address suicides of farmers. Our current government in New Delhi got the whole thing wrong. They are on the brink of creating another Frankenstein monster approaching this problem as a menace rather than a socio-economic problem. Like Indira Gandhi who goofed up on Telangana, Punjab and Northeast, the current administration is about to goof up on this problem which has its origins in poverty, injustice and lack of land reforms that continue to exist since pre-Independence. Unlike most others outside our region, we think that Naxals need to be embraced and rehabilitated so that they become a part of the mainstream.
In fact, the very thinking that Naxalism can be crushed with violent methods is foolish thinking. About ten years ago, when I asked a man who was entrusted with combating Naxalism, a DIG in Andhra Pradesh at a dinner, ‘So, Sir, when do you think we will get rid of Naxal problem?’ he smiled and told me, ‘that’s a naïve question. As long as there is a huge disparity between the haves and have-nots in this region, as long as most of the people are denied justice and opportunity, there will always be Naxalism’.
Naxalism came about in Telangana region after the ruthless crushing of 1969 Telangana Agitation followed by Machiavellian political maneuvers that completely hijacked a genuine people’s movement. That’s when the youth of Telangana got disenchanted with legal and electoral institutions of flawed Indian democracy.
Let’s revisit the events.
Telangana had roots in communist rebellion that fought Nizam while Andhras experienced Congress democracy to fight Great Britain. Telangana’s history was bereft of democratic institutions that Andhra enjoyed. Telangana was steeped in illiteracy, zamindari system, bonded labor, slavery, etc, while Andhras were an emancipated lot, had good schools and colleges, experienced land reforms, and had better irrigation.
After Independence, Telangana continued to vote Communist parties to power while Andhra voted Congress to power. Step-brotherly treatment was meted out to Communist-led Telangana in the Congress-led united Andhra Pradesh. That continued till 1969, when after a series of broken agreements and accords Telangana people took to streets to protest. It was a student led movement. It was ruthlessly crushed by Indira Gandhi who jailed thousands of protestors. According to some estimates nearly 70,000 people were arrested, converting colleges like Kakatiya Medical College and Regional Engineering College Warangal into jails. Nearly 370 people were killed. Thousands injured. There were 1800 lathicharge incidents. There was complete media blackout and nobody outside Telangana knew much about the state-sponsored violence to curb this movement.
After these incidents, Telangana people took the electoral route, hoping India would live up to the promises it made in its Preamble. Telangana Praja Samiti (TPS) won 11 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats clearly indicating the mood of the people for creation of separate Telangana. What did India do? Instead of recognizing the electoral mandate, Indira Gandhi coerced the head of TPS to join Congress giving the incentive of Chief Minister post to a Telangana man. What came out was a six-point formula which was a diluted form of Gentlemen’s Agreement. When Andhra people flouted Mulki Rules, PV Narasimha Rao, the first Telangana to become Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, took it to Supreme Court which upheld the Mulki Rules. The Andhras who formed the majority in the Assembly, instead of accepting the verdict, boycotted the Assembly, held the sessions in Tirupati and ensured PV Narasimha Rao government was removed, to be replaced by President’s Rule. Under this President’s Rule, Indira Gandhi did an act of parliament to overturn the Supreme Court decision in favor of Andhras.
Just take a look at what India did to people of Telangana. First, they ensured their electoral route was suppressed. Next, they ensured the legislative means was curbed. Then, they ensured even the legal route was blocked. The youth of Telangana got disillusioned. They got disenchanted with the Indian political system. Out of that disenchantment, as a product of many betrayals, came Naxalism. The youth of Telangana took up an alternative system to fight the system - readily available was Naxalism that had roots in Communism.
For the next few years, there was a massive suppression of Naxalism in our region. Large police forces were stationed in our towns. Many innocents were jailed under mere suspicion without legal recourse. Many young people disappeared forever. Fake encounters were a daily event. It was a draconian system with policeman acting as the deliverer of the law. For many years, the most feared man in our region was the policeman.
While growing up, my home was very close to a police station. I could hear wails of a human being screaming in pain and agony. It was the most agonizing thing I have heard in my life. The next morning, we would see a man laying there in the mud, disheveled, distraught, and completely broken. The whole idea of the torture was to inflict so much pain that that you lose the very spirit as a human. You no longer have a will to fight or raise your voice. It was quite effective. That’s how Telangana was broken down, in spirit, so that no voice is raised again.
Once that happened to a person his life changed. He never smiled again. He was always lost. The children and the wife wept the whole time. Most often, these guys were just ordinary workers from a nearby village. They may have nothing to do with Naxalism. But a mere suspicion or raise of voice against the landlord or policeman was enough to torture and maim the person. Many kids in the villages who saw this happening to their dear ones grew up knowing that the system was against them – many of them became Naxalites. That’s how Naxalism grew in ranks.
For a very long time Naxalites enjoyed the support of the masses. They became the Robin Hoods for the villagers. The policeman was seen as a villain and Naxals as the heroes. When we were kids growing up in Warangal, if there was ever a shootout between Naxals and police, we were advised to run towards Naxals and not police, because the police would be indiscriminate in their firing but not Naxals – that was the prevailing opinion.
Naxals enjoyed that hero treatment for many years. They would come and make speeches. They were always well spoken, never uttering an abusive word. In remote villages, they solved many problems for poor people. After their arrival, the farmer got their lands, the teachers showed up at school without fail, the government employees did their duty.
However the movement degenerated as is common with any movement that embraces violence as core ideology. The well-educated ideologues were either arrested or they gave up the life of Naxals to join the mainstream. Soon, there were many excesses in Telangana. They killed many people. After few years, the villager had to equally fear the Naxalite as much as a policeman. Naxals tried to enforce their disenchantment with Indian system onto everyone forcing people not to vote. That did not go well with the people who wanted to join the mainstream, send their kids to school, get education, etc.
Nowadays, the philosophies and ideologies of Naxalites are no longer valid. Even the poor reject it. It is much better for people of Telangana to work through the system rather than outside of it. Most people in Telangana wants to join the mainstream.
After forty years, people of Telangana come together once again to seek a separate Telangana. What will India do this time? It has already negated our electoral routes. Both in 2004 and 2009, only those parties which endorsed Telangana have won in Telangana, and yet India does not seem to wake up and see the reality. On the behest of Andhras, it is keen on trying to attach the tag of Naxalites to our genuine people’s movement – knowing very well that Naxalism is on the wane in the region.
Just because Naxals now support separate Telangana does not make it a Maoist movement the way BJP’s support does not make it a Hindutva Movement. Telangana Movement crosses all divides. Nowhere would you see a Maoist, a Hindutva Supporter, and Muslim leader sitting on the same dais seeking the same solution.
Will history repeat itself?
Will 1969 repeat? Will there be upsurge of Naxal movement in Telangana?
Looks like that’s what India wants. Looks like that’s what Andhras want. Even when there is no involvement from Maoists, they want to push Telangana students to join Maoists by force. When the students are fighting a legitimate fight, they are being pushed into embracing violence. When the students refuse to become violent, the detractors of Telangana are not very happy. They want these kids to embrace guns so that they can just shoot them and put an end to this movement. They want to shoot them even if they pick up a stone.
In their shortsightedness, India believes it is curbing Naxalism while it is suppressing Telangana movement when in fact it is the same suppression that led to Naxalism in this region, when in fact it is this suppression that will eventually refuel the Naxalism in this region.
Maoists’ embracing separate Telangana is a welcoming thing for Telangana. It means they are ready to embrace the political system of this country instead of trying to fight outside it. We should not fear it when Naxalites endorse Telangana. We should use this occasion to make sure they give up their violent methods and join the mainstream. That is the right way to solve Naxalism in this region.
Suppression of current Telangana Movement calling it a Naxal movement is the most foolish thing India will do in the current century. We should not forget the foolish moves of Indira Gandhi when she tried to meddle with Sikhs in Punjab and when she suppressed Telanganas in 1969.
The question is simple. What do you want, India? A prosperous and Naxal-free Telangana or a impoverished and Naxal-infested Telangana? If you want to tackle Naxalism, grant Telangana immediately. It’s an opportunity to bring Naxals into the mainstream. Ask them to renounce the violent methods and ask them to join the mainstream politics. That’s the only way to end Naxalism.
If the center is thinking that it can curb Telangana movement with guns, they are completely and hopelessly wrong. Right now the students of Osmania, Kakatiya and other universities are seething with anger at the betrayals they faced by the Indian government. Most of these kids are from villages, from backward communities; forming the bulk are SC/ST/OBC students. That’s also the reason why the elite Andhras call them rowdies and hooligans. No matter what Andhras think, these students are our people, the future of Telangana.
Let us not hand them over to Maoist movements. Instead let us extend our hand and pull them back from brink of another disaster. Let’s not dilly dally and count number of MLA and MPs seats you are going to win. Let’s not make strategic plans to win elections in Telangana and Andhra. Let’s just put an end to this 53 year old problem by giving the right remedy – the creation of Telangana. Why wait for another 10 months? In the last 3 months 300 people have committed suicides. Do you want to see 1000 more suicides in Telangana? The weak-hearted ones commit suicide while the impatient ones join violent movements. Do you want to see the ranks of Naxals swell because of your violent suppressions? Do you want us to wake up to see Section 144 on a daily basis once again? Do you want to rule us at gunpoint once again with your armies? Do you want to create an island of prosperity in Hyderabad to keep Andhras happy while rest of Telangana wallows in poverty and mired in Naxalism?
How does India solve its problems? Maturely or petulantly like a kid? The ball is in your court, India.