Will Telangana become another Jharkhand, where corruption is rampant, political institutions are weak, and democracy has taken a back seat to pave way for oligarchy?
To answer this question, we need to learn a bit about Indian Independence Movement, because that’s the closest ideal we have in this subcontinent to measure ourselves against, and also because Telangana Movement derives its inspiration from it. What happened on 15 August 1947 was not just toppling of British regime to be replaced by self-rule, but it was a major overhaul of the political, social and cultural map of this country, transforming itself from a eclectic mosaic of monarchies into a vibrant republic, overthrowing feudalism to be replaced by a socialist society, transforming a heavily male chauvinist society to give women their freedom, converting a upper caste dominated society to an emancipated society where lower castes are treated as equals.
All this happened because of what preceded before 15 August 1947, during the long course of Indian Independence Movement. The focus of the movement was not just against the British but was directed at toppling our masters within . For that, we had created organizations, forums, committees, parties, and groups enrolling people at grass root level. These organizations and groups were the key to instilling a strong case for democracy in this country. These peoples’ organizations competed and collaborated with each other, allowed debate, let reason prevail, giving voice to many suppressed sections of the society. The fact that we had created hundreds of people’s organizations and democratic political bodies during our freedom struggle is a key reason why India remained a vibrant democracy after Independence while most third-world countries that attained freedom from their colonial masters quickly became dictatorships or autocracies.
Pre-independent Indians invested heavily into creating these democratic and political institutions at all levels, at village, at districts, at states. There were linguistic groups, regional groups, religious groups, and groups for women and groups for lower castes. All these groups became active during the freedom movement itself and after attaining independence they continued to negotiate with the modern nation of India resulting in a mature democracy. Though there are still some flaws in our democracy, because we discontinued the revolution of toppling our masters once we became independent, I would still say that a long standing democracy in this country is our most important achievement as an independent nation.
Telangana Movement follows Indian Independence Movement very closely in most of these aspects. Right now, there are hundreds of democratic and people’s organizations called Joint Action Committees (JACs) in the region. There are JACs in the villages, taluks, mandals, and districts. There are JACs representing various caste groups, professional, academic, and student groups. There are JACs for backward classes, for Muslims, for women. There are JACs formed out of engineers, doctors and lawyers. These are independent groups acting on their own for the cause of Telangana. They are people’s organizations comprising ordinary people of Telangana and including people from various political parties. They do not always agree with each other, which is a good thing. They do not always have the same agenda, which is a good thing. They compete with each other sometimes, trying to protect the interests of their own groups. But they all work towards one goal – make Telangana a separate state. Thankfully, all the JACs do not just obey one political party’s diktat and openly oppose each other many a times, leading to debate and confrontation. We should welcome all those because these are the very instruments which will save Telangana from becoming another Jharkhand.
Telangana is using this current movement to create political institutions at grass root levels with increased participation from ordinary people of Telangana. This shows that there is a greater likelihood that Telangana will result in a mature democracy like that of Independent India.
Jharkhand got statehood without even creating these voices for various groups. There was no grass root level mass movement preceding its statehood. Political groups were not democratic enough to convert it into a vibrant democracy. Telangana is not Jharkhand. It should be compared to what India was before its Independence. The prognosis is very good for Telangana.
The mass movement of Telangana is unlike any other movement in India. There are bookstores dedicated just for Telangana Movement. There must be more than 500 books available on Telangana Movement, and thousands of songs, and many documentaries, thousands of articles. There were nearly 150,000 petitions made to SriKrishna Committee some very elaborate and some succinct. Of these, nearly 90% are from people of Telangana. Right now, people of Telangana are the most politically aware and politically savvy people in India, with many of them turning into leaders, historians and writers. They have scoured over the Indian Constitution, its history, formation of states, and politics, to make their case. Such political awareness will only result in something positive for state of Telangana. It has created soldiers armed with Indian Constitution and its rules and laws. Tomorrow, such a society could be far more democratic than any other state.
Many Andhras bemoan that Telangana lacks charismatic leaders like YSR or Chiranjeevi or Naidu. What they don’t realize is that people of Telangana have been wary of god-like heroes. They would rather topple the leader if he works against Telangana. That way, tomorrow we will not blindly follow one leader. Instead we will keep him on his toes, ready to topple him anytime. That allows us to create a more vibrant democracy than creating dynasties.
Every freedom movement goes through a choice of two contradicting paths. On one side, we want a single but strident voice to fight the colonial master, and to get that we would like to have only one organization, which is big and strong that gives only one message. This may be good for the movement to make rapid progress but is not the best for the people once they attain their freedoms because there would only one big organization without any checks and balances thereby leading to autocracy. On the other side, promoting too many diverse groups during the freedom movement results in lack of cohesion, making the progress slow, with energies being spent on fighting local masters, but will instill a stronger sense of a vibrant democracy with many organizations competing each to provide the necessary checks and balances.
India is a good example of a nation which followed the second path. Results did not come easy, the fight was slow, sporadic, with many groups representing various sections of the society. Debate, conflict and inner strife was as common as united fight against British. But the result was a sustainable democracy in one of the most diverse nations. Telangana is following this example today. With more than one political party representing the interests of Telangana people, with hundreds of committees and JACs representing the interests of various sections of its people, Telangana will become a vibrant and robust democracy and there is a good chance it will not become a Jharkhand.
The key to success of Telangana will be its ability to preserve the current grass root level organizations even after formation of Telangana so that this state will be of the people, by the people, for the people. Any attempt to unify them all under banner should be resolutely fought. Any attempt to dilute them by the new political masters should be strongly resisted. Our hard won freedoms should not be squandered away to the new masters.