Published On:04 September 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Telangana and the Muslim Question

The inclusive dream of Telangana would come to nothing in reality if minorities are once again denied their due space in the proposed state, writes Uddalak Mukherjee

I attended a conference in Hyderabad’s Press Club recently, where advocates of a separate Telangana had gathered to demand the deletion of Clause 14 (F) pertaining to the 1975 presidential order that had turned the city into a free zone for employment. Leaders of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti spoke fervently in Telugu, and their supporters, mostly students, responded enthusiastically with cries of “Jai Telangana”. But it was Professor Kodandaram — the convener of the Telangana Joint Action Committee with whom I discussed several key aspects of the movement later — speaking in a low but determined voice, who drew the biggest applause. What struck me as significant, however, was the absence of a Muslim face — student or leader — in the agitation. In his report, Justice B.N. Srikrishna had concluded that Muslims in Hyderabad — constituting 41 per cent of the city’s population — unlike Muslims elsewhere in Telangana were against the formation of a new state.

I had visited Hyderabad to ascertain the views of the sizeable Muslim community on Telangana and the reasons behind the duality of the Muslim response that the Srikrishna committee report alluded to. My decision to focus on Muslims had been influenced not only by their numerical strength but also because, in 1969, when the movement for Telangana was in its infancy, Muslims, who at that time comprised 39 per cent of Hyderabad’s population, had remained noncommittal, viewing the agitation as yet another expression of Hindu solidarity. The findings of the Srikrishna committee and the absence of Muslims in the press conference seemed to suggest that not much had changed since then. But in the course of my interactions with Muslim students, activists and political leaders over the next couple of days, many of which took place in parts of the ornate and timeless old city, the extent of the shift in Muslim attitudes towards Telangana started getting clearer. Analysing the premise of Muslim support for Telangana would, in my opinion, also illuminate other, broader aspects: the changing nature of movements for self-determination in India, the challenges such movements pose to the country’s federal structure; the cynical attempts on the part of the political class to appropriate, and then weaken, people’s movements, and so on.

Telangana’s underdevelopment, once blamed on the Nizam’s indifference to his subjects, in contrast to the prosperity of coastal Andhra Pradesh mirrors the discrimination and deprivation suffered by minorities in Andhra Pradesh. The conjunction would be better understood if one were to go through data pertaining to health, education and employment. There are 666 hospitals in coastal Andhra Pradesh and 270 in the 10 districts that make up Telangana. Telangana’s literacy rate is 30 per cent, as opposed to 42 per cent in Andhra; the latter has 26,800 schools while Telangana has 17,954. The Girglani commission report stated that two lakh government posts in Telangana are occupied by settlers from the coast.

How do Muslims fare on these three indices? Only 15 per cent of Muslims in the state have access to private clinics, an overwhelming 80 per cent depend on the cheaper, but poorly-managed, government hospitals. The Ranganath Mishra commission also noted that Muslims had the worst nutrition levels out of all communities. Literacy rate among Muslims is 19 per cent in a state where 60 out of every 100 people know the alphabet. Less than 3 per cent of Muslims held government jobs in 2009. In 1948, the figure was 41 per cent. The controversial sale of an estimated 1,60,000 acres of Waqf property, the demonization of Muslims during communal disturbances and the lack of State patronage for Urdu — 950 Urdu medium educational institutions have been closed since 1948 in Hyderabad alone — have strengthened the belief among Muslims that a separate Telangana state, where the proportional representation of Muslims would be, according to some estimates, 35 per cent higher than that in united Andhra, would help secure their social and economic interests.

To attribute the incorporation of Muslims in the Telangana movement to State apathy alone would be to obfuscate the remarkably inclusive nature of the movement itself. Activists and academics, who form the intellectual vanguard of the Telangana agitation, have played a key role in allaying Muslim insecurities about their future in a new state. Significantly, during their interaction with members of the Muslim community, leaders like Kodandaram seldom shied away from confronting the difficult questions that created ruptures in communal ties and contributed to Muslim aloofness. For instance, views were exchanged regarding the unfortunate silence that prevails over the atrocities perpetrated on Muslims during and after the “Police Action” in 1948 which forcibly united the Nizam’s dominions with independent India. The willingness to mend the faultlines of history through discussion and debate played a crucial role in winning Muslim support. Unlike other movements for self- determination — the Gorkhaland agitation in West Bengal, for instance — that have, allegedly, remained indifferent to the aspirations of peripheral communities, the campaign for Telangana seems to have succeeded in forging a loose confederacy comprising marginalized communities — Muslims, Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Tribes and even needy students — and is striving to be truly representative, and hence democratic, by nature. This synthesis among the dispossessed, ironically, signals a kind of social realignment brought about by a despairing acknowledgment of collective deprivation. Kodandaram described the mobilization as a fledgling attempt to retrieve a political ethic that got lost with the corruption of the political class. Dismissed as yet another socialist pipe dream by some sections of the establishment, it yet has the potential to alter India’s political landscape.

The Telangana movement serves as a model to review the linguistic underpinnings of India’s federal structure and also provides an opportunity to examine changes within identity politics. The states reorganization commission, set up under the stewardship of Justice Fazal Ali, had been driven by the contentious principle that cultural indices such as language propel unity among a people. But culture is also a complex, heterogeneous entity, and the fallacy of the principle of devising unity on the basis of a common language is aptly demonstrated by the peculiarities in Telangana’s ties with united Andhra Pradesh. Telugu is spoken in both regions, but people from the coast dismiss the Telugu spoken in Telangana as unrefined. The food eaten in Telangana is spicier, and local celebrations like Batukamma — the festival of flowers — have not found a place in the official calendar. Despite years of cohabitation, these cultural differences, augmented by the State’s preference of coastal cultural practices over those in Telangana, were amplified. But what explains the willingness of Muslims — who prefer Urdu over Telugu, dress and eat differently — to be integrated into a new state whose cultural identity and practices would remain different from theirs? Is identity politics then being increasingly driven by the demands of equitable development rather than by allegations of cultural prejudice? Is there then a case for altering India’s federal alignment by recognizing the legitimacy of the demand for smaller states which, though culturally diverse, would provide a better chance of a fairer distribution of critical resources?

The other question that Telangana forces us to consider is the distance that separates our political representatives from the people. The Srikrishna committee’s controversial claim that Muslims in Hyderabad are against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh may have been a result of its unwillingness to examine a cross-section of views because of political prerogatives. The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, recognized as the political voice of Hyderabad’s Muslims, which allegedly derives much of its legitimacy from coercive tactics, had argued forcefully during its appearance before the Srikrishna committee that Muslims in the city are not in favour of a new state. This despite the fact that many Muslims — including an impressive number of women — had turned up on the occasion of ‘Telangana Garjana’. A number of Muslim welfare organizations, such as the Movement for Peace and Justice and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, have also pledged their support to the cause. Most of the respondents confirmed the suspicion that the MIM’s view — which is diametrically opposed to those held by many ordinary Muslims — was an attempt to secure the lucrative business interests of the Owaisi clan which virtually owns the party. The difference between the responses of the party and those it claims to represent lays bare a frightening chasm that demolishes smug claims of India being an ideal democratic republic. A judicial committee, appointed by no less than the Central government to look into a complicated matter, but favouring the views of a dominant political party, only goes to show that many of the decisions and policies drafted in the name of the Indian people by the State are taken in accordance with the political prerogatives of the party in power. On my return to the hotel from the old city, I was amused to find the home minister pleading on television that the government respected the sanctity of independent bodies such as the Srikrishna committee.

This, however, is not to suggest that the Telangana movement is free of disturbing traits. There is a worrying absence of discussion and of structured roadmaps to fulfil many of its lofty promises — restoring the production of traditional goods such as textiles and grapes, plugging the gaps in the existing public distribution system, improvement of the educational status of minorities, and so on. The administration of an underdeveloped region as well as the protection of the interests of minority communities such as Muslims and tribal people pose significant challenges. At the moment, the emotive demand of statehood seems to have eclipsed the other challenges that lie ahead.

What is equally troubling is the infiltration of parochial sentiments in the rank and file. On an earlier occasion, Telangana activists had dismantled 12 statues of Telugu icons owing lineage to Andhra, throwing 11 of them into the the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad. The taxi driver at the airport, originally from coastal Andhra, was disgusted with the unceasing disturbances — the frequent bandhs that robbed him of a day’s work — and equally candid about his fear of future persecution. His feelings, shared by many other settlers in Hyderabad, undermine the representative character of the movement that has made it unique.

What I remember most from my visit to Hyderabad are the lusty cheers that greeted, not the elected representatives from Telangana, but Professor Kodandaram. Many of the irate students that I spoke to recounted how some politicians in Telangana decided to throw their weight behind the movement only after they were humiliated or assaulted by ordinary people. The resorting to violence signifies an eagerness among citizens to shun enshrined democratic means — elections, for instance — to voice their demands. The violence may be construed as their disenchantment with the polity. But this dangerous disillusionment with a discredited political class also leaves the space open for yet another canny, avowedly apolitical, leadership — such as the one that called the shots from Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan recently — to take advantage of the vacuum and use people’s movements to secure narrow interests.

The Muslim question in relation to Telangana is crucial on many such counts. But foremost among them is the fact that it is a litmus test of the movement’s claims to being uniquely inclusive. Failure in this respect would suggest the collapse of yet another democratic dream under the weight of inner contradictions.

(Courtesy: The Telegraph)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on September 04, 2011. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on September 04, 2011. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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