For peace and development
Frontline, Volume 26 - Issue 26 :: Dec. 19, 2009-Jan. 01, 2010
AS K. Chandrasekhara Rao observed his fast and activists demanding a separate Telangana state agitated on the streets, there were many appeals urging the movement not to adopt violent methods, and not all of them were from the government. Some respected voices within the movement, and leaders of social movements sympathetic to the statehood demand stressed the importance of a peaceful agitation.
There was heavy deployment of the police across the region and there were fears for the safety of “settlers”. The media presented the Centre’s announcement on December 9 as a sort of surrender to mounting pressure and the fear of violence. But, this was misleading. The movement was peaceful, both in its content and in its methods. Why then did violence look so imminent?
Mostly because of the kind of language that the movement adopted: “struggles”, “sacrifices”, “attacks”, “fights” and even “bloodshed”. Decades of state repression in the region has led to an overemphasis of the coercive functions of the state as opposed to its developmental or welfare aspects. The only vocabulary and political imagery available to the people and leaders of the Telangana movement are combative in nature. Thus, the movement’s own articulation missed the point that it is not only a peaceful movement but a movement for peace.
Long decades of struggle, first under the Communist Party of India (CPI) and later under naxalites, continuous state repression, and scant gains in material terms have tired out the people of Telangana. The immediate context for the current inclination towards peace is provided by the loss of credibility of the naxalites.
Unusually for the Maoists, they acknowledged for the first time the difference between the interests of the people and the party, and formally announced that they would not “lead” the movement. This helped the mass mobilisation without disproportionate police action.
Telangana wants peace, which is more than an absence of repression and violence. The people of the region see peace as something that is achievable only through decent human living standards. It is remarkable for a people who have seen only the repressive side of the state to be able to conceive peace as something that needs to be entrenched in material well-being. This was one of the strong points of the movement but paradoxically also one that obscured the centrality of peace in it.
Such original political imagination is impossible without the widespread awareness of the fact that Telangana is backward despite being strong in people, area, water, mineral resources, cultivable land and rainfall. Adverse and unfair policies, and not lack of resources, are behind its underdevelopment.
Even at the height of mobilisation, the agitation involved a hunger strike, a number of suicides, and huge gatherings. But beyond sporadic acts of destruction, there was no violence, no killing. This self-restraint on the part of a people who have lived in the shadow of violence for more than half a century is a rare example of collective decency and a hard-earned inclination towards moderation.
This fundamental change in the very conception of the change that Telangana longs for is exemplified by the trajectory of the “people’s balladeer” Gaddar. While he abides by the Maoist party and its philosophy, his interventions for more than a decade have been more for peace than for revolutionary martyrdom. Even the government recently repealed many cases against him, stating that the decision was to honour his efforts for promoting peace.
There are attempts to describe this movement as a case of a demagogue inciting people. But it is the people on the street and their pressure that encouraged Chandrasekhara Rao to continue his fast.
He had been waiting for a chance to come back to the centre of the movement ever since he was forced to retreat because of fierce criticism against him from the people and his party colleagues after the poor performance of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in the last elections.