telangana: a movement without a social agenda 4

kancha ilaiah asks an important question:
Feb.13 : The movement for Telangana has now touched a peak. It has also become a movement with unique characteristics. Masses belonging to all walks of life have come out to the streets with their cultural symbols. We can see dalit-Bahujans beating drums and dholaks, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) with their ploughshares and bullock carts, shepherds with their flock, toddy tappers with their moku (rope assembly use to climb the trees) and muttadu (is the belt they wear to keep their hatchet) and stone-breakers with their own iron artifacts.

The festive game of Bathukamma (a women’s festival celebrated mainly during Dussehra, pro-Telangana activists are performing the Bathukamma on the highways as a form of protest and to highlight their Telangana identity) was also enacted. It was being projected as a cultural symbol.

During the age of Nizam, Bathukamma used to be enacted by the Shudras — mostly OBCs. Dalits were not allowed to participate as they were seen as pollutants even by the OBCs of lower order. And the upper caste women — particularly Brahmins, Komatis, Reddys and Velamas — would not participate as it was seen as Shudra festive game. They thought it was below their dignity. Now suddenly some Dorasanlu (women of dominant castes) went to this play as a symbol of the agitation. Is it for Telangana or for power? [emphasis mine]
i don't see why ilaiah views telangana and power as two contradictory goals. telangana is power. it might not mean much change in the power equations at the village and district levels, but in hyderabad, where most power is concentrated, a new state would require a full-fledged ministry of its own, among other things. now, who gets the power is the critical question.

the involvement of certain articulate sections from a few obc, dalit communities and some adivasis like the lambadas has helped the separatists aggressively publicize the dubious claim that it is a broad-based social movement. that it is not a political movement, or a movement led by politicians, but a movement for 'self-respect', 'self-rule' etc. will this movement help the obcs, dalits and adivasis gain 'self-respect'? the answer to that question depends on the answers to a few other questions.

how many of the top leaders of the political joint action committee spearheading the agitation are obcs and dalits? very few. ilaiah himself points out their role in the current agitation:
The most interesting thing is that while the lower castes are using their cultural symbols to achieve a separate Telangana, the members of former feudal families are playing the politics of agitation. We also see a surprising unity between some Reddy and Velama political lords. The whole attempt by these two caste forces is to control the political joint action committee (JAC) that is driving the Telangana agitation. Some academicians have also been drawn in to mediate between those two otherwise politically warring castes.

It is as if the stereotype of future Telangana is being played out — “We will play politics and you should play Dhoom Dham, Bathukamma and drums”. [emphasis mine]
so, whose 'self-respect' are the agitators talking about? there are very little chances of a new state ushering in any significant improvement in the political representation of the obcs, dalits and adivasis in the institutions of power, thereby radically enhancing their social standing or 'respect'. they're not going to get any new power. a few more members from 4-5 large obc castes (out of a hundred odd obc communities in andhra pradesh) might get elected to the state legislature, but that would only mean a slight improvement on the current low base of obc representation which stands at around 15% of all legislators.

anant maringanti makes a significant observation in a recent article in the economic and political weekly ('Telangana: Righting Historical Wrongs or Getting the Future Right?', jan23, 2010 issue; thanks, anandaswarup):
The creation of electoral democracy and revenue administration at the mandal level opened up a unique space for the backward castes in Telangana who comprised small and medium farmers with little access to irrigation facilities. The first generation of the leaders benefiting from this strategy are now important leaders in the TDP and have been, by and large, the most ambivalent about the separate state demand. However, over the last 15 years, a number of new social groups have emerged at this scale whose efforts at upward mobility have not been very successful. It is those social groups, who have hit various road blocks to social mobility, that are the ones who are the most vocal in demanding a separate state.
the obc leaders who have achieved a certain degree of power in the tdp since the party's inception in 1983, mostly come from the few, large obc communities i'd talked about earlier. now, a new generation of aspirants from the same communities are trying desperately to find their way into institutions of power in general, and the state legislature in particular. their success can only happen through the displacement of the older generation of obcs, mostly in tdp and a few in the congress, because the reddies and velamas have a strong entrenched presence in all political parties, especially in the congress. therefore, a new state would obtain very few net gains for the obcs in hyderabad, and their political presence in the countryside wouldn't change much.

both the major political parties, the congress and the tdp, made tall promises about including more obcs among their candidates' lists in the long run up to the 2009 elections, mostly to neutralize any major shift among obc voters toward chiranjeevi's praja rajyam party which had talked about fighting for 'social justice', or more representation for the obcs. but eventually, neither party stood by its promise and chiranjeevi himself fielded obc candidates in constituencies where his party had little chances of winning.

neither chiranjeevi, whose party tried to project itself as a party of the backward classes mostly, nor the current telangana agitators have evolved any theoretically sound anti-caste agenda, or a programme of 'social justice'.

the few dalit and obc leaders among the separatists who tried to raise the issue of caste at public meetings, and in other fora like the jac conferences, have been shouted down, silenced and even attacked. and even a dominant section of the students, who have supposedly made this agitation a 'people's movement' according to its propaganda artists, have aggressively opposed any discussion of the caste question by saying: 'Kulalu vaddu, mataalu vaddu, Telangana muddu' ('no castes, no religions, we want telangana', roughly) and 'all for Telangana'. doesn't that sound like the 'youth for equality' agenda?

so, who's going to get the power? the movement does not even challenge entrenched social groups
on the question of political representation for the obcs or muslims. the share of the dalits and adivasis in the new state assembly shall not increase. like space bar says here, it might seem like the politicians have no control over the 'movement' now, but we also have to look at the question of who gains 'power' from this movement, whose ends does it meet, to understand who is trying hard to make it look like a 'people's movement'.


Sridhar said...


The agitating masses, irrespective of castes, simply want to see driving away Andhraites from political and economic space in Hyderabad. At least for the moment the 'self rule' appears to be the driving force and people of all castes seem to put the caste on back seat. The OBC politicians probably believe that they can further their share of political footprint in the event of separate Telangana. It is another thing if social justice would become a reality in separate state but the agitating masses do really care about it now - after all the potent brainwashing and hysteria? The masses simply believe that there would be millions of jobs that would be freed up and tons of displaced business ventures that they can take over in the new state. But I am still wondering what is driving the lawyers and doctors to campaign so vigorously. Probably they too see increased market shares?

reality said...

@ Kufr

I have a question on social justice. Is it necessary for all the backward castes to get their representatives in legislatures and other seats of power ? Shouldnt social justice agenda be more on ensuring there would be more dalit-obc doctors ,enggs,teachers , lawyers ,officers,entrepreneurs etc than on creating dalit obc mlas or ministers. We saw in UP , despite mayawati nothing has changed for dalits . My whole point is social justice should focus on the crores of people who deserve better ,than on the few hundreds who may get power.

kuffir said...


'The agitating masses, irrespective of castes, simply want to see driving away Andhraites from political and economic space in Hyderabad.'

despite all the hype, the larger truth is, only a vocal minority usually speaks for 'the masses'.. even the most thumping landslides in electoral history haven't given to any winning party more than 40% on average of all polled votes, and not more than 20% of all potential votes.

this is a country where you'll find many sections of the masses are still not aware that indira/raj gandhi is no longer the prime minister of the country...the media and the excitable middle classes use the words 'mass movements' etc too loosely, to put it mildly.

the doctors and the lawyers? hehe.. i've written in one of my earlier posts that you'd find more doctors from india in the american countryside than in indian villages. those two sections of indian middle classes have always been more acutely aware of their self-interests than anyone else..in fact, most of the inputs for this legalistic, unidimensional plaint for a separate state came from lawyers, first.

kuffir said...


thanks for this question. most of my posts revolve around this issue and i've always made it very clear that social justice is essentially about rights of the underprivileged, not merely representation. but the fight against caste entails empowering the so-called lower castes, economically, socially and politically.. of those, i believe, social empowerment through education etc is more important. but all the three aspects of this battle are linked inextricably.. more funds and attention from the government for schools and public healthcare, for instance, for the lower castes will never come through until they get a stronger political voice (and this doesn't necessarily have to come from lower caste politicians but upper caste leaders have never made a strong case for it). and without social empowerment, or education, economic empowerment can also be very difficult.

but in the current context, when talking about the separatist agitation, one can see that their ideologues are not even talking about the more populistic aspects of lower caste empowerment like better political representation--do they really care about empowerment, in a much broader sense? that's my point.

sree said...

The Telangana Congress Monitoring Group (TCMG) in a press release.

The issues of concentration in the document to be submitted to the committee include difference between Telangana and Coastal- Rayalaseema people on social, cultural, language slant and anthropological basis, human development and human poverty index, destruction of future of artisan class of Telangana, difference of administration before and after 1956 and Mulki turmoil.

What kind of destruction are they referring to?
Is it the destruction of their "traditional/cultural" occupations, as the younger generations from these classes are taking up modern professions such as engineering and medicine and other non traditional professions.?

I think they are.

sree said...

.. a united state gives youngsters from these sections of society a chance for exploring new opportunities, assimilate varying thought process and cultures from people hailing from different parts of the state.
This assimilation would instill the much required self confidence and assertiveness in them, qualities which the upper caste dora's and panthulu's fear.

what would be a better way to slow down or stop this than cultural and geographical isolation.

Reinforcement of cultural isolation has already begun in the form of "traditional" protests and dhoom dhams.

All they need is geographical isolation.

Sridhar said...


In relation to your above response to Reality, I am wondering if there is good anecdotal evidence to suggest that states or constituencies with stronger obc/dalit representation have actually progressed better in terms of social and economic empowerment. I am tempted to believe that the link between political representation and development of backward castes is very weak. Most politicians do not carry the same urge and commitment any more once they get elected and even the few committed will confront with insitutions that are ill-equipped, inefficient or corrput to effect positive change or meet developmental goals.

Batukamma fan said...

You are ignoring two important points from Prof. Kancha Ilaiah's report.

1. The popularity of the Telangana movement among all groups, especially OBC (Prof. Ilaiah's core support group).
2. Prof. Ilaiah's own support for seperate Telangana

As an aside, I do not know who celebrated Batukamma in nizam's rule but I have seen women of all castes celebrate the festival for several decades now

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