It’s fear psychosis.
As you cross the border between Telangana and Coastal Andhra in Nalgonda district, you come across Tallapally village. It’s the first of hundreds of villages you pass that are served by the right branch of the Nagarjunasagar, Andhra Pradesh’s first major irrigation project. Under the shade of a tree sits farmer Satyanarayana, ill for the last three days but tending to his one-acre farm nevertheless. He doesn’t care whether the state is divided or united as long as his farm continues to get water from the canal. “Water is everything. We can’t live without it. Let them solve water issues first.”
You hear the same refrain 500 km away, at Gavarlapalem inTanuku constituency in Coastal Andhra. Paddy farmer Adinarayana owns three acres of land, and water is all he cares for. “We have nothing to do with Hyderabad,” he says. “Water is the issue.” Opposite the shelter in which Adinarayana sits for an after-work soiree with two buddies, you see a poster lampooning Botcha Satyanarayana. The PCC president, seen as doing nothing to stop the bifurcation, is shown in the attire of a woman. Another poster hails as a hero Jagga Reddy, the only Telangana MLA who supports keeping Andhra Pradesh united.
A staffer of Gramasri, an NGO active in and around Chirala, echoes other fears resident in the hearts of the people of Coastal Andhra over bifurcation of the state. “It will take years for us to develop a city like Hyderabad. Who knows how much funding we’ll get? What future will our students have if they are shut out of Hyderabad?”
And at a village just outside Macherla in Guntur district, farmer Sambasiva Rao says: “I’ve never been to Hyderabad. But where will our educated sons and daughters go?”
These are the questions you hear all along the right branch of theNagarjunasagar on the Krishna river, or for that matter anywhere in the basin of the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh’s other major river. Some of these fears are genuine, some only perceived. But all of them are laced with anxiety, even fear. The fear factor is the result of the Seemandhra agitation that has been going on for 59 days since the Congress party gave its assent to division of the state. In every mandal headquarter town in Coastal Andhra, one finds a protest tent pitched by local joint action committees, largely apolitical groups that have coalesced all across Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema to stop the bifurcation. In each tent, five to 10 protesters, representing various social sections, hunker down each day for a day of fasting, accompanied by songs blaring out of loudspeakers extolling the unity of the Telugu race. All government machinery and transportation systems have come to a standstill thanks to the strike by government employees. But the agitation is so calibrated as not to affect the livelihood of dailywagers. Shops close for an hour or two to make the point and then it is business as usual. In Parchur town in Prakasam district we saw anganwadi workers materialize like a flash mob and form an efficient human chain. Motorists stopped and watched as they raised Samaikyandhra slogans. Fifteen minutes later, the workers dispersed, just as efficiently, and traffic returned to normal.
In Karamchedu, a village fabled for producing millionaires and notorious for the massacre of Dalits three decades ago, I asked Nayudamma, a tobacco farmer, “Why will anyone be asked to leave Hyderabad after bifurcation? Won’t Coastal Andhra youth continue to find jobs in the city as ever?”
The farmer admonished me. “Have you not heard what was said on television? They (Telangana leaders) have already declared that Hyderabad is theirs and that employees from Coastal Andhra will have to leave.” Then, in the same breath, he pointed out that he used to cultivate tobacco at Mahadevapur village in Warangal district in Telangana and never in those 40 years had he faced any difficulty on account of his being from Coastal Andhra. So why be apprehensive now? Nayudamma blamesTelangana leaders for inciting these fears but to any seasoned observer of bifurcation politics it is not difficult to discern the unstated fear that division of Andhra Pradesh will change the gatekeepers of the processes of government recruitment and award of contracts, which are now to the advantage of some sections and may not be so in the event of division.
Before entering Guntur district, I met Srinivas, a Nagarjunasagar contractor, and asked him about the fear that water will not be released downstream if the state is bifurcated. He told me, ”How can we in Telangana keep the water if the dam is full? In any case, the allocations are clear and water will have to be released accordingly into the two canals - Left and Right.”
Further down the road, at Angalur village in Macherla mandal, farmer Venkateswarlu is afraid that water will be impounded by Telangana people. Used to raising two/three crops a year in years of a good monsoon, he is threatened by the prospect of losing that privilege and feels justified in harbouring that fear, which would be seen as entirely unjustifiable by the people of Telangana.
At Karamchedu though, kirana shop ower P Koteswara Rao tells you what is in the minds of many: “If the head of the family decides to split it, he will give details of the family assets and then will explain how he intends to divide them among the children. If the same method had been adopted now, things would not have come to this pass.” It was something that the Congress could have indeed done but chose not to, at least in respect of key areas like education, employment and water, when it came out with the July 30 announcement on state division.
However, there are also sections of people - farm workers, daily wagers, petty businessmen - who appeared unconcerned by the brouhaha over bifurcation. In fact, Seemandhra protests have been muted in areas that have no canal irrigation. In Prakasam district, people owning drylands are salivating over the prospect of real estate values soaring if the capital of the post-bifurcationSeemandhra comes up in and around Ongole. Even in canal-fed areas, farmers have so far not joined the stir, preoccupied as they are with cultivation thanks to the good rains this year.
You also notice those who believe that separation might actually be good for them. Outside the Andhra Evangelical Church at Hyderpet village, autodriver Raju, a Dalit, says: ”In my heart of hearts, I feel that division will be good for people like us from the downtrodden sections. If not me, at least my children will stand to gain.” He, however, participates in the agitation, perhaps not to break ranks.