The following piece is part of the Quest’s new series featuring the final projects and assignments of Minerva students. This Location Based Assignment (LBA) was written for Minerva’s Government and Social Change course, by Tahna Kate, Minerva Class of 2021. To view more final projects, click here. If you are a Minerva student and would like to have your final project published, fill out this form.
“Are we facing the end of the ‘idea of India’ given to us by our founding fathers?” remarked P. Chidambaram, former Union Minister of Finance and current Member of Parliament in India, introducing his newly-published Undaunted: Saving the Idea of India. The ‘idea’ in question is highly Nehruvian, a nation-state which establishes and practices secularism within a country’s democratic framework, defeating the communal forces of separate regions and uniting under one nation: Hindustan. A discrepancy rises when we consider states like Orissa, Telangana or Tamil Nadu, where regional parties remain dominant. Consider Telangana, whose 2014 General Elections favored neither the Congress nor the BJP. Instead, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) formed the first government in Telangana with a majority victory of 63 out of 113 seats (“Telangana Rashtra Samithi – Wikipedia,” n.d.). For this paper, we will focus on the following question: given the dominant national narrative of a united India, why do regional politics prevail in the state of Telangana?
According to Encyclopedia Princetoniensis, regionalism refers to ‘movements demanding territorial autonomy within unitary states leading to political decentralization and regional autonomy’ (“Regionalism and Regionalization | Encyclopedia Princetoniensis,” n.d.). An alternative definition holds that a central state which delivers policies on a regional basis can also be considered regionalist, although the case against this latter definition is well-supported in the context of Telangana. Telangana became a separate geographical and political entity on June 2, 2014, as the 29th and the youngest state in Union of India (“Telangana State Portal History,” n.d.). The Telangana demand sprang from decades of Telangana leaders accusing the people of Andhra of seizing government jobs and land, and the central government of not investing in the region’s infrastructure (Desk, 2016). Previously, despite formal structures of liberal democracy, elected representatives of Telangana were never taken seriously nor given positions of power to take care of constituencies, which belonged exclusively to leaders from Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra (Vaddiraju, n.d.). As a result, we can agree that regionalism in this context refers to a political ideology that prioritizes local over national. The economy of Telangana is mainly agrarian and the regional party, TRS, came to power riding on promises of welfare schemes, mega irrigation projects and the charismatic leadership of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Also, since its founding in 2001, the TRS carried a sustained agitation to grant statehood to Telangana. Under these circumstances, supporting the TRS government rationally aligned with peoples’ employment, irrigation, agriculture demands and need for recognition as an autonomous state. This fulfills the criteria of rational choice theory, which explains institutional outcomes in terms of micro-level analysis of individual behavior that presupposes individuals are rational agents that seek to maximize utility.
Indeed, compared to the BJP-led Union government, the TRS-led Telangana movement is pro- poor, consistently delivering welfare schemes such as timely pensions, small funds for marriages of rural women and health subsidies in private hospitals (Vaddiraju, n.d.). However, the calculations of utility fall short when we account for the perplexing case of farmers’ suicides: Telangana has witnessed nearly 4,000 farmers commit suicide due to agrarian distress in the last four years, especially tenant farmers who are excluded from investment support and insurance coverage schemes (“Deplorable Situation of Agriculture in Telangana,” 2018). Additionally, many have accused the TRS government of rampant nepotism and corruption (“Telangana Congress releases charge sheet against TRS, alleges government of corruption, nepotism, and misrule,” n.d.). Nevertheless, with 90 seats, the TRS numbers were almost four times the combined total of the two national parties in the most recent elections in December 2018 (S, 2018). As a result, there is some evidence that heavy identity stances regarding regional parties can bias individual calculations of maximum utility and hurt vulnerable populations originally meant to benefit.
Deplorable Situation of Agriculture in Telangana: TRS’s Role. (2018, November 2). Retrieved March 9, 2019, from https://www.newsclick.in/deplorable-situation-agriculture-telangana-trss-role
Desk, I. (2016, June 1). The story of India’s 29th State — Telangana. The Hindu. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/The-story-of-Indias-29th-State-%E2%80%94-Telangana/article14384461.ece
Regionalism and Regionalization | Encyclopedia Princetoniensis. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2019, from https://pesd.princeton.edu/?q=node/264
S, A. B. L. (2018, December 7). Telangana polls: Major shift in India’s youngest state’s political rhetoric. Business Standard India. Retrieved from https://www.business-standard.com/article/elections/telangana-polls-major-shift-in-india-s-youngest-state-s-political-rhetoric-118120700149_1.html
Telangana Congress releases charge sheet against TRS, alleges government of corruption, nepotism, and misrule. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2019, from http://www.newindianexpress.com/elections/telangana-elections/2018/nov/25/telangana-congress-releases-charge-sheet-against-trs-alleges-government-of-corruption-nepotism-an-1902938.html
Telangana Rashtra Samithi – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telangana_Rashtra_Samithihttp://images.newindianexpress.com/uploads/user/imagelibrary/2018/11/25/w900X450/Cong.jpg
Telangana State Portal History. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2019, from https://www.telangana.gov.in/about/history
Vaddiraju, A. K. (n.d.). POLITICS IN THE STATE OF TELANGANA: IDENTITY, REPRESENTATION AND DEMOCRACY, 18