More often than not, it so happens that every legitimate political struggle has two fronts. The words ‘legitimate’ and ‘political’ themselves represent the function and evolution of each front. The struggle acquires legitimacy — as a genuine people’s aspiration — through grassroots mass-mobilisation, usually a feature of participatory democracy. And once this popular aspiration is digested by the people and snowballs into a mass movement, then a second front emerges. This front now has to fight the political battle within the existent power structure. In a parliamentary democracy, the latter usually takes the form of a political vanguard party.
The former is built on universal ideals, for any legitimate struggle has to appeal to universal values. The latter is built on pragmatism, a process that involves a lot of give and take and compromises with the unwilling powers of the status quo.
Now, in a flight of idealism, one may ask if at all both these fronts can always work together. A straight forward answer would be a ‘yes’, if we are indeed living in an ideal world. But in a context where the philosophy of neoliberalism is the norm governing our politics and society a rupture between the two fronts is nothing but a foregone conclusion.
The movement for separate statehood to Telangana was one such movement — it was both legitimate and political. The legitimacy flows from the fact that the region, which was part of the Hyderabad state, was backward compared to the ceded regions of Andhra Pradesh, which were part of the Madras presidency. The princely state of Hyderabad was no match to the British government in terms of administration, infrastructure and education, among other things. And when the region was added to the Andhra state, the starting line for the average person from Telangana — in the race for jobs, education, business, investment and so on — was way behind the starting line for an average person from the coastal regions. Hence the demand was legitimate.
Professor Kodandram worked in the civil liberties movement along with stalwarts like KG Kannabiran, Kaloji Narayana Rao, K Balagopal and others. In fact, northern Telangana formed the social base for the Marxist-Leninst movement in Andhra Pradesh, and back then, the civil liberties movement focussed on state repression against the ML movement. In such a social context, Kodandaram was naturally wrested into the struggle for a separate Telangana. Ever since he was continuously involved in the grassroots process of mass-mobilisation towards a separate Telangana — when political parties abandoned the idea in the 1990s — through his lectures and other organisational activities as part of Telangana Students and Intellectuals Forum.
And when a political front in the form of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) was formed in 2001 by K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), Kodandram was propelled to the centre of the political movement too. Now both the fronts started working in tandem performing their respective functions. Kodandram at the level of creating political consciousness appealing to universal values of freedom, justice and self-determination to right the wrong done to the people of Telangana. And KCR at the political level of applying pressure on the centre or the Congress high command to ‘negotiate’ a deal for a separate Telangana.
And this convergence of both fronts peaked in 2009 after the centre did a U-turn after announcing the steps towards the formation of a separate Telangana with the setting up of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) — an umbrella organisation comprising of students, intellectuals of various hues from across the political spectrum. Professor Kodandram was elected the chairman of TJAC.
But a drift was inevitable, for, the means towards the end were different. The question of how to right the wrong done to the people of Telangana is a question of ideology. And Kodandram and KCR had, and still have, different ideologies — one is a grassroots civil liberties organiser leaning towards a state-welfare model of development and the other a heady political leader with grand plans of matching the heroics of his archenemy and neoliberal poster-boy Chandrababu Naidu.
Fissure started to develop as early as 2012 when Kodandram organised a massive march in the state and KCR chose to stay in New Delhi. He even wanted Kodandram removed as the chairman of TJAC steering committee. Some newspaper reports also wrote that KCR was unable to digest the mass appeal and popularity of Kodandram. But in KCRs defense, what else can one expect from a politician when he sees a rising threat to his power from a mass leader? Also, the covert support that the TJAC extended to the BJP in the by-elections to Mahabubnagar and Parkal Assembly constituencies which resulted in the defeat of the TRS candidate triggered the collapse.
This divergence continued after Telangana state was formed in 2014 and KCR became the Chief Minister. KCR did not invite Kodandaram for his swearing-in ceremony of his cabinet on June 2, 2014. Ever since both the leaders did not see eye-to-eye. In fact, the TRS government, as part of its education policy, made changes to schools and college textbooks highlighting, or shall we say exaggerating, the contribution of the party without much mention of the crucial role that the TJAC played in the Telangana movement. Meanwhile, during these two years, the TRS also managed to bring many TJAC leaders — including Osmania student leader P. Ravi, public intellectuals like G. Chakrapani and J. Jagannadham, and senior journalists like A. Narayana — into its fold.
In early 2016, when asked why he was silent for the first two years of TRS governance, Kodandram said that he felt it was too early to assess the work of the government. Since then, however, Kodandram has been very critical of the KCR government’s economic policies and its failure to deliver on poll promises.
In June 2016 TJAC steering committee decided to take up people’s issue from villages including the land displacement issue due to the Mallanna irrigation project, 2013 Land Acquisition Act, rights of persons displaced by irrigation and other projects, problems in opencast mines, fight for reopening of Nizam Sugar Factory and other social justice issues— all fallouts from a rabid neoliberal model of growth.
“TJAC fought for Telangana. Now it will fight for public welfare, for SCs, STs, BCs and others” he announced unequivocally stating his perspective.
Finally, this divergence reached a flash point when TJAC announced it would conduct a rally of the unemployed on February 22nd 2017 to protest against the government’s failure to provide 2 lakh jobs as promised during the polls. KCR, who heads the political front of the movement acted just like a politician in power would — he got Kodandaram and others activists arrested at 3am using the politico-legal logic of preventive detention; Kodandaram was also labelled an extremist (clearly in reference to his association with the civil liberties movement in the past).
Now, the appeals of the former front (Kodandram) to universal values of welfare, justice and freedom do not interest the latter front (KCR) anymore. KCR believes that if more wealth is created it would somehow trickle down. But one has to notice the irony here. For it was this same model of growth which further relegated the already backward peoples of Telangana by exposing them to the unrelenting market centred on efficiency and merit — in the combined state of Andhra Pradesh — whom KCR successfully managed to represent politically. And if this repression against TJAC, with its robust social base, continues we can expect some concrete political opposition to develop against TRS in the state of Telangana where even the weak opposition parties, which are supporting TJAC.