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 used to climb palm trees) and muttadu (the belt they wear to keep their hatchet) and stone-breakers with their own iron artefacts.
The festive game of Bathukamma (a women’s festival celebrated mainly during Dasara, 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 a 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?
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”.
And some of these leaders are collecting huge amounts of money, mostly to build their family’s “political economy” while distributing pittance to ring leaders from the lower castes.
As the balladeer Gaddar rightly says “kanche kaada nuvvu, collection kaada neenu” (you should protect the fields and I will reap the crops). But some intellectuals keep on saying, “Let us not talk about any immorality — after all to achieve Telangana such small things need to be done”.
The most surprising aspect in the movement is the entry of the Maoist upper caste elements in this “more collection, less distribution” model of political economy.
In the name of achieving Telangana all ideological battles have been set aside. One upper caste Maoist intellectual went to the extent of saying that the JACs from village upwards were working like “Maoist communes”.
What this really means is that the sons — even some daughters — of upper caste landlords have come back to the villages to head and lead the JACs by “usurping” the legitimate village sarpanchs. Now Telangana has come under the raj of the upper caste JACs.
Some former Maoist activists have become leaders of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and are praising their leader for conducting Yajnas, Yagas and Kratus in the party office. He also walks around with a huge Bal Thackeray type bottu (tilak) on the forehead and they seem to be enjoying the neo saffron style of the leader.
But the Muslims are scared of these visuals and the Bharatiya Janata Party probably sees a new rival in the region if it becomes a state.
The emergence of the Shiv Sena or of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena kind of political entity in the region does not seem to be a problem for the Maoists and they too seem to think that there is just one point agenda — we must achieve Telangana and hand over power to “our people”.
What really worries all of them is the student movement mainly headed by the dalit-Bahujan youth. This has become an inconvenient factor. There is competition to buy them off or to make them foot soldiers.
There is a resistance from the students but one does not know for how long the youth can sustain that resistance.
We also see the political JAC compromising with Centre and welcoming the Srikrishna Committee without it making any reference to Telangana state formation. Mr K. Jana Reddy welcomes the committee and K. Chandrasekhar Rao approves it in silence. The Telugu Desam keeps playing the double game quite skillfully. The Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, is doing some arm-twisting as he has a clear understanding about “the unholy alliance between Maoists and money collectors”.
What is really painful are the deaths of about 300 youth and the cases lodged against 10,000 students.
All these parties together have done is to put forth a chekka bomma — a wooden doll — to speak for them.
For the failure of the 1969 Telangana movement we had someone to blame — Marri Chenna Reddy. Now we cannot blame anybody.
At least those who played politics with a wooden doll in their hands got sufficient money to flight the next election in the name of Telangana.
Do the Maoists think that their class enemy has now become a class friend because of Telangana’s cut-throat politics?
Let them explain this to the people — the real people who played Bathukamma, cooked their food on the roads, beat their chests and drums and lost 300 of their children as well.