The crisis at Hyderabad Central University has brought to the fore a rift between two influential leaders who stood together for 15 years to ensure the creation of the state of Telangana. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and his mentor, Professor Muddasani Kodandaram Reddy, seem to be at loggerheads over police action at the campus.
While K Chandrasekhar Rao, popularly known as KCR, has maintained a studied silence on the student protests at the university, Professor Kodandaram, who till recently taught political science at Osmania University, firmly backs the students. He recently alleged that the Hyderabad police had deliberately attacked students who were holding a peaceful demonstration, and has condemned the arrest of HCU assistant professor Tathagata Sen Gupta.
But this is just one aspect of the rift between the two former collaborators. KCR and Kodandaram also differ on the future of the Telangana Joint Action Committee, which spearheaded the movement for a separate state for over a decade. While KCR feels the organisation has served its purpose and wants it to be wound up, Kodandaram is dead set against it.
“There is no question of winding up the TJAC,” said Kodandaram. “In fact, it has a bigger responsibility now than it had in the past – of safeguarding the interests of people of Telangana in the new state. We shall continue to play the role of a watchdog without any political affiliation. We want to adopt a constructive approach, rather than a confrontationist approach towards the government.”
Kodandaram added that the Telangana Joint Action Committee will soon hold a meeting to chalk out its future course of action. At the meeting, the organisation will also assess the drought situation in Ranga Reddy, Nalgonda and Karimnagar districts following which it would submit a memorandum to the collectors of those districts.
A joint history
The four-decade long struggle for Telangana, which peaked in 2009, brought together people from all walks of life – farmers, traders, unions, students and politicians. This was made possible by the Telangana Joint Action Committee, which spearheaded the movement under the leadership of Professor Kodandaram.
A civil rights activist, Kodandaram, was actively involved in the Telangana movement for several years along with his mentor and Telangana ideologue, Professor Jayashankar, the former vice chancellor of Kakatiya University in Warangal. Under the banner of Telangana Vidyavantula Vedika or the Telangana Intellectuals’ Forum, Kodandaram had extensively studied the backwardness of the Telangana region, inspiring students and academics to fight for a separate state.
Thus, when KCR floated his political party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, in 2001, he received ideological backing from Jayashankar and Kodandaram. Despite Congress Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s attempts to break the TRS, the party took the Telangana movement to Delhi, supported unconditionally by these two men.
After YSR, as the chief minister was popularly known, died in a helicopter crash in September 2009, the Telangana movement picked up again. Following a fast-unto-death attempt by KCR in November 2009, the UPA government was forced to announce the commencement of the process to form Telangana state on December 9, 2009. However, following the resignations of Seemandhra MLAs of all parties and large-scale violence in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions to protest against the planned bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the Centre backtracked on December 23. The next day, the Telangana Joint Action Committee was born under the leadership of Kodandaram, KCR and senior Congress leader K Jana Reddy, who was the state’s home minister at that time.
Barring Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, all political parties joined the Telangana Joint Action Committee, which also had as its members all pro-Telangana groups including government employees, teachers, workers, students, lawyers, intellectuals, journalists, poets, cultural organisations, farmers and traders. The committee rapidly developed a massive network across the state, and with a single call from Hyderabad, people at every level would plunge into the agitation.
Over the next three years, the Telangana Joint Action Committee would conduct road and rail blockades and innovative protests like Vanta-Vaarpu (cooking on highways), the Million March programme (in which statues of Andhra icons were thrown into Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar lake), the 40-day long Sakala Janula Samme (all people’s strike) – all of which paralysed the state administration. The committee also played an instrumental role in presenting the facts behind their demand for a separate state to the Justice Srikrishna Committee on Telangana, which was constituted by the Union government.
In June 2014, Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, becoming the 29th state of India.
KCR vs Kodandaram
The mass organisation that once wielded tremendous power over lakhs of people is now in tatters. Following the declaration of statehood, Kodandaram stated that the Telangana Joint Action Committee would contribute to achieving the real objective of self-rule for Telangana –neellu, nidhulu, niyamakaalu (to have its own water resources, to secure its due share of funding from the Centre and to create its own employment opportunities).
But after coming to power in June 2014 with 63 out of 119 seats in the Telangana Assembly, KCR embarked on a mission to ensure that there would be no strong opposition to him, either politically or ideologically. On the political front, he successfully marginalised the entire Opposition, decimating the TDP and luring 12 of its 15 MLAs into the TRS fold. Another four Congress MLAs also joined hands with KCR.
Ideologically, the Telangana Joint Action Committee was the only organisation that had enough support to counter KCR. But in the last two years, KCR brought a number of TJAC leaders into his party’s fold. Student leaders of Osmania University like Pidamarthi Ravi and Balka Suman, cultural activists like Rasamayi Balakishan and Desapathi Srinivas, powerful writers like Jukanti Jagannatham and Nandini Sidha Reddy, leaders of employee groups like V Srinivas Goud, Vittal and Devi Prasad, intellectuals like Ganta Chakrapani and journalist union leaders like Allam Narayana and many other leaders of various Telangana groups became KCR loyalists and were rewarded with MP and MLA seats and important government postings.
Kodandaram, however, remained a tough nut to crack. As early as in June 2012, cracks were evident between KCR and Kodandaram, who refused to support the TRS candidate in the by-election to Mahbubnagar Assembly seat, which was won by a BJP candidate. Kodandaram had then told KCR that the TJAC would remain neutral and not side with any political party.
KCR did not officially invite Kodandaram to the swearing-in ceremony of his cabinet on June 2, 2014 either. In the last two years, they have met only on a couple of occasions on public platforms. The KCR government has also made changes in school and college textbooks. The books focus on the role played by the TRS in achieving a separate state while the TJAC finds little mention.
It is only now, after two years of the TRS government, that Kodandaram and the TJAC are beginning to vocalise criticism of the chief minister and his style of governance. “It was too early to assess the administration of the KCR government (so far), hence, the silence,” said Kodandaram. “But, we were always raising our voice on public issues.”
Political analyst and popular Telangana writer Tankasala Ashok agreed. “It is for the people to decide whether or not the TJAC has its relevance now,” said Ashok. “So far, there is no such debate among the people. As such, the TJAC can happily work for the welfare of the people and question the government if it deviates from its objective.”
But the TRS appears unfazed. J Jagannatham, convenor of Telangana Rachayitala Vedika or the Telangana Writers’ Forum, a TRS-backed outfit floated as a counter to the Telangana Intellectual Forum founded by Kodandaram, insisted that the TJAC had no relevance after the formation of Telangana. “When the KCR government is performing well in tune with the aspirations of the people, what is the point in continuing TJAC?” said Jagannatham in a statement.
Kodandaram now is left, by and large, isolated. The TJAC has neither the financial backing nor organisational strength to take on the might of the TRS. “We shall continue our fight for the people’s cause and we don’t have any political ambitions,” Kodandaram said.
Round one, however, belongs to KCR who wields enormous power over a state he helped create. The protégé’s ambition, at least for now, appears to have subsumed the ideological father.