ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Beyond Telangana Sentiment

Reimagining Region and Culture in a New State

The return of patronage culture in Telangana calls for a re-examination of democratic claims made on behalf of “Telangana’s cultural turn.” This turn to the centrality of sentiment, emotion, even death, in political mobilisation sought to break culture’s links with the Telugu language and its dominant caste speakers and resituate it as an expression of the region’s democratic demands. Cultural resources of the Adivasi, Dalit and backward castes, such as dialect, songs and performances were deemed “authentic” sites of regional identity even as these were widely disseminated through audiovisual media such as posters, newspapers, and internet between 2001 and 2014. Post-separation marginalised groups are unable to reclaim these cultural resources to further their demands of political representation, as political culture is now mediated by institutions of a postcolonial state and the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi party’s welfare–patronage policies. Marginalised castes are also unable to move towards a common ethical and moral standard as culture is seen from the restricted logic of politics of representation.


Images 1 to 7 accompanying this paper are available on the EPW website.

In Telangana, during the final phase of the statehood movement, claims of distinct regional identity centred on its cultural difference from Andhra Pradesh (AP). The agitation was deemed to be unlike other statehood movements ­because of the centrality that the ‘‘Telangana sentiment,’’ emotion, and even death had acquired. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a distinct shift away from claims of region’s backwardness due to internal colonisation by Andhraite elites and towards cultural difference. The construction of Telangana region’s distinct identity as a cultural project supplied it with new ­idiom, language and forms of protest. This included the construction of the geographical space or bhaugolika Telangana into the regional place of samajika Telangana and prajaswamika Telangana connoting a demand for a socially just and democratic Telangana.1 However, since its formation on 2 June 2014, the state has seen a one-party dominance of the Telan­gana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), a regional party. As the TRS seeks to appropriate and institutionalise cultural symbols, spaces and rhetoric of the separate statehood movement, a renewed opposition draws upon new rhetoric, such as kutumba palana or TRS’s family rule, etc. A study of the changing political culture, before and after statehood, provides clues to answer a central problem: The unprecedented popular mobilisation for a separate state has not resulted in a democratic political ­culture in the new state. Political culture today has more continuity with former AP based on patronage provision by a strongman-leader.

In explaining the demand for a separate Telangana the poli­tical culture approach offers a different perspective to existing explanations centred on the role of new social movements, changing social and political coalitions and India’s federal structure. Louise Tillin (2013: 3) argues that the state boundaries can be understood as ‘‘institutions’’ that help regulate demands for political power. The formation of the new states of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand can be explained by the failure of existing boundaries to accommodate the demands of the marginalised groups, even as politicians in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar supported statehood demands to retain power. In Telangana, in contrast to Tillin’s argument, the anti-caste asser­tion of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in North Telangana in the late 1980s could be accommodated within the institutionalised two-party system in AP. The assertion of difference took the form of cultural difference, which survived such institutional acco­mmo­dation.2 It opposed the otherisation of Telanganites as ‘‘indolent,” ‘‘lazy,” “unenterprising” and therefore as ‘‘incompletely Telugu.” Himadeep Muppidi agues this otherisation to be based on an opposition between ‘‘Telangana sentiment” and “Andhra enterprise” (Muppidi 2015: 61). It also came to be associated with a positive connotation such as “native-folk,” a mulki who “owns” the land, resources of the region and has “sacrificed” to secure them.

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Updated On : 3rd May, 2021
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