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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 49 December 2, 2023

Telangana politics: A case of cultural hegemony debunked | CR Annapurna

Saturday 2 December 2023



The Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) which has been renamed as Bharat Rastra Samithi (BRS) has been in power for the past 10 years and is facing the mandate on November 30, 2023. This paper tries to analyse the possibilities of BRS winning the elections and the reasons behind this projection. The formation of Telangana State had several reasons that included domination of Andhra people in all the affairs of the state. The movement for separate Telangana highlighted the differences between the cultures of the Telangana and Andhra people though they were both Telugu people. The cultural differences became a dominant factor in the movement. Culture thus played a key role in the making of Telangana State. If we look at the movement from a marxian and Gramscian perspective, we realise that TRS ensured that they utilise the culture as the key element to get into power. BRS today embodies the Telangana culture and has created hegemony akin to dictatorship of the proletariat. It becomes impossible for other political parties in Telangana to come to power through marxian or Gramscian ways, because, BRS itself has assumed the culture of the masses and the Marxist theories don’t show a way forward as to how to remove this dictatorship of the proletariat and create a state that is more favourable towards the ruled than to the rulers. This research paper shall try to find a way out from the hegemony of BRS in the Telangana State.

Keywords: Telangana, TRS, BRS, Marxism, Culture, Hegemony.

Marxist philosophy is the most influential philosophy of the modern world. It shaped the idea that the masses have more power compared to the rulers and thus they can overthrow the dominating authorities in general and the capitalists in particular. Though Marxism today seems to have lost its sheen, especially after the fall of the USSR, it continues to attract the common people, mostly the poor people in the developing world.

Marxism has played a key role in the life of Telangana. Beginning from its origins in the early 20th century to the present day, the Marxist ideas, specially, cultural hegemony, land to the tiller, and equality, influenced the people of Telangana, their life in general and politics in particular.

What is cultural hegemony?

Cultural hegemony is an important contribution made by the Italian Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci. Cultural hegemony refers to domination or rule maintained through ideological or cultural means. The rulers usually try to project their culture as the superior culture and thus control the people. Gramsci calls for a passive intellectual revolution led by organic intellectuals and overthrow the hegemony of the ruling class.

This phenomenon is useful if the ruling class has a different set of cultural attributes as was evident under the united Andhra Pradesh, wherin, the Andhra rulers portrayed their culture as a dominant one compared to that of Telangana culture. This paper seeks to understand the role of Marxist philosophy in the formation of the Telangana State and its relevance in the upcoming Assembly elections.

Telangana: A bearer of atrocities at multiple levels

A brief understanding of the history of the people of Telangana shows that the Telangana people faced domination at various levels, both horizontally and vertically. The Britishers indirectly ruled the region and played their role in inflicting atrocities on the local people. One of the first revolts that the region witnessed was led by Turrebaz Khan and Syed Allaudin Hyder, on July 17, 1857. A group of 6000 poorly armed people tried to seize the British Residency, at the present-day Women’s College, Koti, Hyderabad. The revolt was brutally suppressed by the then British resident Colonel Cuthbert Davidson with the help of the newly coronated Nizam V, Afzal-ud-Dowla and his minister, Mir Turab Ali Khan better known as Salarjung-I.

After the British left, the Nizam continued to rule the region and refused to join the Indian Union. Though the people have lived under the Asaf Jahi dynasty since 1724, they could not assimilate the fact that while most of India was liberated, they would continue to be led by the Nizam. This led to the Telangana armed struggle. After Operation Polo and reuniting the Hyderabad State with India, the people of Telangana faced discrimination in the name of culture from their very own Telugus from the Andhra region.

The peasantry who formed the majority of the population had to face the domination of the landlords. Further, caste-based discrimination was another kind. So, overall, the majority of the population faced some kind or other or multiple levels of atrocities. This led to the people accepting the communist ideology to fight for their rights and lead a life with equality and dignity.

Role of Marxism in Telangana

Marxist ideas have influenced the politics of Telangana right from the beginning, marxist philosophy resonated with the common people of Telangana specially because of the cultural differences between rulers and the ruled. One of the first causes for communism to sprout in Telangana was ignited at the Nizam’s Social Reforms Conference held in Hyderabad on 11th and 12th November 1921. The conference was being conducted in English, Urdu and Marathi and while Allampalli Vekataramana Rao tried to move a resolution in Telugu, it was hooted down. [1] This infuriated the Telugus to form the Andhra Jana Sangham that very night. This later transformed into Andhra Maha Sabha which became the guiding force for the Telangana armed struggle. Here the language ‘Telugu’ became the driving force.

Right from the beginning, some measures were taken to make the state-run without any bias toward any particular region. The Gentlemen’s Agreement signed on 20th February 1956 was one such measure. However, as the agreement did not see implementation, this erupted into an agitation in 1969 for a separate Telangana state. Several economic and political factors caused this movement to begin. However, the agitation subsided under the strong leadership of Indira Gandhi, who offered an ‘Eight Point Formula and later assured that PV Narasimha Rao from Telangana region became the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. It is pertinent to note that communist ideology got a new breath of life under the Naxalite movement that began in West Bengal in 1967 and spread to the northern districts of Telangana State.

In later years, Telugu pride became the cornerstone of NT Rama Rao’s political campaigns. He used the phrase ‘Telugu vari atma gauravam’ meaning the self-respect of the Telugus. He started his political party Telugu Desam in 1982 highlighting the cultural distinctiveness of the Telugu people. Till here, the Telugu language served as a unique cultural yardstick in the politics of the Telangana region. Telugu Desam was supported by both CPI and CPM and was called as ‘mitra pakshalu’ meaning friendly alliances.

However, soon, differences arose between the two regions of Telugu Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh was the first state to be formed on a linguistic basis. However, language could not hold the people together for long.

Formation of TRS and separate Telangana movement

It was with the formation of Telangana Rastra Samithi by K Chandra Shekar Rao that cultural differences between Telangana and Andhra region became prominent. Thus became the ground for harvesting Marxist ideas on a full scale. Though TRS did not directly adopt communist ideology, it used the notion of cultural hegemony, throughout the agitation period. Firstly, the key cultural differences were identified and celebrated across the Telangana region. Bathukamma festival, which was losing its relevance was revived and celebrated with more fervour than ever before. Similarly, KCR spoke to the people in the local Telangana dialect of Telugu, which appealed to the common masses compared to other leaders who spoke the typical Text bookish formal Telugu.

During the Sakala Janula Samme, in 2011, Bathukamma festival was celebrated with more energy than ever before. The festive chants in the air, some of them blaring from music systems, carry not just the regular invocations, but also solicitations for Bathukamma to intervene in favour of having Telangana carved out as a separate state for its people.  [2] This showed that the movement was not a political movement, but a people’s movement.

The sakala janula samme or the all peoples strike turned out to be the biggest protest in Telangana agitation. It lasted for 42 days with government employees of several departments including Singareni and RTC going on strike, and they were supported by the students, the unorganised sectors and the common people including women. Another event during the agitation was the ‘vanta-varpu’ programme which saw people coming out on the roads and cooking and eating meals in the congregation. Overall, the agitation tried to involve people from all walks of life, thus making this movement a people’s movement.

One can easily make out the key elements of marxism employed here. Organic intellectuals were given their due share in propelling the agitation. A movie called ‘Jai Bolo Telangana’ released in 2011 received huge success. Ande Sri, the popular writer and activist penned the song, ‘Jaya Jayahe Telangana’ which became the heart beat of the Separate Telangana movement. At the height of the Telangana movement, people and teachers encouraged children to sing ‘jaya jaya he Telangana’ replacing ‘maa telugu thalliki malle poodanda’. [3] Gaddar’s song, ‘podusthunna poddumeedha nadusthunna gaanama porutelanganama poru telanganama kotladi pranama bhale bhale bhale, hu aa hu aa…’ is one of the most significant songs which played a key role in the Telangana movement giving a call for collective identity and resistance. [4] Folk song depicting the rural Telangana, its culture, its problems gained popularity during the agitation. Thus the entire movement for a separate Telangana State from 2001 to 2014 was based on the overthrowing of the cultural hegemony of the Andhras.

A Decade of Telangana State

Ever since the TRS government swept into power, banking on Telangana identity, Bathukamma has moved from being just a village festival to being at the centre of cultural appropriation. [5] Bathukamma and Bonalu festivals are declared as the State festivals of Telangana State and given official recognition. Kavitha, daughter of KCR and a key member of TRS publicly participated in these festivals. She stressed a strong cultural and linguistic background, in the age of development. [6] Dasara vacation for educational institutions is extended to 14 days than the usual 10 days. The first day of Bathukamma is declared a state holiday. Apart from the cultural hold on the public, the TRS government floated policies like Rytu bandhu, dalita bandhu etc which attract a significant section of the population.

TRS played a dual strategy to retain in power. On one hand, it kept the people mesmerised through giving importance to their culture and distributing freebies, on the other hand, TRS tried to alienate the very organic intellectuals, who were the heart throb of the Telangana agitation.

Prof Jayashankar supposed to be the key ideologue behind the Telangana movement has been significantly forgotten. His birth anniversary was celebrated with state honour in 2014, but later on, it was ensured that he is not remembered anymore. While celebrations marking the first anniversary of the State’s formation drew to a close on Sunday, people of the district seem to have forgotten Telangana ideologue Prof. Kothapally Jayashankar. [7] Only in 2023, again his birthday was celebrated by the Chief Minister. Further, Ande Sri the poet of the song ‘Jaya Jayahe Telangana’ was not given due recognition, as till date, the song has not received the official status as the State song of Telangana. Further, Prof. Kodandaram and Gaddar broke out with TRS due to rising differences. "I earlier announced that I will contest against Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. This was my individual decision. Now that I have launched the party, let the party decide from where I should contest," Gaddar said after announcing the ‘Gaddar Praja Party’ in June 2023. However, he passed away on August 6, 2023, the birth anniversary of Prof. Jayashankar. Prof. Kodandaram, was another intellectual, who worked at the grass root level to transform the ideas into reality. He lead the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) formed in December, 2009 and was responsible for articulating programmes like, Sahaya Nirakarana, Million March, Vanta Vaarpu, Sakala Janula Samme, Sagara Haaram He later formed Telangana Jana Samithi in 2018.

The failed aspirations

The past ten years of TRS rule have only ensured to retain the cultural grip over the masses. The economic and social problems have not been given due attention as expected. The state is gripped in loans. The total loans taken by the state government from June 2014 up to February 2022 stand at Rs 2,41,395 crore.

The slogan of ‘Neellu Nidhulu, Niyaamakaalu’ remained a slogan with very little being done by the State government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has highlighted how four irrigation projects in Telangana which were shortlisted by the Centre under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), remain incomplete after over a decade, even though the deadline for their completion was two years. [8] These are: the Devadula Lift Irrigation Scheme, Stage 2 of the Sriramsagar Project, the Indiramma Flood Flow Canal and one is a medium-sized project – the Palem-vagu Project. Further, the mission kakatiya and Mission Bhagiratha did not achieve the expected outcomes. The recent floods in the state of Telangana show that removing of slits from the tanks and ponds was not done as was done by the earlier governments. Further, all the projects related to irrigation and water ended up in huge corruption. The state government has not issued enough job notifications as many students aspired during the agitation. Though the notifications came to light in 2022-23, TSPSC failed to conduct the exams in a smooth and fair manner. The much-awaited Group 1 exam had been cancelled twice.

The state has indulged in encouraging people to consume more liquor. The revenue earned from liquor sales has tripled from 8000 crores in 2014 to 30,000 crores in 2022-23. [9] The New Year 2023 celebrations across the City (Hyderabad) generated Rs 410 crores revenue through alcohol in just 24 hours. [10] In the recent liquor tenders, the Telangana Excise department earned a whooping 2,600 crore, through 1.32 lakh applications charging Rs 2 lakh non-refundable application fee each, for the allotment of 2,620 liquor shops. [11] It is often noticed that the money released under rythu bandhu scheme is simply spent at the liquor shops. The above statistics portray a gloomy picture of Telangana. Men women, rural, urban, rich and poor are all being lured towards alcohol consumption.

These statistics are equally supported by the consumption of meat in Telangana. Telangana turns out to be the leading consumer of meat in India which has increased from 12.95 kg per person per annum in 2014-15 to 21.17 kg in 2021-22. [12] According to the Reserve Bank of India’s latest Handbook of Statistics on Indian States, meat production in Telangana has already seen a significant rise from 5.05 lakh tonnes in 2014-15 to 10.15 lakh tonnes in 2021-22. [13] Overall, the government of Telangana has put the common people under the siege of Epicurean attitude of ‘eat drink and celebrate’.

The way forward

As long as BRS can hold the people in the grip of culture, freebies and liquor consumption, people will continue to vote for BRS. Thus, it becomes impossible for other political parties in Telangana to come to power through Marxian or Gramscian ways, because, BRS itself has assumed the culture of the masses and the Marxist theories don’t show a way forward as to how to remove this dictatorship of the proletariat and create a state that is more favourable towards the ruled than to the rulers. {{}}

It is widely accepted that the immediate family members of KCR hold power in the government and are amassing the wealth in their private domain. Despite this, KCR and his political party, i.e., BRS is most likely to get back to power. Karl Marx or Gramsci don’t offer a solution as to what to do to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat, in this case, the rule of BRS though, it may regain power through democratic means.

As long as the government fails to fulfil its promises and lead the state in a progressive manner on the path of development, the people have the right to pull down the government. Until KCR and his political party are not projected as an oppressor, the other political parties will have very little say in the forthcoming elections. However, marxism gives importance to the common masses and therefore the masses if they realise their power, they can bring progressive changes in the state of Telangana.

(Author: Dr CR Annapurna - Ph.D. in Political Science, Osmania University)

[1"The National Movement in Telangana". Modern History of Karimnagar. P. 162.

[2Lulla, Anil Budur. (2011 October 9). Telangana at Every Corner. Open.

[3(2015 June 17). Government backtracks on Jaya Jaya He Telangana. Hans India.

[4Krishnaiah, K. The Role of Folk Songs in Social Movements: A Case Study on the Separate Telangana State Formation in India European Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies January-April 2018 Volume 3, Issue 2

[5Mallik, Thatipalli. (2017 September 30). How Bathukamma went from being a village festival to the ’Mardi Gras’ of Telangana. Firstpost.

[6Prasad, Kishna. (2017 September 26). ’Like Tilak, we’ll promote culture to cement our Telangana. Times of India.

[7Ram Mohan, (2015 June 8). P. Jayashankar and Dasarathi lie forgotten. The Hindu.

[8(2018 March 30) CAG highlights Telangana failure in four irrigation projects. Deccan Chronicle.

[9Vadlapatla, Sribala. (2023 May 6) Tipplers uncork bubbly as booze prices slashed in Telangana. The Times of India.

[10(2023 January 2). New Year 2023: Rs 410 crore revenue generated through alcohol in Hyderabad. Newstap.

[11Op.cit. Sudhir, Uma. (2023 August 20). Telangana Excise Earned ₹ 2,600 Crore Without Selling A Drop Of Alcohol. NDTV.

[12Kumar, Anil. (2022, November 30). Telangana, a State of meat lovers to become top meat producer too. Telangana Today.


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