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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 33, August 3, 2013

Quest for Telengana: A Charismatic Socio-Political Movement

Saturday 3 August 2013

by Sreerupa Saha


Max Weber, universally acknowledged to be one of the three most important founding fathers of social science (the other two being Emile Durkheim and Karl Max), located the social change in the appearance and actions of charismatic leaders, as the other two types, traditional and rational/legal, were geared to system-maintenance. Weber characterised charismatic leaders as men of exemplary conduct and extraordinary endowments; to him, charisma was a quality attributable to persons and institutions.

Notwithstanding the wide currency of the concept of charisma in contemporary social science, considerable confusion exists in regard to its employment. While some authors insist that the concept should be used in the Weberian sense, others advocate its emancipation from the ecclesiastical context in order to render it suitable for use in the modern secular context. Within the framework of German historicism Weber has offered a theory of change—a series of adaptations of the social system to large-scale changes initiated by charismatic personalities. Weber has sought to explain the problem of change at the macro level through the concept of charisma. The charismatics are innovators and creators, who cause large-scale change, and who are distinguishable, for Weber, from ‘maintainers’.

Professor T.K. Oommen, in his work Alien Concepts and South Asian Reality: Responses and Reformulations, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1995, argues in the context of a socio-political movement in India (Bhoodan Gramdan movement) that a social movement too can be informed of charismatic qualities. According to Oommen, charisma is not simply a set of attributes to be assigned to persons, institutions, and move-ments but its content should be discerned in terms of the context and property of the situation and, more importantly, Oommen has empirically demonstrated that charisma need not always be a source of social change but could as well be an agent of social stability. In the face of continuance of the Telengana movement since independence with similar energy, this paper tries to employ this Oommenian analytical frame to understand how the movement, in its social aspect, went in the direction of social change but in political terms how the movement was used for systemic stability as well.

Weber maintained that charisma usually but not necessarily emerges from a crisis situation, but he did not elaborate on the features of the social structure which perpetuates and maintains charismatic endowment in a society. In order to understand genuine charisma the analysis must be directed to the social situations from which the charismatic figure originates and within which he operates and also to the character of the message he gives. Weber frequently reminds his reader that his typology of charisma is couched in terms of ‘ideal types’, which are conceptual abstractions and not empirical realities. That is to say, there is no purely rational, traditional or charismatic authority, although it is possible to label a given authority system as predominantly rational, traditional or charismatic.

Edward Shills viewed the charismatic phenomenon in a more comprehensive perspective. The logical consequence of accepting the argument that charisma is confined to ecclesiastical institutions is that with ever increasing industrialisation, urbanisation and bureaucratisation the charismatics as a category will disappear. According to Shills, “The attachment to the Sacred cannot be evaded in any society. All societies regard as sacred certain standard of judgment, certain rules of conduct and thought, and certain arrangements of action... The value of truth of individuality, and even of professional achievement can be infused with the sacredness off charisma in varying degrees.”(Shills, Edward ‘Tradition and Liberty: Antinomy and Independence’, Ethics, 67(3) 1958:156-157, quoted in Oommen 1995: 40) This is obviously an extension of Weber’s concept of charisma to secular contexts.

In the present analysis the usefulness of this extended version of charisma is recognised. One of the leading objectives of the movement is economic development. This is contrary to the spirit of charisma as Weber elaborated it: “Pure charisma is specifically a ‘call’ in the most emphatic sense of the word, a mission or a ‘spiritual duty’.” (Weber, M., The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation, William Hodge and Company Ltd, London, 1947:332, quoted in Oommen p. 43) Though the initial aim of the movement is to develop the underdeveloped areas of the region by getting a separate State, one can also find a moral component of the movement. The movement can be seen as divinely inspired behind the mask of economic well-being and arguments of respect. Weber makes it fairly clear that charismatic leaders usually emerge from situations of crisis, although the possibility of its occurrence in permanent systems of authority is not totally absent. (Weber 1947:231)hip usually emerges from sit

An examination of the nature of the social situation from which the movement had emerged confirms its charismatic quality. As early as in 1947 a revolutionary peasant movement had been slowly forming led by the Communist leaders in Telengana, the eastern half of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad, compri-sing eight districts—covering an area of 44,000 square miles—populated mainly by the Telugu- speaking people. In September 1948, an Indian Government was set up in Hyderabad after the merger with India; the Communists refused to surrender their arms and went underground against the government. They set in motion an indigenous mass campaign against the landlords mainly in the districts of Nalgonda and Warangal. The Indian Communist leaders claim that the Telengana peasant riot shook for the first time ‘the main bastions of feudal order in India to its very foundations’ and ‘blazed the path of the Indian people’s Democratic Revolution’. The content of the message was meaningful to the people. The total orientation of the movement was to the society.

The rise of the charismatic movements may also be due to the active connivance and acquiescence of vested interests in society. Oommen spoke of the following societal conditions for the emergence of charisma: (a) eruption of crisis; (b) submerged discontent; (c) failure of the measures hitherto taken to combat an existing ‘evil’; (d) patronage extended by vested interests, including those in political authority. The existence of one or more of these conditions may be viewed as a prerequisite for the emergence of a charismatic leadership. However, this does not mean that these are sufficient conditions, though they are necessary ones.

Given these conditions, the leaders who play one or more of the following roles will emerge as charismatics: (a) creating awareness among the people of the social problems and unfolding the possibilities of problem resolution, thereby championing the ‘felt need’; (b) evolving a new approach (means) to solve the problem at hand; (c) voicing commitment to the pursuance of a goal (end) widely acclaimed by the people at a given point of time; (d) expressing the message in such a manner as to appeal to a substantial portion of the population under reference. (pp. 48-49)

Oommen distinguished between two charsmatics—system-breakers and system-maintainers —and argued that the charismatic leader need not necessarily be always an agent of change. What makes a leader charismatic is not only the end to which he addresses himself but also the manner in which he carries out the programme of action. Charismatic leadership may not always succeed in bringing about large-scale changes in the system, but instead may stabilise or attempt to stabilise society.


The Telangana movement refers to a group of related political activities organised to support the creation of a new State of Telangana from the existing State of Andhra Pradesh in South India. The proposed new State corresponds to the Telugu-speaking portions of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. When India became independent, the Telugu-speaking people were distributed in about 22 districts, nine of them in the Telangana region of Nizam’s Dominions (Hyderabad State), 12 in the Madras Presidency (Andhra region) and one in French-controlled Yanam. Very shortly, the Telugu-speaking areas (Andhra region) were carved out of an erstwhile Madras state by popular agitation by the leaders like Potti Sri Ramulu to create the Andhra State in 1953. In December 1953, the States Reorganisation Commission was appointed to prepare for the creation of States on linguistic lines.

The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was not in favour of an immediate merger of the Telangana region with the Andhra State, despite the common language between the two. Para 382 of States Reorganisation Commission Report (SRC) said: “Opinion in Andhra is overwhelmingly in favour of the larger unit; public opinion in Telangana has still to crystallise itself. Important leaders of public opinion in Andhra themselves seem to appreciate that the unification of Telangana with Andhra, though desirable, should be based on a voluntary and willing association of the people and that it is primarily for the people of Telangana to take a decision about their future.”

The concerns of Telanganas were numerous. The region had a less developed economy than Andhra, but with a larger revenue base (mostly because it taxed rather than prohibited alcoholic beverages), which Telanganas feared might be diverted for use in Andhra. They also feared that planned dam projects on the Krishna and Godavari rivers would not benefit Telangana proportionately even though the Telanganas controlled the headwaters of the rivers. The Telanganas feared too that the people of Andhra would have the advantage in jobs, particularly in government and education.

However, following the “gentleman’s agreement”, the Central Government established a unified Andhra Pradesh on November 1, 1956. The agreement provided reassurances to the Telangana people as well to the Andhra people in terms of power-sharing as well as administrative domicile rules and distribution of expenses of various regions.

Discontent with the 1956 “gentleman’s agreement” intensified in January 1969 when the guarantees that had been agreed on were supposed to lapse. Student agitation for the continuation of the agreement began at Osmania University in Hyderabad and spread to other parts of the region. Government employees and Opposition members of the State Legislative Assembly swiftly threatened ‘direct action’ in support of the students. This movement, also known as the Telangana movement, led to widespread violence and deaths of hundreds of people and students of this Telangana region. The Telangana movement is a real people’s movement, created by the people, for the people, and of the people of Telangana. Its politicians are just one aspect of the whole movement. They are not even in the lead and might have contributed little to the whole movement. The movement is led by the people of Telangana. People outside Telangana have to confront this reality and accept it.

Hailing from the region, P.V. Narasimha Rao, M. Chenna Reddy and T. Anjaiah did become Chief Ministers of the State. On the other side, from the Rayalseema area a majority of the Chief Ministers came up like N. Sanjeeva Reddy (twice), D. Sanjeevaiah, K.Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy (twice) and N. Chandra Babu Naidu (already twice). P.V. Narasimha Rao made a feeble attempt in 1972 to implement the verdict of the Supreme Court validating the Mulki Rules. The verdict was in favour of Telangana. But the reaction from the other regions was so instantaneous and so wild that in the process P.V. Narasimha Rao lost his Chief Ministership and the Telangana region lost all its safeguards. Even the verdict of the highest judicial authority of the country was nullified.

This can happen to any leader from Telangana in that position. Because, their survival depends upon the support of the area which has a numerical majority in the political set-up and greater money power to influence the political process and administrative machinery. The problem, therefore, lies essentially in the nature of political equations between the developed and backward regions and not necessarily in the persons holding positions of power.

In the last twenty years, many organisations have sprung up in Telangana to advocate the formation of a separate State. Right now, there are more than 15 student bodies that are represented in Telangana Students Joint Action Committee (TS-JAC). The Telangana Students Front (TSF) was formed in Kakatiya University, the Telangana Liberation Students Organisation (TLSO) in 1991, and the Telangana Information Trust in 1986. Political outfits include the Telangana Jana Sabha and the Telangana Mahasabha. Other organisations include the Telangana Intellectuals Forum (TIF), the Telangana Development Forum (TDF), the Telangana IT Forum (TITF), and the Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika (TVV).

Although the Congress faced dissension within its ranks, its leadership stood against additional linguistic States, which were regarded as ‘anti-national’. As a result, defectors from the Congress, led by M. Chenna Reddy, founded the the Telangana People’s Association (Telangana Praja Samithi). Despite electoral successes, however, some of the new party leaders gave up their agitation in September 1971 and, much to the disgust of many separatists, rejoined the safer political haven of the Congress ranks. The emotions and forces generated by the movement were not strong enough, however, for a continuing drive for a separate State until the 1990s when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised a separate Telangana State if they came to power. The BJP created Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarkhand States in the year 2000 as promised. But the BJP could not create a separate Telangana State because of the opposition from its coalition partner, the Telugu Desam Party.

These developments brought new life into the separatist Telangana movement by the year 2000. The Congress party MLAs from the Telangana region supported a separate Telangana State and formed the Telangana Congress Legislators Forum. In another development, a new party, called the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (or TRS), was formed with the single- point agenda of creating a separate Telangana State, with Hyderabad as its capital; this
was led by Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, popularly known as KCR.

The Congress party and its leaders of the region have the reputation of talking about Telangana when they are out of power and forgetting about it while in power. The Telugu Desam and its leaders of the region have the unique distinction of not talking about Telangana whether in power or out of it. In fact, most of them are not even capable of understanding the issues involved. The Communist Parties boast of their preparedness to fight injustice and discrimination found anywhere in the world. But, what has happened in Telangana during the last four-and-a-half decades never bothered the comrades. The BJP has excelled all other parties in playing hide-and-seek with this issue. If political parties and political leaders fail to protect the interests of the people whom they claim to represent, should the people subject themselves to misery and suffering forever? History tells us that it is the will of the people that ultimately prevails. It is only a question of time.

Proponents of a separate Telangana State feel all the agreements, accords, formulas, plans and assurances on the floor of the legislature and Lok Sabha, in the last 50 years, could not be honoured and Telangana was forced to remain neglected, exploited and backward. The experiment to remain as one State proved to be a futile exercise and, therefore, separation has been found to be the best solution. In 2004, for the Assembly and Parliament elections, the Congress party and TRS had an electoral alliance in the Telangana region with the promise of a separate Telangana State. The Congress came to power in the State and formed a coalition government at the Centre. The TRS joined the coalition government in 2004 and was successful in incorporating the demand of a separate Telangana State as part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the coalition government. In September 2006 the TRS withdrew support for the Congress-led coalition government at the Centre on the ground of indecision by the government over the delivery of its electoral promise to create Telangana. In December 2006, the TRS won the by-election to the Karimnagar parliamentary constituency with a record margin.

There was pressure on the Congress party to create a Telangana State in 2008. All TRS legislators in Parliament and in the State (four MPs, 16 MLAs, three MLCs) resigned in the first week of March 2008 and forced by-elections to increase the pressure on the Congress party, and to intensify the movement. In June 2008, Devender Goud, who is considered number two in the TDP, resigned from the party saying he would devote his time and energy to the formation of a separate Telangana State. In July 2008, Goud along with some other leaders like E.Peddi Reddy formed a new party called the Nava Telangana Praja Party and declared Telangana as a separate province within India on November 2, 2008. Along with his party activists, he was later arrested when they tried to barge into the Andhra Pradesh Secretariat to change the name plate from Andhra Pradesh to Telangana.

In February 2009, the State Government declared that it had no objection, in principle, to the formation of separate Telangana and that the time had come to move forward decisively on this issue. To resolve issues related to it the government constituted a Joint House Committee. Ahead of the 2009 general elections in India all the major parties in Andhra Pradesh supported the formation of Telangana. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) again announced their policy of having smaller States and would create two States, Telangana and Gorkhaland, if they won the election. The Congress party still says it is committed to Telangana’s Statehood, but claims Muslim minorities are opposed to the creation of a separate State along with the majority of the people. Some analysts, however, felt that the ‘Muslim reluctance card’ had been very smartly played by Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who was staunchly opposed to the formation of the new State.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has promised to work for Telangana’s Statehood. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) joined a Mahakutami (or grand alliance) with the TDP and Left parties to defeat the Congress party for denying Statehood for Telangana. The Praja Rajyam Party (PRP), newly founded by film star Chiranjeevi, supported Telangana’s Statehood prior to elections, but later changed its stance. Nava Telangana Party merged with the PRP after it realised that there is not enough political space for two sub-regional Telangana parties with Telananga’s Statehood as the main agenda. The Congress returned to power both at the Centre and State. The TRS and the grand alliance lost the elections in overwhelming fashion. In the first week of December 2009, the TRS President, K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), started a fast-unto-death demanding that the Congress party introduce a Telangana Bill in Parliament. The decline of KCR’s health contributed to a sense of urgency for the Central Government to take a decision on the issue of Telangana’s Statehood. On December 9, 2009, P. Chidambaram, the Union Minister of Home Affairs, announced that the Indian Government has started the process of forming a separate Telangana State. Telangana celebrated the Central Government’s decision while the non-Telangana regions of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions (Andhra region) protested.

The Telangana movement is an expression of the people’s democratic yearnings. It is a silent but people’s revolution for a separate Telangana State. The people’s protests are taking place in the forms of dhoom-dhams (songs and dances), garjanas (hullabaloos), and padayatras (marches). Sometimes it is celebrating vijayayatras (victory marches) in anticipation of the Telangana State, and at times it is taking out shava yatras (proces-sions carrying the dead) too. These protest campaigns gathered momentum in the course of the Telangana discourse in the region. They protested in typical Telangana bonalu-style (offering to deities), drawing rangoli, and vanta-varpu (cooking and eating in public places). The Telangana service castes expressed their solidarity with the Telangana movement through remonstrative forms of shaving, washing clothes, and in vanta-varpu, in public places. Not in the form of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s agenda, nor by staging theatrics and resorting to political manoeuvres.

The difference of the present movement with those in the past is it is primarily a mass based one, independent from the political parties in terms of forms of protest, in expression and also in the scale of participation. The protesters had direct connections with caste associations for some time. Therefore the lowest communities like Chakalis (dhobhis), Nayibrahmins (barbers), Katikaparlu (a caste that buries the dead), and Dalits (particularly Madigas) have formed into protest teams and are carrying on their protests. The novelty of designing unique forms of protests by the peasants, women, and Singareni workers has attracted everyone’s attention. In different districts women are offering bonalu [women’s festival of traditional offering to the deity] and playing batakammas [a feminine expression of protest specific to Telangana women] as a mark of protest. The doctors are treating the patients on roads. In Ketepalli village of Nalgonda district the protest against those opposed to Telangana was expressed in the form of drawing rangoli in burial grounds. The women and peasants are adversely affected by the reforms, and have lost faith in the promises of the parties and politicians, and therefore they are actively associating with the present movement. They do no more believe in the promised pensions, ration cards, and swagruha which they feel are only political tricks and stunts for votes. The students, employees, lawyers and various associations, representing the lower stratum, are leading the movement.

With the participation of Telangana’s lower classes—artisans, service castes, and pastoral castes that were trained by their caste associa-tions—the movement has become a massive one and expects separate Telangana to be achieved as a solution to their difficulties. The upsurge from the meat selling caste, the caste burning dead bodies, dhobis, and barbers is indicative of their desire for Telangana; therefore it is significantly different from the 1969 struggle. The silent movement developed because the idea of injustice to Telangana had accumulated in the minds of the people. The students in the universities have organic linkages with the mass of the people to provide additional information on the discrimination and skilfulness of the Andhraites.

The development initiated in these years has rather aggravated the disparities —regional and social. Telangana’s lower classes—artisans, service castes, and pastoral castes and their sub-castes, still intact somewhat—have formed their caste associations in the last ten years. These associations transformed as para-political organisations developed into a massive people’s movement. It is essentially a new type of ‘political movement’ from below.

With the 2014 national elections coming close, the political parties are again playing their cards on the Telengana question. The Congress party is facing a stiff competition with its faction, the YSR Congress, and its leader, Jagan Reddy, who has been steering the demand for Telengana. Even the Communist Party of India has, after a long silence, reportedly launched a political campaign in support of a separate Telengana State in the 10 districts of the region in August 2012. The TRS group is also preparing to join the protest movement along with the Telengana Joint Action Committee. With the UPA II Government delaying the decision on Telengana seeking more consultations even after its given deadline of January 2013 and with even the Gorkhaland agitators present with sit-in demonstration at New Delhi in support of their demand, the reactions of the political groupings prior to the national polls will be worth analysing.


The question is: why does this paper want to argue that the history of the Telengana movement is the story of a charismatic socio-political movement? This is because of certain facts—social and political—elaborated above.
In tune with Professor Oommen’s argument, the entire region since independence has been beset with a ‘submerged discontent’ that erupts every now and then giving the movement certain gestation periods. It is quite clear that from the Gentleman’s Agreement to the Srikrishna Committee’s report, the entire effort to ease the Telengana agitation shows that all the measures to combat the ‘existing evil’ of a tense socio-political milieu has failed till now. The very fact that certain political groups in power or in coalition like the TRS have sought patronage from both major political parties—the BJP and Congress—shows that sufficient condition was created for the eruption of a charismatic movement. In the last decade it is the TRS that has tried to create an awareness among the people of the social problems and unfolding the possibilities of problem resolution, mostly through violent gestures like student agitations and life sacrifices, thereby championing the ‘felt need’.

Kingshuk Nag, in a journalistic venture titled Battleground Telengana: Chronicle of an Agitation (Harper Collins Publisher, New Delhi, 2011), argues for a new approach to solve the problem at hand: “Taking a cue from the Hong Kong model, a similar model can be applied in Hyderabad. Since the major bone of contention is Hyderabad and its brand name, the solution could be to create Telangana and make Hydera-bad a special administrative unit under the new State. Hyderabad could have its own city government with a legislature and Ministers.. ....... an alternative idea is to create a state within a state. Instead of Hyderabad as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in Telangana, Telangana could be spun off as a SAR of Andhra Pradesh. In this case, Telangana will have its own government with limited power, within Andhra Pradesh.”(pp. 221-222) At this juncture, the political groups eyeing the election year have been committing themselves to the pursuance of a goal (end, Telengana State in this case) widely acclaimed by the people at a given point of time but expressing the message in such a manner as to appeal to a substantial portion of the population under reference by taking time before adopting the penultimate decision of a new State that would open up the Pandora’s box in Indian politics for the demand for smaller States.

The quest for a separate Telengana State is a charismatic socio-political movement in the sense that like the Weberian analysis of charisma, which is very individualistic and personal, the Telengana movement also has its unique dimension as no political party over the years has been able to completely stay away from getting associated overtly or covertly with this movement without taking a final position. New States have been formed in Indian polity on the basis of demands long after the demand for Telengana. In some cases special administrative treaties have been concluded on a tripartite basis. But the Telengana movement remains where it was—the quest is both illusive and persuasive at the same time—over the years. Right now even the apparently solved Gorkhaland demand (through the formation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) is gearing up for a new lease of movement sensing urgency at the national level politics to give the nod in favour of the Telengana State. Such is the charisma of the Telngana movement that it goes along but takes other (read influences) with it as well.

On the other hand much in tune with the Weberian understanding of charismatic leaders being not always agents for social change but sometimes also as system-maintainers (mentioned in detail in Section I), the Telengana movement at hand can also be seen in that light underscoring the politics of sustaining the movement—the very fact that a politically negotiable solution has not yet been achieved but whenever violent protests in favour of the demand escalates some intervention is being made in the name of coalition-building or siding with the demand or setting up a high-power committee to address the issue. In this way the division of the Andhra State has in some way or the other been halted and the existing set-up is being maintained till date in the face of mounting support in favour of a Telengana State.

Thus both positively as well as negatively, taking inferences from the insights of both Weber and Oommen, the Telengana movement becomes an interesting case of a ‘charismatic socio-political movement’.


Thirumali, Inukonda (2010) : “Lessons from the Telangana Movement”, Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 14,

Jayashankar, K. (2011) : Telengana Movement: Demand for a Smaller State,

Srujana, B. (2010) : Demand for Telengana: Channelling Discontent into Wrong Areas,

Sreerupa Saha is a registered Ph.D scholar at the Rabindra Bharati University working on ‘Telengana Movement and the Problem of Federalism in India’ and can be reached at

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