From Potti Sriramulu and NTR to Pawan Kalyan, the politics of self-respect in Andhra Pradesh

The phrase 'self-respect' was always political and directed against the Centre.
From Potti Sriramulu and NTR to Pawan Kalyan, the politics of self-respect in Andhra Pradesh
From Potti Sriramulu and NTR to Pawan Kalyan, the politics of self-respect in Andhra Pradesh
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Anyone who watched Telugu actor-turned-politician and Jana Sena Party president Pawan Kalyan’s recent speech at Kakinada in East Godavari district would have definitely noticed the phrase Seemandhra "aatma gauravam", or self-respect, which he repeated ad nauseam. In fact, the meeting itself was titled "Seemandhra Atma Gaurava Sabha". It’s easy to understand why he chose the phrase if one traces the history of it. 

Before we look at the phrase ‘self-respect’ in the context of Andhra politics, it is important to mention at the outset that unlike the more famous self-respect movement in Tamil Nadu started by EV Ramasamy to fight against structured brahmanism in 1925, the phrase in Andhra never had any progressive social pretensions whatsoever. It was always political and directed against the Centre.  

Demand for a separate state

The demand for a separate Telugu statehood did exist since 1910. Meetings and conventions toward this end were held in Nidadavolu in 1912 first and then subsequently in Bapatla, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. Under the leadership of Annie Besant, the Congress Working Committee even passed a resolution approving the division of states on linguistic basis. However, the British rejected this demand. But this demand was not vociferous. Telugu identity and the self-respect associated with it was seen as inferior to national identity and the more pressing need for the freedom struggle against the British. 

After independence, Andhra was the first state to be formed on linguistic basis. It was separated from the then Madras State on December 19, 1952. Gandhian and Congress politician Potti Sriramulu was made the director of the Gandhian Memorial Trust Fund for Andhra after Gandhi’s assassination. When the response towards the Boodhan movement was poor, he was disappointed and realised that the reason for this was due to the absence of a separate Telugu state. So he gave the clarion call to reclaim the Telugu self-respect for the first time.  

He undertook a fast unto death in Madras city on October 19th, 1952. He died after fasting for 58 days, which led to popular agitations disrupting normal life in Madras city and other major towns in the Andhra Region. This forced Nehru to announce the new state. This new state did not include the Telugu speaking areas, Telangana region, of the Hyderabad State. They were added only later to form the state of Andhra Pradesh on November 1, 1956. 

Demand for a steel plant in Visakhapatnam

During the 1960s, Tenneti Viswanatham from the Praja Party successfully organised bandhs and hartals to achieve the Integrated steel plant for the state. The agitated cry for the steel plant in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, the second largest city in the state, was "Visaka Ukku Andhurla Hakku" ("A steel plant in Visakhapatnam is the right of the Andhraites").

Image: By Adityamadhav83  via Wikimedia Commons

When the Central government refused to allocate the steel plant, he resigned from the state assembly in protest. Contesting in the general elections in 1967 on the plank of setting up the steel plant and the necessity of replacing Telugu as the official language, he became the Lok Sabha MP from Visakhapatnam, winning despite being deserted by his party members. His principled fight ensure that his dream of a steel plant in Visakhapatnam was finally realised in the 1970s. This was the second instance when the emotion was used briefly to fight the Centre. 

NTR phenomenon 

Legendary Telugu actor Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao (NTR) formed the Telugu Desam Party in 1982. He felt the need to uproot the Indian National Congress (INC), which ruled the state ever since its inception. He blamed the central leadership of the INC which changed five chief ministers in five years. He proclaimed that "injury was done to the Telugu pride" and that the TDP would restore the lost self-respect of the Telugu people. 

The TDP won the election with a record majority winning 199 out of the 294 seats in the state assembly. He continued his fight against the Centre when he decided to walk about of the National Development Council (NDC) accusing it of centralising economic power. He saw himself as the crusader for the Telugu people espousing the cause of federalism. And hence his slogan "Teluguvari Atma Gauravam". 

And now, Pawan Kalyan, who is as popular as NTR if not more, is using the same populist phrase of self-respect. The only twist is that he qualified it by calling it the "self-respect of Seemandhra people".  But he is essentially directing it against the Centre. First it was the INC high command after the state was bifurcated and now it is against the BJP, but not the TDP for going back on its election promise of getting special category status to Andhra Pradesh. He claims that this "backstabbing" is nothing but disrespecting the Seemandhra people and he is promising to avenge this injury. 

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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