Amid Telangana chaos, do we remember Potti Sreeramulu?

Bangalore, July 30: While the leaders in power sweat it out over the formation of Telangana, we can take a look at the statehood struggle for Andhra which, according to historian Ramachandra Guha was "perhaps the most vigorous movement for linguistic autonomy".

The autonomy was sought by the Telugu speakers of the Andhra region. The Telugu speakers had dreamt of asserting their own identity for not only they possessed a rich literary past but also because they alleged that the Tamils of the Madras Presidency, of whom they were a part, had discriminated against them. The Andhra Mahasabha, which was instrumental in fomenting the Andhra identity, was also active in Hyderabad which was a princely state in pre-Independence years.

Potti Sreeramulu

After Independence:

The Telugu-speaking people asked the Congress government to implement linguistic reorganisation of states. They presented petitions, demonstrated and protested to achieve their aim. In 1950, former Madras Chief Minister T Prakasam resigned from the Congress on the question of statehood. The Telugu legislators of the Madras Assembly, irrespective of party orientation, asked for an immediate creation of Andhra Pradesh.

A Congress leader-turned-swami, Sitaram, went on a hunger strike in 1951 demanding a separate state and gave it up only after Gandhian leader Vinoba Bhabe requested him to.

Jawaharlal Nehru faces the heat

The then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had a tough time as he faced protests while campaigning in the Telugu-speaking districts ahead of the 1952 Madras State Legislative Assembly Elections and his party fared poorly in the elections. It managed to win just 43 out of 143 seats in the Andhra region and finished a minority in the 375-member assembly. The Communist Party of India had done well in the region.

Madras Assembly results boost the Andhra movement

The Andhra movement got a boost by the poll results and Swami Sitaram mobilised masses in support of the movement by conducting a march through the Telugu-speaking areas. He also asked the Madras legislators to boycott the assembly till their demands were met.

Nehru and Madras Chief Minister C Rajagopalachari were disliked by the protesters for the two were reluctant to cede a new state and even if they did, they were unwilling to make the city of Madras (now Chennai) a part of the new Andhra state. The Andhra people were outraged for they had a strong sense of attachment with the city where they had a substantial presence.

Potti Sreeramulu's fast

The Centre's dilly-dallying the matter aggravated the situation and in October 1952, a 51-year-old man called Potti Sreeramulu started a fast-unto-death in Madras demanding a separate Andhra state. He soon turned into a hero for the Telugu speakers.

Sriramulu's death makes Nehru to concede Andhra

Nehru had tried to overlook Sreeramulu's fasting even as it evoked protests but couldn't do so for long. He took up the matter again with Rajagopalachari and the two thought about accommodating the demand but it was too late by then. Sreeramulu passed away after fasting for 58 days and the situation spiralled out of control.

Nehru announced on December 17, 1952, that the state of Andhra would be set up soon. The Telugu districts of the Madras province were identified soon and the new Andhra state was formally established on October 1, 1953. It was carved out of Madras state and had Kurnool as its capital.

On November 1, 1956, the Andhra state and Telangana region of Hyderabad state were merged to form the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh.

OneIndia News

(With inputs from India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha)

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