K Chandrashekhar Rao belongs to an intermediate caste called Velama -- corresponding to Jats in north India. Velamas, who were kings in medieval India, are now rich landlords with a presence in at least three districts in Telangana -- Warangal, Medak and Nizamabad.
Telangana has been backward for centuries. Remember, it never came under the British but was ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad who did set up a few factories and a textile mill in Warangal in collaboration with the French. However, avenues of employment were few and exploitation abounded, something that Shyam Benegal has captured eloquently in his film Ankur.
The most crucial infrastructure element -- irrigation system -- was never developed systematically in Telangana, although both the Krishna and the Godavari flowed through it. By contrast, the coastal Andhra region aggressively lobbied for and got a garland of canals that took river waters deep into east and west Godavari districts. The region became a stronghold of the Communist Party of India and it was here that armed struggle first came up in India.
In 1956, when Fazal Ali presented his report on the linguistic reorganisation of states, Telangana first refused to integrate and then negotiated long and hard on the terms on which it would become a part of Andhra Pradesh. What Nehru called a 'gentleman's agreement' was drawn up -- Telangana would be recognised as 'virtually' a separate state.
This hasn't happened 50 years later but the movement for a separate state continues to simmer. Congress Chief Minister M Channa Reddy cynically fanned the flames of the separate Telangana movement in the late 1960s and 1970s that led to bloody riots, but ensured a permanent stranglehold of the Congress over AP. When NT Rama Rao founded the Telugu Desam Party, the Congress found itself turfed out of coastal Andhra, but retained its base in Telangana and Rayalaseema.
KCR saw this and got to work. He set up the TRS in the winter of 2001, quitting as deputy speaker of the assembly and resigning from the TDP. In the 2001 local body elections in AP, the TRS took off so strongly that the TDP got just 10 of the 20 Zilla Parishads. On this, the Congress quickly struck a deal with the TRS for the Lok Sabha elections. In the 2004 Lok Sabha and assembly elections, which the TRS fought in alliance with the Congress, the party bagged 26 assembly and five Lok Sabha seats.
KCR kept petitioning the Congress to give statehood to Telangana. It hummed and hawed and continued to prevaricate. Finally, KCR pulled out of the coalition government, resigning from the labour ministership. He found a new ally in the TDP after it backed the demand for a separate Telangana before the elections earlier this year.
But the mood had changed. The TRS contested 50 of the 119 assembly seats in the Telangana region but won only 10. YS Rajasekhara Reddy (the late Andhra CM) explained this as the vote against bifurcation of AP.
Meanwhile, there was a revolt in the TRS and 10 of his MLAs quit. KCR is not an easy man to get along with -- while he managed to create a movement, he had no party. The current round of politics is, however, not just about KCR. It is around the chief ministership of AP, and the vacuum of power after YSR Reddy's death. There is also the question of what will happen to Hyderabad -- whom will this huge, bustling and well-developed city go to?When KCR withdrew his fast earlier this week, his supporters went on a rampage and he hurriedly had to resume it. They had their eye on Hyderabad and its riches, now seemingly within their sights. Telangana may be a long time coming, but if it comes, Andhra Pradesh, as we know it today, will be unrecognisable.