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Gains of National Parties: A step towards progression or regression for the state of Telangana?

Gains of National Parties: A step towards progression or regression for the state of Telangana?

Anvesh Baki & Ashok Danavath

Historically, federalism in India has suffered at the hands of national parties, especially when they got a comfortable majority in the parliament. The incumbent party at the center, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its opposition party at the center, the Indian National Congress (INC)—both have their fair share in diluting federal principles and undermining the autonomy of the states. While INC’s blatant attacks date back to 1970–80, the BJP has been consistently undermining the autonomy of the states since 2014, when it got into power at the union. The BJP’s attacks on federalism are manifold, running from recurrent use of presidential rule in states governed by opposition parties to unilaterally reorganizing states to excessive use of constitutional positions of governors and lieutenant governors and central agencies to hinder the smooth functioning of electorally elected governments in the state. Only during the coalition period of the 1990s was the central government formed by various permutations and combinations of alliances between various regional parties and INC. Especially the leaders of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) were instrumental in the realization of the potential of federalism in India, its benefits for state autonomy, and socio-economic development.

Attacks on the federal structure of India

In the recent Telangana third state assembly election, the old Congress party emerged as the single largest party with a majority of MLA seats in the state. While the party has come to power with the promise of more democratic governance in the state. The history and rhetoric used for the election campaign are opposed to federal principles. The state of Telangana gives a unique picturization of federalism through its history of revolutionary movements and demand for self-governance.

The state of Telangana was formed on June 2, 2014, after six decades of people’s social movements with aspirations of self-governance, and political autonomy. The newly formed Telangana state reposed faith in K. Chandrashaker Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), erstwhile Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), and elected the party for two consecutive terms until the recent third state assembly election. Despite the commitment of the party to federal principles, which is reflected in its policy of non-alignment with either the BJP or INC for the Lok Sabha elections and its supremo’s constant appeal to form a federal front at the union, the regime has also witnessed various instances where the union government’s agenda was accommodated. KCR’s government has also facilitated police action and the crackdown on democratic and dissenting voices by the central agencies under various draconian laws by largely being silent. The two-term rule has witnessed the shrinking of opposition parties, including regional parties, through defections of MLAs to the BRS/TRS party and various other means.

The people of Telangana have given a mandate to the Indian National Congress (INC) in the recent assembly elections, the party that passed the bill in parliament to carve out the state of Telangana. The Telangana Congress campaign slogan for the 2023 state assembly election was Marpu Kavali Congress Ravlai (there is a need for change; Congress should come), insinuating that they would bring back Indira Gandhi’s rule (Indiramma Rajyam). However, Indira Gandhi’s approach to federalism is at loggerheads with that of KCR’s. While the latter has at least been a vocal supporter of federalism, the former only attempted to undermine the federalist structure through various executive excesses during her four terms as Prime Minister. Mrs. Gandhi imposed the highest number of presidential rules in states by a prime minister. Further, she is also credited with deinstitutionalizing internal democracy within the Congress party and disempowering provincial congress committees. The autonomy of the states was stripped down, and Mrs. Gandhi’s loyalists were planted as chief ministers, bypassing strong regional Congress leaders. The whole modus operandi of the INC under Indira Gandhi was anti-federal and centralized, curbing any form of federal checks and accountability of the union and its interventionist tendencies. The subordinated position of the chief ministers and the political autonomy of the states under Indira Gandhi’s regime can be summarized in the words of the erstwhile CM of the united Andhra Pradesh state, T. Anjaiah: ”I don’t even know how I came here… They never told me that I was going to be the chief minister… Now I cannot say why I am going. All that I can say is that I want to remain close to her.” The incumbent party at the union, the BJP, has been inimical to the federal structure, constantly eroding the autonomous functioning of the states. The BJP has only secured 8 MLA seats in the recent elections, rendering it a not-so-strong political force in the state.

Telangana has a long history of revolutionary struggle for political autonomy, the special status that was given for regional development through the operation of Article 371D and E until bifurcation, and a comparatively autonomous rule under a regional party with regards to union and state relations. After a decade-long history of regional autonomy under the premiership of KCR, the recent verdict has given power to the party that has a problematic history of blatantly undermining the federal fabric of the country. With the dethroning of BRS in the state and giving a comfortable majority to a national party, there is not just a change of power but a paradigmatic shift in the political rhetoric of the state. The glorified regime of Mrs. Gandhi and constant appeal by leaders of National and Telangana State raise serious doubts about their commitment to self-rule and political autonomy, which were the cardinal principles of the Telangana separation movement. Despite the INC not being in power at the union and the ruling BJP posing an imminent threat to the federal fabric and state autonomy, the centralized structure of the INC and the comparatively less power vested within the elected provincial leaders in decision-making are cause for concern from the federal point of view. The current political atmosphere in the state of Telangana presupposes a question as to whether the state is progressing towards a more autonomous regime that is related to the federal scheme when the political climate among the Congress leaders is to bring back Mrs. Gandhi’s rule. Where would the real seat of power be—in the capital of Telangana or in Delhi?


Anvesh Baki is a postgraduate legal scholar from Telangana, India who holds a master’s degree in law from SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor’s degree in law from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

Ashok Danavath is a postgraduate scholar from Telangana, India, and was formerly a Government of India National Overseas Scholarship Fellow at the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. He currently works as a Senior Researcher for the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).

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