In search of its linguistic identity, Telugu intelligentsia in Hyderabad decided enthusiastically to set up Sri Krishna Devaraya Andhra Bhasha Nilayam, the first Telugu library in the city, in 1901. Between the establishment of this library and the formation of Andhra Pradesh, merging Telangana and Andhra state on linguistic basis in 1956, there were a number of attempts to explore, popularize, consolidate and reinforce the Telugu identity in Telangana in the form of setting up Telugu libraries, forming associations of traders and peasants, conducting research on the history of Telugus in Telangana, organizational forms like Andhra Jana Sangham, Andhra Parisodhaka Sangham, Andhra Maha Sabha, State Congress, Andhra Saraswata Parishat, Visaalandhra Maha Sabha, etc.
In contrast, Telugu identity of Telangana started showing its fissures from 1930s onwards and by the time of the merger of Telangana and Andhra State, the voices of distinct identity expressed themselves in Mulki Movement of 1952, representations against the proposed merger to the States Reorganization Commission of 1953-55, and formulating specific safeguards in the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1956. This feeble opposition to the unified and apparently dominating Telugu identity evolved into a full-fledged antagonism towards whatever represented by the linguistic identity. Within six decades of unity with coastal Andhra, Telugu intelligentsia in Telangana abhorred calling themselves Andhras and began exploring the differences between Telugus from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Some of Telangana advocates even said their Telugu and Andhra’s Telugu (or simply Andhra) are two different languages and two regions have distinct cultural identities. The word Andhra, used with respect and love in Telangana during the first half of 20th century acquired hostile connotations and became an epithet by the last decades of the century, particularly after 1969 Jai Telangana movement which raised slogans like ‘Andhra Go Back’.
From the social history point of view, it is interesting to understand this journey from seeking unity in identity to expressing difference in bitter terms, if not complete animosity. This paper is an attempt to trace the history of first half century of assertion of unity and the second half’s assertion of difference, and, in the process the paper attempts to explore the social, political and economic causes behind this remarkable change in attitude.
Telangana was the seat of power of the Kakatiyas (950-1323), the first ever united Telugu empire in history. The Kakatiyas were the first dynasty to bring most, if not all Telugu-speaking people under one rule and after their fall in 1323 the Telugu country got divided into several small kingdoms and principalities and remained so till early 17th century when the Qutb-Shahis (1518–1687) brought together a larger part of Telugu-speaking areas. This unity also ended by 1802 as the Asif Jahi (1724-1948) rulers parted with Telugu-speaking areas of present day coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema to the British in three installments from 1766 to 1802. Consequently, Telangana continued to be part of a multi-lingual state where Telugu was not accorded the status of official language, even though it was spoken by half of the population. Though Telugu-speaking elites aligned themselves with the Urdu-speaking ruling class, it could be argued that some of them were longing to assert their Telugu identity and waiting for an opportunity to do so. This desire for assertion can be identified in a number of events between 1890s and 1920s.
Though history is a continuous process which cannot be broken down into stand-alone events or incidents, one cannot but recognize visible events, when it is difficult to study dynamic processes per se. Especially evolution of the idea of identity and its assertion are protracted, complex and silent processes, not so easily visible always. However, there are a couple of notable events that in a way demonstrate the assertion of Telugu identity during this period.
The first such incident was the establishment of Sri Krishna Devaraya Andhra Bhasha Nilayam in Hyderabad on September 1, 1901. Even though it was the first Telugu library in the state, it followed Bharat Gunavardhak Samstha, the first Marathi library in the state, set up in 1895.
The founders of Sri Krishna Devaraya Andhra Bhasha Nilayam were Nayani Venkata Ranga Rao (Raja of Munagala), Komarraju Venkata Lakshmana Rao (Diwan of Munagala), and Ravichettu Ranga Rao (a landlord from Nalgonda district) and the inaugural meeting was presided over by the Zamindar of Paloncha and participated by landlords, lawyers and scholars. It appears that the idea of setting up such a Telugu library flashed on the three founders when they were reading Robert Sewell’s The Forgotten Empire, a history of Vijayanagara Empire. “…While discussing the book, we felt distressed at the sorry state of Telugu language in Nizam state. Alas, in this Telangana which stood in the forefront in generating genuine Telugu literature, today Telugu language is suffering so much, we thought and felt concerned. Making the sacred name of Sri Krishna Devaraya eternal and regaining the past glory of Telugu language were the aims we set for ourselves. Sri Krishna Devaraya Andhra Bhasha Nilayam was a result of this discussion,” said Nayani Venkata Ranga Rao, reminiscing in 1955.
Rajaraja Narendra Andhra Bhasha Nilayam of Hanumakonda in 1904, Andhra Samvardhani Granthalayam of Secunderabad in 1905 and several other libraries like Bala Saraswati Andhra Bhasha Nilayam, Sri Vemana Andhra Bhasha Nilayam, and Shabdanushasana Andhra Bhasha Nilayam followed in quick succession. Indeed, the founders of Hyderabad library or other activists who shared their ideas began a massive library movement that spread all over Telangana. In a short span of a quarter century and that too against many odds, at least 110 libraries were established, despite opposition and apprehensions by the government. The significance of this library movement can only be understood against the fact that the literacy was less than 3 per cent at that time and even that literacy was in Urdu and not Telugu. Almost all these libraries contained the word Andhra or Telugu in their names.
Another major incident that triggered Telugu identity consciousness during this period happened in 1921. There was a social reform convention during November 11-12 in Hyderabad under the chairmanship of Marathi social reformer D K Karve who delivered his presidential address in Marathi and English. All the deliberations were in either Marathi or English or Urdu and Telugu participants felt offended that their mother tongue did not find its rightful place. Further when Alampalli Venkata Rama Rao, a popular advocate in city, rose to speak in Telugu he was booed and prevented from speaking. The Telugu participants took this as an affront to their mother tongue and boycotted the convention.
Meeting in the house of another advocate Tekmal Ranga Rao the same night the aggrieved elites decided to form Andhra Jana Sangham, the first exclusive social organization of Telugus in Telangana. “All Andhras of Hyderabad by birth or by domicile, above 18 years of age, can join this organization” was the prescribed eligibility criterion and soon its membership grew to more than a hundred. The organizing committee met under the chairmanship of K V Ranga Reddy and finalized the constitution of the organization by April 1922. All the four founding principles contain the word “Andhra”. Similar Andhra Jana Sanghams started sprouting all over and in April 1923 it was decided to amalgamate all the local units into a centralized structure called Andhra Jana Kendra Sangham. The central association had its first annual meeting in Hyderabad in July 1923 and there eight organization principles were accepted and almost all of them talk about revival and propagation of Andhra literature and culture. However, it appears that this organization did not close its doors to non-Telugus since names of Moulvi Rafiyuddin Saheb and Moulvi Mansoor Saheb are also found on the list of participants.
As an offshoot of Andhra Jana Sangham, Andhra Parisodhaka Sangham was set up in February 1922 to collect palm leaf manuscripts, inscriptions, and write history. This organization began collecting inscriptions from Telugu areas of Hyderabad state and published the first collection of ‘Telangana Inscriptions’ containing 123 inscriptions in 1935. This volume was hailed as a “pioneering effort in throwing light on the history of Telugus.”
Simultaneously, traders, peasants, and youth were also forming their associations in Telangana and these associations also asserted Telugu identity, among other activities. Similar was the attempt of Telugu newspapers and periodicals. Though the history of printing and newspapers in Hyderabad dates back to 1859 and the first Telugu newspaper from Hyderabad came out in 1886, the first full-fledged Telugu newspaper Hitabodhini appeared from Mahabubnagar in 1913. The later newspapers like Tenugu from Inugurthi (Warangal) (1921), Nilagiri from Nalgonda (1922), Golconda from Hyderabad (1926) and Sujata (1927) literary magazine from Hyderabad, among others, propagated Telugu identity consciousness.
Setting up Telugu medium schools on individual initiative, since Urdu was the official medium of instruction in government schools, was also on the rise during this time. K V Ranga Reddy in his autobiography lists out at least seven such educational institutions set up between 1918 and 1944.
All these efforts culminated in the formation of Andhra Maha Sabha, one of the greatest mass organizations in Telangana in the 20th century. The first Nizam State Andhra Maha Sabha was called “to discuss the immediate problems of development of Andhras in Nizam state” in Jogipet, Medak district during March 3-5, 1930. The poetic invocations at the inaugural session of this meeting were replete with references to linguistic identity like Andhra language, culture, nationality and Andhra Maatru Sandesham, etc. Out of hundreds of lines of this invocation, it would suffice to quote a stanza to show its flavor:
Andhra jaatiyataa samudyatpataaka
Kakatiyula kaalaana gattinatlu
Mandiraanganamula nilpi maatrupooja
karugudemmikanaina neevaandhra tanaya
(O son of Andhra, join at least now to pray our mother with raising high the flags of Andhra nationality all over the sacred places like in the times of the Kakatiyas!)
The contemporary news reports also say that the people in the procession that received Suravaram Pratapa Reddy, the president of the first Andhra Maha Sabha, to the venue raised slogans like “Andhra Maathaku Jai” (Hail Mother Andhra). It was also reported that historian Adiraju Veerabhadra Rao sang “Andhra deshapu matti adi maaku kanakamu” (the soil of Andhradesa is gold to us).
Suravaram Pratapa Reddy, in his presidential address said, “My Andhra brethren, by virtue of our numbers we should be holding the first place in the Nizam state. The capital city of this region, Hyderabad, is part of Telangana. But it is surprising to note that after Akkanna and Madanna not a single Andhra person occupied prime place in political sphere. Even it is doubted now whether Akkanna and Madanna were Andhras at all… At the outset let me discuss our mother tongue. This is the crux of the matter. In this state all the native languages like Andhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka are being suppressed. Thus we are habituated to ignore our mother tongues and take up other languages…”
The Andhra Maha Sabha continued its multifarious activities through grassroots activists and held annual conferences to review past activities and prepare for future. Growing in strength by the day, the Andhra Maha Sabhas held regularly for the next 15 years: Second (1931, Devarakonda), Third (1934, Khammam), Fourth (1935, Sircilla), Fifth (1936, Shadnagar), Sixth (1937, Nizamabad), Seventh (1940, Malkapuram), Eighth (1941, Chilukuru), Ninth (1942, Dharmavaram), Tenth (1943, Hyderabad), and Eleventh (1944, Bhongir). However, in the Bhongir Mahasabha there was a split in the organization and after the split one group held its Twelfth conference in 1945 at Khammam and the other group held its Twelfth conference in 1945 at Madikonda and Thirteenth conference in 1946 at Kandi. After playing its glorious role in raising people’s consciousness and organizing them for over 15 years Andhra Maha Sabha came to an end in that form.
Beginning as an attempt to revive and assert Telugu identity and find ways and means to ameliorate the status of Telugu-speaking people in Nizam state, Andhra Maha Sabha gradually evolved into an organization that championed the social, political and economic concerns of people also. Particularly after the seventh conference, the political tilt in the organization was quite visible in its resolutions and issues it took up. During the subsequent four conferences the political differences between the leaders became so prominent that they parted ways despite the linguistic unity.
This transformation in the character of the organization was partly due to the entry of radical ideologies into the organization in particular and the region in general. Even as the urban intelligentsia was taking up the linguistic, literary and cultural issues of people, there were stirrups at the grassroots level on the primarily economic issues like inequality in agrarian relations, rampant feudal practices, problems of tenants, economic and extra-economic coercions of landlords, vetti (forced unpaid labour), sexual exploitation, etc. While Andhra Maha Sabha became a forum for modern consciousness, both landlords and middle classes looked up to it in the beginning. But the two sections had had two different perspectives about society and social problems. Vattikota Alwar Swamy’s novel Prajala Manishi beautifully describes the dilemma of ordinary people in sharing Andhra Maha Sabha dais with a landlord who oppresses and exploits them.
In terms of fissures in linguistic identity, there was a noteworthy resolution in 1937 Nizamabad Andhra Maha Sabha. When two members, Kasinath Rao Mukpalkar and Gulam Ahmed wanted to speak in Urdu seconding a resolution moved by K V Ranga Reddy, there were objections on the use of a language other than Telugu. After a heated debate K V Ranga Reddy, Ravi Narayana Reddy and Burgula Ramakrishna Rao moved a resolution which said, “Andhra Maha Sabha is only an organization of Andhras living in Telangana, but not exclusively to Telugu-speaking people.” This resolution clearly shows that the basis of Telugu identity on which Andhra Maha Sabha was initially formed began to be challenged and eroded gradually.
Thus the attempts to assert Telugu identity began to be questioned from within and a new identity based on class and political beliefs started surfacing. For an ordinary tenant and an agricultural labourer or a lower caste peasant the antagonism was not only with non-Telugu ruler but a landlord who spoke the same language. Telugu language identity could not bind a person influenced by communist ideology with another subscribing to Congress politics. Thus the language identity was giving way to class and political identities. May be other identities like caste, gender and religion were also in operation, but they were not visible by that time.
In the course of time Andhra Maha Sabha either tried to accommodate class, political and linguistic identities or completely replace linguistic identity with class or political identity. Whatever may be the language of the leaders from Hyderabad, the local activists of Andhra Maha Sabha were waging daily battles on protection of tenancy, just wages, refusal to serve without wages, opposing sexual exploitation, etc, entirely on class and political identities. The leaders were still submitting memoranda to the HEH Nizam and speaking in “non-political” terms about literary and cultural issues while the local cadres were fighting against the local Reddy or Brahmin or Velama landlords and in the process against the Nizam also as the government was the bulwark for the landlords.
To see other related developments, Comrades Association and All Hyderabad Students Union, formed in 1939 and 1940 respectively, comprised of youth from all identities, supported and joined Andhra Maha Sabha activities. These organizations had non-Telugu activists like Maniklal Gupta, Alam Khund Miri, Maqdoom Mohiyuddin, Zavad Rizvi and Raj Bahadur Gour. These organizations purely based on class identity were sources of inspiration and training to the would-be communists in the state. With this transformation in identity by 1944 Andhra Maha Sabha local units came to be known as Gutpala Sanghams (Stick Holders’ Association) and they were lending help and support to the people rising against landlords, whether it was washerwoman-tenant Ailamma in Palakurthi or Lambada peasants in Mondrai or tenants in Dharmapuram.
These skirmishes between people at large on one side and landlords and the state on the other provided the context in which Andhra Maha Sabha held its eleventh conference in Bhongir in 1944. The organization that was born to consolidate Telugu identity split into two, showing that identity based on language alone was not very stable. Even if one wanted to protect his language identity, he had to have his control over means of production, since it was the base that determines the superstructure. It was the feudal aristocracy with huge land ownership that controlled the state and decided which language and culture should be given prominence. Thus a struggle for one’s own language and culture should inevitably lead to a larger struggle for control over means of production. While the radical Andhra Maha Sabha section gave prominence to class identity over linguistic identity in this way, the moderate Andhra Maha Sabha section decided to submerge its linguistic identity in political identity by merging itself with the other two linguistic organizations – Maharashtra Parishat and Karnataka Parishat – to form State Congress in 1946.
Thus, during the subsequent years, Telugu linguistic identity took a back seat and it was the class and political identity that decided the course of social movement in Telangana. That led to the famous Telangana Peasant Armed struggle whose ranks did not distinguish themselves on language lines. There were several non-Telugu speaking leaders and cadres like Maqdoom Mohiyuddin, Zavad Rizvi, Raj Bahadur Gour, and Jaipal Singh on the side of the struggling people and several Telugu speaking landlords like Visunur Ramachandra Reddy, and Jannareddy Pratap Reddy on the other side.
Here it would be important to note the apprehensions on Telangana’s linguistic unity with coastal Andhra that surfaced twice during this period. The first incident took place on 11 June 1936 when Madapati Hanumantha Rao met Navab Aliyavar Jung, director of publications. As recorded by Hanumantha Rao, “Aliyavar Jung warned me that government has come to know that the aim of our Andhra movement was to merge the Andhra districts of this state with the Andhra districts of Madras state and he duly informed the same to the political affairs minister. I protested and told him that it cannot be the aim of our Andhra movement. ‘You have come to this mistaken conclusion without knowing the facts of the matter. That is not correct. We are not so foolish to subscribe to the idea you are suggesting’ I told him.”
Similar apprehensions came up in the case of the formation of State Congress. The Nizam government opposed the formation of State Congress apprehending its links to the Indian National Congress in British India, particularly the coastal Andhra districts. This was vehemently denied by the Congress leaders from British India, including M K Gandhi and the leaders of Hyderabad State Congress. Indeed, M K Gandhi denied such a linkage in his letter to the prime minister of Hyderabad, Sir Akbar Hydari.
However, the Telugu identity of Telangana and the idea of unity of Telugu speaking people of both regions have a history of their own and this used to surface time and again along with other identities.
A major expression of unity idea came in Puchchalapalli Sundaraiah’s 1946 pamphlet Visalandhralo Prajarajyam, though he was cautious enough to postpone the idea of merger to a later date. Though the idea of Visalandhra comprising of all Telugu-speaking people was there since 1930s in the minds of intellectuals and writers, the fact that the areas were under different regimes prevented the complete expression of the idea. But the Police Action initiated by the Union government in 1948 and fall of Hyderabad on September 17, 1948 paved the way for resurgence of the idea of a unity based on linguistic identity.
However, the Indian National Congress, which was favoring the linguistic basis to form states since its Nagpur Congress in 1920 suddenly changed its tone in post-1947 period. Now national unity, administrative, economic and other consideration took precedence over linguistic unity in forming a state.
At the same time Telangana intelligentsia started seeing the problems beyond the linguistic unity and particularly the new officers brought in from Madras state made Telanganites suspect the outsiders’ influence in administrative and social life. Within three years of Police Action, Telangana people began an agitation for the rights of local people. The slogans raised during this agitation ‘Non-Mulki Go Back’ and ‘Idli Smbar Go Back’ basically targeted all non-Telanganites, but particularly officers brought in from Madras state, both Tamil and Telugu.
Subsequently, the States Reorganization Commission (SRC) was formed and at least some Telangana leaders opposed the view of Telugu unity and formation of a stage based on linguistic identity. Several ministers of Hyderabad state including the chief minister B Ramakrishna Rao represented before the SRC against the merger proposal. Even those who thought in terms of Telugu identity were not favorable to the idea of merger. Of course, among the people with literary and cultural leanings the idea of merger did raise some enthusiasm. The SRC took note of the apprehensions and spoke against exclusive linguistic basis and made a recommendation to retain Telugu speaking areas of Hyderabad state as a separate entity at least till 1961, when the state legislature will have a chance to decide. Even as the SRC opined that no assurance is sufficient to form a united state, (“it seems to us, however, that neither guarantees on the lines of the Sri Baug Pact nor constitutional devices, such as Scottish devolution in the United Kingdom, will prove workable or meet the requirements of Telangana during the period of transition”) the central leadership forced Telangana leadership to accept the Gentlemen’s Agreement, on the basis of which Andhra Pradesh was formed on November 1, 1956.
The state formation was and is being shown as a victory of linguistic unity but six decades of that unity drove Telangana intelligentsia to question the very basis of language identity, since each of the promises and safeguards provided in the Gentlemen’s Agreement and later agreements and legislations was violated. While the Gentlemen’s Agreement provided for setting up Telangana Regional Council as a parallel watch-dog authority to protect the interests of Telangana people, and the idea of the TRC was so crucial that six out of 14 points in the agreement talked about it, the final outcome was a much decimated Andhra Pradesh Regional Committee. Even the proposals, recommendations and objections of that watered down body were never taken into consideration. Even though the governor was given power to come to the rescue of the Regional Committee, that relief was never accorded. Similarly the other provisions in the Gentlemen’s Agreement were either violated or distorted making the worst fears of Telangana leaders real. As a result Telangana people lost their rightful and fair share in education, employment, irrigation, budgetary allocations and all other development activities.
That’s why in 1969 Telangana students and employees began a movement seeking implementation of safeguards and gradually the movement raised a demand for separation or de-merger. Thus 1969 Jai Telangana movement was a culmination of challenge to the linguistic unity and it raised slogans like Andhra Go Back and Gongoora Go Back. Even though that round of agitation was suppressed and leaders co-opted, the idea did not die down and resurfaced with a vengeance during mid 1990s. It grew in time to attract political attention and became a massive movement by the next decade forcing the Union government to accept the demand and come out with a categorical statement on December 9, 2009 to initiate the process of state formation. Even though the government went back on its word, the questions of distinct identity and desire for separation and self-rule gained strength. In fact, in the new phase of the movement since mid-1990s, a number of writers, scholars and politicians started new explorations into history of Telugu literature and culture and came out with hard-hitting observations against linguistic and cultural identity. There are a number of studies in literature and culture that showed obvious dissonance between the two regions.
Whether language spoken and culture practised in Telangana and coastal Andhra are similar is not, the living together for six decades has clearly brought out the difference and Telangana started proclaiming its linguistic and cultural divergence. As it is said, deeds but not words matter. Words may be in a common language, but Telangana people have taken the deeds of the coastal Andhra rulers seriously and the demand for separation is a response.
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 Though it is common to trace history of Telugus to the Satavahana empire that ruled between 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD, there are a number of evidences that Telugu might not have developed as a complete language by then. The Satavahana kings did rule from the present day Telangana, but they also ruled from the present day Maharashtra on the banks of Godavari. It is most probable that their language was Prakrit and not Telugu per se. Telugu as a language might have developed during their time and blossomed a couple of centuries later. The first written Telugu text was not found before the 6th century AD.
 In fact, whatever may be the credentials of Sri Krishna Deva Raya in patronizing Telugu literature, he has nothing to do with Telangana. His Vijayanagara Empire did not extend to the northern side of the Krishna and even the half-a-dozen attempts of his armies on the forts in Telangana were only to loot them, but not integrating Telugu-speaking people of Telangana into his empire. However, the “official” “standard” histories written by historians belonging to coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema hail Sri Krishna Deva Raya as the champion of Telugus. It is no wonder that Telangana elite were under the same impression and named the first library after him.
 The two Telugu brothers were important ministers and key political and administrative functionaries under the last Qutb Shahi king Abul Hasan (1672-1687).
 It is interesting to note that Madapati Hanumantha Rao (1885-1970), forerunner of modern Telangana social movements was described as Andhra Pitamaha.