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Peek into History: The Evolution of Telugu States - Coastal Andhra & Telangana (Part 1)

(This article is first in the series on the evolution and development of Telugu States)
 
Coastal Andhra Region
 
The region of coastal Andhra is far more developed than the other two regions of Rayalaseema and Telangana. Crucial to the development of this region, and to the districts of Guntur, Krishna, East and West Godavari in particular, were the construction of irrigation projects across the Krishna and Godavari rivers in the mid-19th Century by the British colonial State. 
 
With a view to augmenting its revenue from agriculture, an extensive area was brought under cultivation: this led to the commercialisation of agriculture and the generation and accumulation of agrarian surplus (G.N. Rao, 1985). The impact of this could be witnessed in the growth of urbanisation in this region, as centres of commerce, education, culture and social reform were created. The growth of towns such as Kakinada, Rajamundry and Guntur in the coastal region has to be seen against this backdrop.
 
A significant aspect of rural transformation that has occurred since the late 19th Century is the differentiation of peasant society and the emergence of an enterprising agrarian stratagem belonging predominantly to the Kamma, followed by the Reddy and to a lesser extent to the Kapu, communities. 
 
The educated élites of these peasant castes were catalytic in the emergence of caste- specific assertion movements against Brahmin domination. They also played a leading role in the kisan movement and the anti-zamindari struggles by rallying the lower agrarian strata. Because of these struggles, which led to the abolition of the zamindari system and the tenancy reforms enacted in the early years of the post-colonial State, the ryots and tenants of these peasant castes gained access to most of the fertile lands. 
 
What is sociologically significant about this trajectory of change, and of immediate relevance to our analysis, is the polarisation of this class along caste lines across mass organisations, political parties or factions therein. While the Reddys joined the ranks of the Congress Party and waged struggles against Brahmin leadership, the Kammas gravitated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) and rose to positions of leadership.
 
A long-standing demand of the Telugu-speaking political élite of Andhra region was for a separate political identity from the Tamil-speaking majority in the Madras Presidency. In recognition of this demand, the Congress Party formed the Andhra Provincial Committee in 1917. It was only following an agitation for separate statehood in 1953, that the coastal and Rayalaseema regions were carved out of the composite Madras State and into the separate State of Andhra, with Kurnool as its capital.
 
Telangana Region
 
The region of Telangana was part of the Nizam’s composite Hyderabad State, which comprised eight Telugu-speaking Telangana districts,3 three Kannada- and five Marathi-speaking districts. In Telangana, given the historical specificity of the Nizam’s dominion, the nature of socio-economic change and political trajectory took a different turn. A class of landed gentry, consisting of Muslim jagirdars and Hindu deshmukhs belonging to the Reddy, Velama and Brahmin castes, constituted the support base of the Nizam’s rule. 
 
In sharp contrast to the Presidency areas, the State bestowed citizens with hardly any civil or political rights, whilst the landed gentry inflicted suffering on the rural population through the illegal eviction of farmers, the extraction of free goods and services (known as vetti), and much more significantly, the denial of people’s dignity and self-respect.
 
The Andhra Maha Sabha (AMS) has been at the forefront of democratic struggles since the early decades of the 20th Century. In the beginning, it was dominated by pro-Congress Party elements, but by the 1930s it came under the control of communists who conducted a radical turnaround, by taking up issues such as the abolition of vetti, protection to tenants and the demands of ‘land-to-the tiller’ .
 
The anti-Nizam and anti-feudal peasant struggle, led by the communists through the AMS in the 1940s, was an important political development crucial to an understanding of political articulation in the subsequent period. 
 
Although all sections of the Telangana countryside involved in this struggle – peasant, artisan, service and labouring dalit castes – were mobilised around the issues of vetti and ‘land to the tiller’, it is sociologically instructive to note that it was the peasant caste of the Kapu-Reddys who dominated the leadership positions in the dalams (armed squads) and panchayats. 
 
The redistribution of the land of the Brahmin-Karanam, Reddy and Velama doras during the struggle was significantly influenced by the caste composition of the panch committees assigned with this task. Thus, while the lands of these doras were distributed among the Kapu-Reddy ryots and tenants, the common pastures and waste lands became the lot of the landless dalits and other lower castes.
 
After the withdrawal of the struggle, given the substantial decline in dora dominance following the struggle as well as the jagirdari abolition and tenancy reforms brought about by the State, most of the doras were disinclined to reside in their villages and disposed of their lands to their former tenants. 
 
Needless to say, the beneficiaries of these transfers were tenants and ryots predominantly belonging to the Kapu-Reddy cultivators’ community. The dalits, who comprised the majority of vetti agrestic labour on dora lands, remained landless even after the struggle.
 

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