Tuesday, February 02, 2010

TELANGANA III: A case of Tyranny of Majority


If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the unlimited power of the majority.
-Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America

In our age the power of majorities tends to become arbitrary and absolute. And therefore, it may well be that to limit the power of majorities, to dispute their moral authority, to deflect their impact,to dissolve their force, is now the most important task of those who care for liberty.
-Walter Lippmann in American Inquisitors


One question that cropped up in my previous post, in the context of the present Telangana movement, is about the failure of Telangana leaders in protecting the interests of the region in last 50 odd years. Why were the region's leaders so helpless in averting the discrimination met to the region? Some critics of the movement straightaway jump to a conclusion that Telangana leaders were not as 'efficient' as Andhra leaders so they didn't develop their region enough! I didn't believe in Hitler's Aryan supremacy nor do I believe in Andhra supremacy to accept this chauvinistic remark. Instead, I believe the reason is systemic and lies in the tyranny of the majority that has been given unchecked power in our democracy. Telangana struggle is a result of unabashed Majoritarianism of Andhrite rulers.
Tyranny of Majority:

Ever since Socrates was sentenced to death for impiety in 399 BC, the core critique of democracy has been the concept of tyranny of majority. Socrates' death showed us what a majority can do and where democracy could go wrong, even inadvertently. Socrates questioned the concept of majority getting empowered blindly in a democracy. Borrowing his thinking, one would question why for instance, in a group of 10 members, a group of 6 would be given all the power to rule over the remaining 4. Does being majority also imply being just and right? Not necessarily, the group of 6 would protect their interests even at the cost of the interests of the remaining 4 as shown amply in world democracies. Armed with nearly 2/3 of the Assembly seats, the Andhra plutocracy with vast interests in all kinds of businesses inflicted the same tyranny on Telangana.

Checks and Balances - a cure to the tyranny of majority:

It is in this light that the founding fathers of some constitutions across the world took care to protect the interests of minorities in democracies. And so instead of just placing faith in the basic goodness of human beings (like in case of French constitution), fathers of constitution in countries like America came up with elaborate mechanisms in an effort to stop a winner-take-all scenario. They have introduced checks and balances to prevent the majority group or the majority ideology to get tyrannical powers over minority. America's founding father James Madison famously said way back in 1788 "If men were angels, no government would be necessary...but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." The emphasis hence is on designing a effective checks and balances. It simply does not work if we just go by faith and hope about the human goodness. Example: In the US, every state regardless of its population sends two senators to Washington - California with roughly 70 times the population of Wyoming has just as many votes in the Senate as Wyoming- which means that senators representing about a minuscule minority in the US can block any proposed law. This makes sure all law-making require bipartisan support. Hence, even if the ruling party has a good majority, it can't steamroll its decisions over the minority.

Telangana- a case of tyranny of majority:

Page 101, Para 378 of Fazal Ali commission's SRC which has recommended Telangana remain a separate state clearly stated -

"The real fears of the people of Telangana is that if they join Andhra they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and in this partnership the major partner will derive all the advantages immediately, while Telangana, itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising coastal Andhra."

There were agitations in Telangana opposing the idea of merger right from 1952(Non-Mulki agitation) when many youth lost their life in police firing. However, Andhra legislature opposed the commission's report and lobbied for the merger even as it assured that it would put enough safeguards in place to alley Telangana fears of losing jobs, land, water and financial resources. In that context, Telangana's merger with Andhra state in 1956 was a conditional one with safeguards, in form of Gentlemen agreement, attached to protect itself from the majority Andhrites who are comparatively well-educated. Having initiated and lobbied for the conditional merger along, the Andhra leadership had the onus on them to keep their word. But all they started was a rich history of betrayals making a mockery of all agreements, presidential orders, court judgements in letter and spirit. The safeguards in the 'Gentlemens Agreement' mentioned that Telangana's jobs, land, water and financial resources will be reserved for itself. Earlier Fazal Ali commission explicitly warned these safeguards would be ineffective (SRC Para 384)! Fazal Ali's prophecy came true and none of the safeguards which were supposed to serve as checks and balances were implemented. Telangana indeed became a colony for the majority. The 1969 Telangana agitation forced the center to appoint the Justice V.Bhargava committee which eventually confirmed the worst fears of Telanganites - that budgetary surpluses from Telangana have been moved to Andhra right from 1956. It has been proved that Madison's mantra of checks and balances failed to serve justice to Telangana thereby making it a victim of the tyranny of the majority.

Telangana's woes didn't end there. Even as supreme court upheld its rights as envisaged in the 'Gentlemens agreement', the Andhra plutocrats with their power and pelf overrode the highest court order too in parliament with brute majority. Thus, the concept of justice took backseat to number game of majority politics in democracy. While the major checks and balances have been entirely removed, Telangana was offered a consolatory one - in the shape of Telangana Regional Development Board. This board was supposed to overlook all development activity in Telangana and give a touch of financial self-rule for Telangana within the state of A.P. But then, Andhrite leaders have already shown their irreverence to agreements, accords, GOs, Supreme Court Judgements. So it was a matter of time before these minor check be done away with and yes, they did. NTR came to power in 1983 and among the very first actions he did was to dismantle the Board saying "We(Andhra people) are today in a supreme position, there is no need for a parallel board, a check or countercheck!!". So there it went again, yet an another safeguard. As was practice, he issued yet an another consolation, a far lesser safeguard in 1984, that of 610 GO and of course habits die hard. Even that didn't get implemented, till now. That is the disaster hegemonic power unleashed upon Telangana.

Andhrite plutocrats never abided by any agreements and when pressed to do so, reacted by either whittling down or altogether doing away with the checks and balances as shown in NTR's own words. In hindsight, we now understand why Fazal Ali warned against the 'Gentlemens agreement'. He did see the example of Sri Bagh pact before. The 1937 accord which was to protect Rayalaseema's interests was conveniently forgotten. The overarching feature of the 54 year experience for Telangana is that a majority can never be benevolent if there are no constitutional safeguards. If there indeed were some agreed upon safeguards, as in this case, you still need to trust the basic goodness of human beings to follow them! The French model of human goodness wont work for us here in this age when elections and power is synonymous with stakes in billions of dollars of legitimate and illegitimate businesses. In our kind of democracy, winner takes it all despite any agreements and the majority wins. So Telangana was doomed to be a permanent minority the moment it took the 'Gentlemen' bait. The wealthy plutocrats among Andhrites hold the real levers of power and anyone whether a Telanganite or Andhrite would be able to hold any ministry only as long as he serves as a stooge for them.

In context of this political & economical majoritarianism, any question about what Telangana leaders have done for their region while in ministry is a naive one. Telanganites served as CMs in 4 terms for a total of 6 years in 54 years of this state's existence. On the other hand, Rayalaseema leaders served as CMs for almost 25 years and even a term as President and we all see where Seema now stands in development indices! The point is not about who is in ministry, its about whose interests they are serving. After garnering the majority power, plutocrats in this state grew from strength to strength, put up place-holders like the present irrigation minister who won by 17 votes as representative of Telangana! Ever wondered why a Telangana mass leader like PJR never found his way into ministries despite deafening victories in the heart of Hyderabad? The games majority can play in a democracy are amazing indeed. The invisible character of hegemonic power is poisonous. It woes the minority when required only to boot them out later. 5 decades is a long time and the patience ran out in Telangana. Enough of the experiments with checks and balances, It is to break out of this majority stranglehold, Telangana wants its own legislature and rule itself, make its laws, use its waters, have its jobs and keep its self-respect. And guess what, the Andhra plutocrats say they are okay with Telangana state if the bill for the same passes through their assembly!

11 comments:

jshanthkumar said...

It is a good article. After reading this I got a feeling that, telangana should demand additional capital on division rather agree to pay, as it has been looted for several years. And also demand major share in water and other natural resources to compensate the previous loss. Need to demand profits out of the firms in andhra opened/developed after merger.

wishnewblog said...

Say we have town A and town B geographically on extreme ends of telangana. Imagine town A develops more than town B. And you say are a local of town B. I wonder if you would demand for a separate with town B region. To what extents such divisions go? And if each region / city / town / street has to be given its individual quota of jobs, water and resources.... wonder we should wrap up the state systems and follow individual district administration. The Andhra people specially the Vijayawada people out of their business acumen have offcourse made life too competitive for the rest of the people in the current state. However make note there would be no difference - if it is the vijayawada or nellore guy it would be 2 simple idly of Rs 5 placed on a nice silver with colour full chutneys being sold for Rs 15... and if it is some hyderabad or nizambad guy it would be a dry yesterdays samosa with a chili for Rs 6.... For a common man it would make no difference... any thing is a beating

sravan said...

Wishnewblog,
You seem to be agreeing that the tyranny of majority prevails upon telangana in Andhra Pradesh. Do you really? I believe it exists. Amar has garnered sufficient explanation regarding that. To deny that you are supposed to put forth something equivalent.
I do not understand how you can equate a situation of two neighboring towns to a situation of State. Well, in your example, you should understand that the two towns are separate entities. If the two towns are governed by one administration then we can buy your argument. But by the outset you presented they are two separate towns. By that I mean, separate. In AP there are no two entities for now in terms of governance. Both telangana and Seemandhra are reeled together as one state, under one state government.
And when the entire governance and the developmental activities of the regions are centered at state level certainly the tyranny of majority prevails in this case. And that exists in myriad realms, as you can see the way the andhra people today regard telangana people,culture and language.
May you overlooked one statement that Amar makes here right in the beginning
"ome critics of the movement straightaway jump to a conclusion that Telangana leaders were not as 'efficient' as Andhra leaders so they didn't develop their region enough! I didn't believe in Hitler's Aryan supremacy nor do I believe in Andhra supremacy to accept this chauvinistic remark
Your example and explanation rightly fits the above.

wishnewblog said...

Sravan,

I can debate at length but if only it could really be of any use. You have to your understanding and convinience read my comment. For me who has offcourse earned bread and butter from the blood and sweat i put in in hyderabad since last 8 years, have also paid taxes invariably used for any reason and region hyderabad, telangana and rest of AP.... would rather in detail comment later on the wrong direction shown to the people by a handfull of leaders.....

Amar said...

@wishnewblog

//Imagine town A develops more than town B. And you say are a local of town B. I wonder if you would demand for a separate with town B region. //

These query has been answered in comments in my previous post http://theargumentativeindian.blogspot.com/2009/12/telangana-movement-and-plutocracy.html.

Firstly, we are discussing demerger of Telangana as mutually agreed upon accords as part of conditional merger are being violated. Ur example does not include this aspect.

Secondly, we are not discussing towns here, we are discussing abt Telangana (comprising 4 crore people) which wud have been a separate state if 1st SRC's report was followed.

Thirdly, Dont u know that towns cant be states because they wudnt be geographically and financially viable!!?

Fourthly, Telangana struggle is about deliberate discrimination, not development.

Your attempt here has been to trivialize the issue with this example.

//The Andhra people specially the Vijayawada people out of their business acumen have offcourse made life too competitive for the rest //
What has this got to do with Telangana struggle?

//would rather in detail comment later on the wrong direction shown to the people by a handfull of leaders.....//
Awaiting the enlightenment

hariesh said...

An insightful and decisive article by Amar. The rhetoric of inefficient rule by Telangana leaders is flaunted numerous times by people opposing demerger. Telangana is a perfect example of misuse of power, greed by majority andhra rulers. There can hardly be any justification to Telangana except the demerger.

sravan said...

Wishnewblog,
I neither expect a debate nor a detailed analysis. Your comment I realized had some fallacies and I just pointed them out. And I know they are fallacies and misconceptions. My effort was only to make them clear to you.
And if you are paying taxes and living in hyderabad then you have every right to live in Hyderabad. No one denies it.
well this has nothing to do with whether hyderabad is in telangana state or region. It is all the same.
But telangana as a region of the AP state is suffering. We need to cure that. don't you think so?
After all you have been living in telangana for past 8 years?

Anonymous said...

truth well-expressed !
u missed one point - when Gentleman's agreement was signed, it was clearly mentioned that center needs to look after it's implementation. even that was thrown away to the winds.for people who had the power to change the stand taken by a leader like Nehru,it's not a big deal keeping away the center from 'interfering' in state matters.

I really wish PJR had been alive today ! would have made a lot of difference to the movement.

kalyan said...

Hii all.. am new to this site. this site looks cool and there are nice facts written in it. I just wanted to ask that whether my dream state Telangana will be formed?? i am asking this because i dont believe in political parties. i feel the agitation has been stopped now and only the Osmania University students are fighting hard. not a single political leader is not showing any kinda interest.

Amar said...

@Kiran,

As we can see, there are strong business coteries that are opposing the new state as it wud erode their own unchecked power over this vast state, not just Hyd. Unless that battle is won through a combination of people's movement and strong lobbying, Telangana wouldn't materialise. The agitation is now undergoing metamorphosis to manifest in more effective forms, now that the central and state Govts decided to ignore the overwhelming public desire for Telangana.

Anonymous said...

Nice informative article on what's ailing the politics of United Andhra Pradesh. Politically, there is a solution to the Tyranny of Majority problem called Concurrent Majority where for a bill to be passed it needs majority votes in all regions at the same time. Applying this concept to AP, a bill would need majority votes in Telangana as well as in Seemandhra in order for it to become law. But the constitution of India needs to be amended in order to introduce this Concurrent Majority change. And the Telangana statehood issue would seem like an anthill compared to that mountain of an amdendment.