South India's politicos echoing public anger with leadership in north, conciliatory leadership needed at Centre

The south of the Vindhyas is angry. Or at least its politicians certainly are. What else can possibly explain a chorus of sorts, as unorchestrated as it may sound, against the hegemony of a New Delhi. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who calls himself the senior most politician in India, is the latest to join the bandwagon. In his latest avatar of a leader fighting for Telugu atmagauravam and against the will of New Delhi to do as it pleases, Naidu is dismissive of the nomenclature of central money and state money.

File photo of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. AFP

File photo of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. AFP

"It is people's money,'' he said. "The southern states contribute maximum tax revenues to the Centre but the latter is diverting the money to the development of northern states.'' Naidu's angst arises from the fact that when he needs the money generated by his Telugu brethren, it is subsiding those in the cow belt while he has to scrape the bottom of his exchequer.

Last year, Telangana Information Technology minister KT Rama Rao had expressed his disappointment at lack of focus on the engines of growth in south India, emphasising more on the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. His father, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao took the rhetoric a step further this month when he accused the Centre of reducing states to puppets and riding roughshod over the federal structure of India. Both Naidu and KCR were echoing what their Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah said last month. "Karnataka contributes 9 percent of the total taxes collected in India, which is the third highest. But we get only 4.65 percent from the Centre,'' Siddaramaiah pointed out.

When actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan launched his Makkal Needhi Maiam party in Madurai last month, his party flag raised eyebrows. It showed six hands that Kamal said denoted the six states of south India, holding each other. It was a visual manifestation of the need to be together as a pressure group of sorts to fight the perception — right or wrong — that south India is left out of both decision-making and financial benefits by the Centre. Important to note is that Kamal follows Periyar's Dravidian ideology that among other things, espouses the idea of a Dravida Nadu.

It would seem that an anti-north India rant is a stepping stone for newbies in the political arena. Telugu star Pawan Kalyan who is also eyeing an acting political role, has on more than one occasion slammed the "biased attitude of the north Indian leadership''. In a tweet last year, Pawan wrote: "To BJP leadership - We are in down south and we are the foundation of this nation and not your up north political leadership.'' Much before Kamal, Pawan asked for all political parties in south India to come together on a common platform and set aside political differences.

The point that many like Pawan are making is that 20 percent of India's population, living in south India, is contributing 30 percent of India's tax collection. The south also does far better on several indices, including education, health, population control, electrification and industrial development.

It is this sentiment of anger that manifests itself when Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has the gall to lecture Kerala on how to manage its health system better. Admittedly, there are problem areas in Kerala (like anywhere else) and there is scope for improvement. But when the chief minister of a state that witnessed the deaths of children in Gorakhpur reportedly due to lack of oxygen among other reasons and more recently, the terribly callous case of a man's amputated leg being used as a headrest for him at a Jhansi hospital, gets into preaching mode, it understandably raised hackles in Kerala.

Are these utterances to be taken as stray expressions of anguish or a pointer to a deep cleavage within India? Mohan Guruswamy, a policy analyst and former advisor to finance minister Yashwant Sinha said it seems to arise out of an apprehension that in due course of time, south India will have a fewer Lok Sabha seats in comparison with the cow belt states and that will translate to reduction in political power.

"The politicians are only tapping into the groundswell. These feelings have begun coming into the public domain with decisions like attempts to impose Hindi on highway milestones,'' said Guruswamy. With regional parties holding sway in most south Indian states, it also seems an attempt by party chieftains to play the identity card, possibly to protect their turf against the possibility of a BJP incursion, using its brand of nationalistic politics.

"Would the south become a pressure group? I doubt it. When two Telugu speaking states cannot be united, where is the scope for all of south India with all their squabbling over water resources?'' asked economist Gautam Pingle. "This is just a bargaining chip to get more money and the moment they get it, they will keep quiet. Besides, if you don't help Uttar Pradesh and Bihar develop, people in those states will be at your doorstep.''

What is needed perhaps then is a more conciliatory leadership at the Centre that assuages the feelings of hurt and disenchantment. No one is suggesting that the peninsula wants to break away but a parting of hearts would do as much damage in the long run.

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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2018 18:47:55 IST

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