The decision of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao to celebrate September 17, which marks the accession of erstwhile Hyderabad state with the Indian Union, as ‘Telangana National Integration Day’ appears to have taken fizz out of a sustained campaign by the BJP to politically exploit the issue.
In a clear move to embarrass KCR, as the Chief Minister is popularly known, on his home turf, the BJP government at the Centre had decided to organise official celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of what it calls Telangana Liberation Day.
At the main programme to be attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Union Ministry of Culture has invited the Chief Ministers of Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
In what is seen as a master stroke by KCR, the state Cabinet has announced year-long celebrations. However, KCR will be countering ‘Liberation Day’ with ‘National Integration Day’. The three-day celebrations beginning September 16 will see a number of programmes being organised across the state.
For the first time since Telangana came into existence, the day will witness official celebrations with the Chief Minister hoisting the national flag.
Political observer professor K. Nageshwar believes that KCR has successfully checkmated the BJP’s attempt to politically exploit September 17.
“BJP was aggressively demanding KCR to observe liberation and KCR was dilly-dallying. BJP had an issue. Now that KCR has also decided to observe, obviously an issue has been taken away from BJP,” he said.
On September 17, 1948, then Hyderabad state was merged with the Indian Union following India’s military action ‘Operation Polo’, popularly known as ‘police action’.
Like the previous governments of Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in undivided Andhra Pradesh, the TRS government in Telangana had rejected demands for officially celebrating the day in view of the reservations of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and other Muslim groups, who say that Muslims were massacred during the ‘police action’.
TRS, Congress and other parties celebrate September 17 every year as ‘Telangana Merger Day’ by hoisting the national flag and paying tributes to the freedom fighters.
BJP has been demanding for the last two decades that the day should be officially celebrated like in some districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka, which were part of the erstwhile Hyderabad state.
Being an emotive issue with the potential communal polarisation, the BJP has been aggressively pushing for official celebrations. At every public meeting, Amit Shah and other Central leaders of the BJP have been attacking KCR for not celebrating September 17 officially due to ‘fear of AIMIM’.
“Bring BJP to power in Telangana, we will celebrate the day officially in a grand manner,” Shah had told a public meeting in Munugode last month.
As the BJP was going aggressively to exploit the issue for gains in the next year’s elections, KCR came up with a new strategy to counter it.
Though the saffron party is claiming that it forced KCR for the official celebrations on September 17, KCR’s emphasis on national integration is seen as an attempt to send a message of unity in the face of the divisive politics of BJP.
Interestingly, the state Cabinet’s decision came a couple of hours after AIMIM, a friendly party of TRS, demanded that September 17 be celebrated as national integration day. AIMIM president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaiis wrote to both Amit Shah and KCR, suggesting that September 17 be celebrated as national integration day.
For the first time in its history, AIMIM also announced that it will celebrate September 17, although as national integration day. The party MLAs and other leaders will lead motorcycle rallies on September 16.
AIMIM had always maintained that there is only one Independence Day for the entire country and hence there is no need for separate celebrations in Telangana.
Owaisi also argued in his letters to both Amit Shah and KCR that Hindus and Muslims were advocates of a united India under a democratic, secular and republican government. This is also reflected in the Sunderlal Committee report.
The Committee was appointed by the Government of India to report on the situation after the merger of Hyderabad. The Committee found that mass violence was committed against common Muslims living in these territories. Owaisi attached a report of the committee with his letter.
It is also significant that the TRS government decided to organise the celebrations over the next one year. Programmes will be organised on three days (September 16-18) next year to mark the culmination of the year-long celebrations. Even if the Assembly elections are held as scheduled towards the end of next year, this would deny BJP an opportunity to politically capitalise on the issue in the run-up to the polls.
However, some analysts are of the view that by taking this decision, KCR has gone on the backfoot and the BJP may claim victory.
“After displaying his reluctance to observe September 17 as a day of prominence in Telangana history, KCR will start on the backfoot. On the other hand, BJP is setting the narrative when it comes to not just September 17 but on the entire political spectrum of Telangana,” said political analyst P. Raghavendra Reddy.
“The TRS government agreeing to celebrate National Integration Day indicates the pressure BJP has created on the issue,” he added.