By Thallapelli Praveen
Self-Respect has become a buzzword in Telangana with Etala Rajender led new developments in Telangana Politics. With the rumours and allegations of land grabbing against Etala, the K. Chandra Shekar Rao (KCR)-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government in Telangana sacked Etala from his Ministry. Initially, Etala opined that the Chief Minister might have taken his Ministry to control the second wave of Covid-19. Television channels and newspapers ran the land grab story, again and again. Etala was forced to conduct a long press conference clarifying that he hadn’t grabbed any land and appealed to the TRS government to conduct an inquiry into the issue either by the government or the High Court of Telangana. He also recalled all his roles within the Telangana movement for statehood, TRS, his experiences and relationship of working with KCR, from the early 2000s to 2021. The takeaway from Etala’s episode is the question of Self-Respect and the working style of KCR as Dora that won’t spare anyone who critiques or grows out of the shadow of KCR. Why is Etala talking of Self-Respect? Is he deprived of his self-respect? In what ways, can he restore his Self-Respect?
Before any commission of enquiry was constituted, KCR had decided to remove Etala. This made Etala think of his political existence and he made it into a question of his Self-Respect.
In the Telangana movement, the TRS leaders argued, many a time, that against the (political) dominance of Andhra and Rayalaseema they were demanding for a state of Telangana, invoking the idea of Self-Respect. This was considered with seriousness in the last phase of the Telangana movement from 2004 to 2014. It is ironic to see that KCR and TRS caught up in hurting the Self-Respect of one of its own leaders, Etala. Neither KCR nor TRS has responded to Etala’s claim of his hurt Self-Respect. This leaves us with a question: what is TRS’s understanding of the politics of Self-Respect?
What Etala claims to us is that he is worthy of respect politically. He has measured his respect in relation to reason and the nature of state under KCR-led TRS. So, Etala’s response to KCR is reasoned out both politically and personally or to put in other words it is both subjective and objective. Disrespecting a fellow Being is to cause hurt, or to put in the words of Cornell West, it is ‘Ontological Wounding’. Etala claims that his Self-Respect and (public) image as a politician in Telangana is hurt by KCR. He sends a message that he is a political equal that KCR can’t afford to mess with.
Nowhere did Etala speak for the so many other expelled and sidelined leaders of TRS starting from Ale Narendra, Vijaya Shanthi, Raghunandan Rao, Manda Rajaiah, Kadiam Srihari and many others, thereby discarding the Self-Respect of ‘others’. This isn’t the ontological premise of Self-Respect, as irrespective of the life of the Being, the Being has to respect his/her counterparts and ‘other’ Being[s].
From Ale Narendra to Etala Rajender, the inner party democracy of TRS is too distant for its members and it is quite evident to us. Until 2021, Etala never questioned the aristocratic and feudal functioning of KCR-led TRS.
Etala went to his assembly constituency Huzurabad and conducted meetings with his supporters and sympathizers. He signalled that he was willing to resign as MLA and recontest. He suggested that KCR should resign as MLA and contest again. Etala challenged KCR that they both contest against each other in the constituencies. He gave a message and warning to KCR that he wasn’t delving into self-deception, before the party or its boss. For Etala, resigning and contesting only to win against any TRS candidate or KCR is the restoration of his Self-Respect. Here, Etala is willing to leave his politics of Self-Respect to the electoral mandate of the voters of his constituency. Can the people of Telangana ask Etala why respect becomes important only for the Self and not for the Fellow Beings or the Others? Or will they be lost in the political drama?
Borrowing the words of Gopal Guru (2009), one can argue that Etala questioning KCR and TRS is the ‘rejection of rejection’. This rejection of rejection isn’t an ethical rejection as Etala only spoke of Self-Respect when it came to the sacking of him from the Telangana state cabinet. So, what is ethical rejection? Here, for Etala, ethical rejection of KCR and TRS would mean not maintaining status quo politics of the party and government, as status quo politics rejects the democratic demands of the people, and a) to address the demands of the Telangana state formation, b) to stand up for the expelled leaders of TRS at the right time by seeing to it that democratic exercises are practiced, c) to challenge the decisions that were taken for the convenience of KCR.
Treating the Self and Fellow Being in an equal respect is ethical praxis. This equal respect is missing in Etala. In the politics of Self-Respect presented by Etala, universality is missing. Politics of Self-Respect is a continuous exercise where the Self and the Fellow Being and Other are all equal and central. A non-universal politics of Self-Respect will lead to the antithesis of the very idea of Self-Respect.
Interestingly for the first time, in the last 20 years, Etala spoke of KCR as Dora and went on to argue that the very idea of Dora is feudal and against people. In Telangana, Dora is a term used for Caste Hindu Feudal landlords – mostly Brahmin and Velma castes that enforced bonded slavery on the Dalit, Adivasi, and Backward Classes communities. The resurgence of feudalism in the name of Telangana regionalism by KCR and TRS is the main thrust of Telangana politics now. Telangana movement way back in the 1940s and 50s fought against Feudal Castes – this could be considered as the only successful armed struggle in India. It was repeated in the 1970s, 80s and 90s with the major involvement of the radical left. Major part of the Telangana movement was against Dora (Feudal lords). Inukonda Thirumal’s thesis ‘Against Dora Against Nizam’ (2003), on the first phase of Telangana movement, argued that the people of Telangana managed to fight Dora and Nizams at the same time to put a halt to feudalism in Telangana. In the last phase of the Telangana movement, Kancha Ilaiah, Balladeer Gaddar, Visharadan and others argued, the Telangana state will reinstate Caste Feudalism of Velma Dora-led by KCR; none paid heed to them. Ilaiah, Gaddar, Visharadan and few others critically argued whether the marginalised masses after the state formation would be treated as social and political equals or whether they run behind KCR-led TRS. The questions posed by the scholars involve questions of ‘Social Contract’. On these questions, the Telangana society will definitely be forced to think in the future, if not in the immediate. The 1990s Telangana movement led by Maroju Veeranna and his associates argued for a Bahujana Telangana and they put out their demands in the famous ‘Suryapet Declaration’ (1997) in a public meeting at Suryapet that was attended by not less than 10,000 people. Observing the state of nature and revival of feudalism, after the formation of Telangana state, Kancha Ilaiah wrote the Telugu book Feudalism Malli Vachindi (Feudalism has come back again) in 2014. This book unfortunately did not lead to political discussions and deliberations as the Telangana society was too occupied with itself over the formation of the Telangana state and any criticality wasn’t its subject matter then. Caste violence and political hegemony of TRS after Telangana attained statehood only affirm that Feudalism resurfaced in the name of Telangana.
It has to be noted that Etala was a student activist of the People’s Democratic Students Union (PDSU), a left-wing students organisation that stood against Feudalism in the Telugu region. Therefore, it is an irony that Etala chose to work with KCR’s TRS, despite so many people warning that KCR would reinstate feudalism in Telangana. Perhaps, we could consider that the garb of regionalism and demand for statehood didn’t allow Etala to think of the resurfacing of feudalism and feudal caste hegemony.
Telangana Politics now has the opportunity to work against feudalism and feudal casteism. For this, the anti-caste movement of Telangana has to ignite. Etala alone won’t be able to handle the tactics of KCR and TRS.
The Non-Brahmin movement under Periyar held Self-Respect to be their primary political question. Here, there was a Communitarian aspiration for Self-Respect against the Brahmin enforced Brahmanism and Feudalism of Tamil Nadu. Both the Self and the Community are central in the Non-Brahmin movement’s Politics of Self-Respect. Periyar considered the questions of women and those subjugated under caste and hegemonic nationalism as equivalent to his questions. Can Etala Rajender’s politics of Self-Respect consider the questions of those whose Self-Respect is under stake because of Caste, Patriarchy and Communalism?
The question of Self-Respect occupies a predominant position in anti-caste politics. Etala’s Politics of Self-Respect isn’t the same as that of the Self-Respect Politics led by the anti-caste movement. Etala speaking of Self-Respect is a survival strategy for his politics.
Political analysts and politicians of Telangana are of the opinion that there will be a change and new beginning in Telangana Politics. The unchanged and stagnant lives of Telangana people do need a change. Etala, at this moment, cannot offer change with vague presentation of Self-Respect politics. Etala has to bite the dust and go to Periyar, Phule and Ambedkar to speak on Self-Respect and then vouch for a change. This denotes that he has to accept the errors that he saw happening in the TRS party and the government executed by KCR.
Thallapelli Praveen, PhD Candidate, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067.
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