Three days from today something outrageously extraordinary is scheduled to happen in Telangana, the newly created 29th State of the Union of India. On August 19, some four lakh ‘enumerators’ will be knocking on the doors of 84 lakh households across the state to collect data that has never ever been collected before by any authority in such a manner anywhere in the country.
The seriousness with which Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (C) is pursuing this so-called ‘enumeration’ is evident from the fact that a public holiday has been declared and public transport facilities suspended on August 19. Pic/AFP
All residents will be asked to provide details of their source (or sources) of income, bank accounts, property, ownership documents, caste certificates and since when they have been residing in what is now known as Telangana. There is understandable panic among the people, especially those who can be identified as ‘migrants’ from what remains of Andhra Pradesh and other states of the Union of India.
The seriousness with which Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is pursuing this so-called ‘enumeration’ is evident from the fact that a public holiday has been declared and public transport facilities suspended on August 19. Petrol stations will remain closed. Even newspapers may have to cease publication for the day. The idea, chillingly so, seems to be to immobilise people so that they do not escape scrutiny by the ‘enumerators’
As I said, nothing so grotesque has ever been attempted by any state government before this. Once the details are available, we could well expect households being marked and individuals identified as ‘migrants’ being targeted. That is how a runaway state goes about the sinister task of getting rid of those whom it considers ‘unwanted’.
This is how rogue leaders deal with those whom they consider to be ‘undesirable’.
For the record, the TRS regime has denied that the ‘enumeration’ is prompted by any ill intention or malicious motive. It says the purpose is to weed out bogus claimants and spurious beneficiaries of social welfare programmes, including scholarships. On the face of it, the reason sounds legitimate. If those who are not eligible for welfare grants are excluded, there can be nothing objectionable.
The Telangana Government’s extraordinary order on holding the ‘enumeration’ was challenged in the High Court. The petitioners had questioned the state government’s right to demand and secure information open to abuse and misuse. Indeed, the very premise of the ‘enumeration’ was questioned.
The law officers of the TRS regime told the court that such fears were misplaced as participating in the ‘enumeration’ is not mandatory and people can refuse to provide the details that are being sought. The High Court, in its wisdom, has accepted the explanation and allowed the ‘enumeration’ exercise to proceed.
We must not, however, be persuaded by the TRS regime’s explanations or clarifications. They are at once spurious and misleading. The ‘enumeration’ is aimed at creating a register of ‘Telangana citizens’ so that the rest can be excluded from government benefits that are rightfully theirs.
Worse, if the attitude of the chief minister and his party colleagues is any indication, those who fail to make the mark as ‘Telangana citizens’ will be made to feel unwelcome. There are several ways of doing this; anti-outsider politics, whether in Assam or Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir or Bihar, is socially corrosive and implicitly violent.
A pattern of exclusive, parochial politics is emerging in Telangana, premised on hate of the ‘outsider’. I have written about the unwholesome utterances of senior leaders of the TRS, among them the chief minister’s daughter, who also happens to be a Member of Parliament, that not only labels those living in Telangana as ‘original residents’ and ‘immigrants’ but also hark back to the times when the Nizam refused to merge ‘his’ Hyderabad state with the Union of India and the Army had to be sent in.
This is not about needless alarmism, which no doubt, should be shunned. This is about flagging concerns about a political party whose intentions remain opaque and which, if put into practice, could cause tremendous upheaval with disastrous consequences. It may not be too early for the Union Government to read out the riot act to the TRS and caution the chief minister against embarking on a misadventure.
Unless potential mischief is nipped in the bud, others may be tempted to emulate similar ‘enumerations’ to segregate the wanted from the unwanted, separate the insider from the outsider. Once it secures political acceptance, such odious parochialism that flies in the face of the principle enshrined in the Constitution that India belongs to Indians will gain legitimacy.
Hopefully the Union Government is listening.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta