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Uttarandhra under siege

Uttarandhra under siege
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The recent bickering of leaders in Visakhapatnam reminds us of how the destiny of Uttarandhra or Northern Circars is intimately connected with the...

The recent bickering of leaders in Visakhapatnam reminds us of how the destiny of Uttarandhra or Northern Circars is intimately connected with the skirmishes of settlers for control over the land and people from the time of Anglo-French wars in the South. It was Anand Gajapathi Raju who invited the English to occupy Northern Circars after the infamous war with the Bobbili dynasty in 1748.

Then it came under Nizam Osman Ali Khan who leased the area from Rajahmundry to Chicakole to Hasan Ali Khan in 1765. Thus, the region was always in turmoil. There seems to be some kind of historical vengeance against the people of Kalingandhra (part of great Kalinga or Mahadandaka) by the aliens who were prevented from entering the homeland of Native Indians from the time of the Rigveda; and the onslaught continued under the pretext of control over Dakshinapath by several white and blue emperors. The people of the area, however, remained recalcitrant and never followed the dictates of foreign powers. Why has this region remained like this?

My friend Chandu Subbarao, in his article on 'Dissent Culture and Protest Movements in North Andhra' in the South India Journal of Social Sciences, narrated how socio-economic factors were responsible for the first masterpiece in Telugu by Gurajada Appa Rao and how Gidugu Ramamurthy, his friend, became a crusader of spoken Telugu from the same region.

He has also drawn our attention to the contributions of Thapi Dharma Rao, Sri Sri, Ravi Sastry and others that remained a backdrop of agrarian struggles in the region. Yet, all this has remained as past glory of the region. Some scholars have recorded that representatives of the region between Godavari and Mahanadi had established colonies in East Asia while the North-western part of India was colonised by aliens.

Further, Northern Circars had perennial rivers and resources with hard working labour force with a culture of obligation to serve. This perhaps attracted several groups to settle here and marginalised the docile locals. One can notice the kind of valasas (passages) like Kothavalasa, Thallavalasa,etc., in every nook and corner of the region signifying how settlers landed here for succour and sustenance.

The leaders of the region, including the Prime Minister of Madras presidency and freedom fighters like PVG Raju, Gouthu Latchanna, Tenneti Viswanadham and several others, played a very significant role in the formation of Andhra Pradesh, including the decisive resolution demanding a separate State at the Andhra Mahasabha meeting in Visakhapatnam in 1915).

The problems of the region manifested around 1960s when the hegemony of coastal Andhra emerged and dissolved Uttarandhra under the weight of regional upsurge in the 1980s. Typical social categories in the form of OBCs got a lease of life and started linking with other equivalent castes elsewhere. This has had two kinds of effect: One, the isolated caste groups of the region merged with others in the State to yield some social power; two, identity of the region in terms of the unique social categories disappeared, making way for others to enter and interact with locals for social intercourse. This seems to have had an adverse impact on the identity of the region and finally made the locals junior partners in all economic, social and political developments.

The situation today in the Northern district, Srikakulam, is very gloomy as the senior most leader of the region who had a national presence died in a tragic accident and another competent leader is languishing in legal quagmire. There is a clear political vacuum in the district while the people, in their indomitable belligerent spirit, continue their struggles against contemporary prejudice of locating all polluting industries in the region. Neighbouring Vizianagaram, with newly emerging leadership both at the State and national level, seems to have been ostracised due to the stand on contentious issues.

The district is the most backward in Andhra Pradesh with one of the least populated and highest out-migration characters. There has been widespread unrest in the district in recent weeks due to scarcity of water and non-payment of wages under the NREGA. It is strange to see a district that was recorded as one of the most progressive in the implementation of the scheme is in the news for underpayment and delay of settlement of wages.

Visakhapatnam district was one of the largest during British India, witnessing the pre-mutiny events in the Navy. It is not yet systematically studied and recorded, as the jewel in the crown of East India Company. Visakha is the symbol of all that is known about Buddhist culture and history with a melancholic world view of the locals when they are exploited and cheated with a remark 'Etisestam Babu'.

The character of assimilation and nonchalant attitude of the locals became a fragile point for settlers to exploit and appropriate the land and resources at throwaway prices in the 1970s. It was later converted into real estate and the wealth was transferred to Hyderabad to capture the emerging opportunities under a new socio-economic dispensation. The Providence of the region had it that the same wealth was ploughed back here in the form of investments to pollute the entire region.

It is not weird to find that the pharmaceuticals that were discarded in the West due to pollution found their way via Hyderabad to settle in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam (Pidi Bhimavaram). The situation in North Andhra is so alarming that, though there has hardly been any report of industrial mishaps in Visakhapatnam in the past, it has witnessed around 5000 industrial fire accidents during 2006-2012.

It has been reported that 180 persons were killed in the accidents, and 356 were injured during the same period. It is a common sight in the region that scores of pedestrians or passengers are killed in road accidents due to crowd of commuters or unauthorised travel in trucks. Trucks and unlicensed transport vehicles are used by the poor for transport from remote, inaccessible places to centres of opportunities like Hyderabad, Howrah, Bhilai, etc.

It is strange that the region has not received any substantial industrial investment, except the discarded polluting industries like pharmaceuticals and thermal power on the coast. The neighbouring districts like East Godavari and coastal areas up to Nellore are industrialised, may be at the cost of North Andhra. It is alleged that leaders get elected from here but work for their native districts. It is a pity that the only flyover project of the city has remained a scar in the centre during the last five years.

The city, supposed to be the centre of North Andhra, is devoid of its local leader to raise the existential issues of common man. Is the situation ripe for another alien intervention?

The people of the area, however, remained recalcitrant and never followed the dictates of foreign powers. Why has this region remained like this?

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