Formation of Andhra Pradesh, 1956

At the time of independence in 1947, India consisted of 571 disjointed princely states that were merged together to form 27 states. The grouping of states at the time was done on the basis of political and historical considerations rather than on linguistic or cultural divisions, but this was a temporary arrangement. On account of the multilingual nature and differences that existed between various states, there was a need for the states to be reorganized on a permanent basis.

In 1948, SK Dhar – a judge of the Allahabad High Court – was appointed by the government to head a commission that would look into the need for the reorganization of states on a linguistic basis. However, the Commission preferred reorganisation of states on the basis of administrative convenience including historical and geographical considerations instead of on linguistic lines.

In December 1948, the JVP Committee comprising Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabh bhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya was formed to study the issue. The Committee, in its report submitted in April 1949, rejected the idea of reorgansation of states on a linguistic basis but said that the issue could be looked at afresh in the light of public demand.

 

Back in the 1920s, the Indian National Congress – the main party of the freedom struggle – had promised that once the country won independence, each major linguistic group would have its own province. However, after independence the Congress did not take any steps to honour this promise. For India had been divided on the basis of religion: despite the wishes and efforts of Mahatma Gandhi, freedom had come not to one nation but to two. As a result of the partition of India, more than a million people had been killed in riots between Hindus and Muslims.

That the Congress leaders would now go back on their promise created great disappointment. The Kannada speakers, Malayalam speakers, the Marathi speakers, had all looked forward to having their own state. The strongest protests, however, came from the Telugu-speaking districts of what was the Madras Presidency. When Nehru went to campaign there during the general elections of 1952, he was met with black flags and slogans demanding “We want Andhra”. In October of that year, a veteran Gandhian named Potti Sriramulu went on a hunger strike demanding the formation of Andhra state to protect the interests of Telugu speakers. As the fast went on, it attracted much support. Hartals and bandhs were observed in many towns.

On 15 December 1952, fifty-eight days into his fast, Potti Sriramulu died. As a newspaper put it, “the news of the passing away of Sriramulu engulfed entire Andhra in chaos”. The protests were so widespread and intense that the central government was forced to give in to the demand. Thus, on 1 October 1953, the new state of Andhra came into being, which subsequently became Andhra Pradesh.

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