Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu has again rubbed the Telangana people on the wrong side. Triggering a war of words, Naidu on Sunday said it was NT Rama Rao (NTR), the TDP founder, who taught rice eating to the people of Telangana.
Launching a programme called ‘Intintiki Telugu Desam’ (TDP to Every Household) in Hyderabad, Naidu said Telangana people started eating rice only after NTR launched the Rs 2 per kg rice scheme in 1983. “Earlier people used to consume only millets such as Jonnaju (Sorghum), Ragulu (Ragi) and Sajjalu (Bajra). Rice became a part of their diet only with the launch of Rs 2 per kg rice scheme in1983,” he said.
Naidu took pride while narrating how the TDP brought modernity to Hyderabad, rice eating included, when NTR and he were chief ministers of the then united Andhra Pradesh.
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Struggling to revive the TDP in Telangana nine years after he left the state, Naidu has been heavily banking on the programmes as the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh he introduced two decades ago, for his comeback mission. While glorifying TDP’s rule, Naidu unwittingly stepped on a minefield when he said that Telangana people lived on porridge of millets until the NTR government brought rice to the region.
Insult to Telangana
The statement was taken by many as an insult to Telangana as it portrayed its people as culturally backward and eating millets was shown as a sign of underdevelopment.
Telangana Agriculture Minister Niranjan Reddy objected to Naidu’s remark and sought an apology for portraying the Telangana people as uncivilized. “Naidu’s statement shows the height of arrogance of an Andhra leader,” he fumed.
Recalling how such malice, insult and hatred heaped on Telangana was responsible for the statehood movement, the minister said historical evidence showed the existence of paddy cultivation in the region even in 11 century AD.
“Rice along with wheat, Sorghum, ginger, turmeric, onion and sugarcane were cultivated under a huge network of tanks built by the Kakatiya dynasty. Hyderabad has been known for its ‘dum biryani’ since 15th century,” Minister Niranjan Reddy said.
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Telangana Congress Senior Vice President and former MP Dr Mallu Ravi wondered how a former chief minister had resorted to judging a culture as under-developed or civilized by what its people consume. “Portraying rice eating as a civilization is an anti-Telangana mindset. Millets, the original staple of both Telangana and Andhra, are healthier compared to rice. The UN has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Does it mean that the world is going back to the age of under-development?” Dr Mallu asked.
Politics of rice
In fact, the credit for implementing the subsidized rice scheme in Andhra Pradesh goes to chief minister Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy (Congress) just before the 1983 assembly elections. He meant to supply rice at Rs 1.90 per kg for the poor. But Congress lost the election and NTR’s TDP stormed to power.
He relaunched the scheme selling rice at Rs 2 per kg on Ugadi day in April 1983. Later, the Congress came back to power in 1989. Chief Minister N Janardhan Reddy scrapped the scheme stating it affected the development of power and irrigation sectors. But NTR, who bounced back to power in 1994, reintroduced the scheme.
It was again scrapped in 1996 by none other than Chandrababu Naidu, who ousted NTR to become the chief minister in 1995. Naidu hiked the price of rice first to Rs. 3.50 per kg and later Rs 5.25 in 2000. But the scheme did not come to Naidu’s rescue in the 2004 election. Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy (Congress) formed the government and revived the scheme in 2008.
A report on Agricultural Statistics for 1940-41 to 1944-45 gives a clear picture of rice consumption and paddy cultivation in Telangana region. According to the report published by the Nizam’s government, Hyderabad state was ranked ninth among the rice growing provinces of India with a 1.5 percent (12,98,869 acres) of the rice-acreage of India.
With regard to irrigated crop of rice, Hyderabad state stood sixth amongst Indian provinces and states. The crop stood sixth among all the crops grown in Hyderabad; its share was 3.5 percent of total cultivated area and chiefly confined to Telangana (84.4 percent). The Nizam’s government used to import 10,102 tonnes of rice from Madras, Bombay and Punjab provinces.
Rice in Hyderabad
The report also gave reasons for people’s preference for millets over rice. “The rice is not a bread gram. As a food, rice is not equal to Jowar or Bajra as the grain is starchy and somewhat deficient in fat proteins. These deficiencies, however, give it excellent keeping quality in hot, humid climate. As a fodder crop it is far inferior to jowar, both in the quantity, quality of the straw which it yields as a result cattle in the districts devoted to rice growing are usually very inferior.”
Scholars disagree with Naidu’s rice theory. The crop was confined only to Krishna, Godavari and Penna deltas consisting Guntur, Krishna, East Godavari, West Godavari and Nellore districts. A few patches of rice cultivation do exist outside these districts where water is available under canals, tanks and wells.
Eating millets was not confined to Telangana alone. In Rayalaseema, Palnadu and North Coastal Andhra too millets such as Jowar, Ragi and Bajra were staple food. Even upper caste people including Brahmins ate porridge or a meal of millets. This was vividly narrated by noted historian Prof Vakulabharanam Ramakrishna in his Telugu memoir ‘Nannu Nadipinchina Charitra’ (History That Propelled Me).
In those days, elite and middle-class families alone ate rice. For the rest of the population, about 85 per cent, millets formed the main food. “As children we were fed with Sajja annam (Bajra meal) in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh,” the former professor from Hyderabad Central University said, stating that Telangana cannot be singled out for millet consumption.
What NTR did
Another historian, Adapa Satyanarayana, who taught history in Hyderabad’s Osmania University, said NTR’s rice scheme did herald a major shift in food habits of Andhra and Telangana by making cheap rice available to the poor.
“Till 1983, among lower strata of the society, rice consumption was almost nil. Rice was used sparingly on festive occasions. A kind of social prestige was associated with the rice which was not affordable by the poor. NTR’s Rs 2 rice scheme broke this barrier. Later, rice consumption grew, demand increased manifold leading to expansion of rice farming unbridled,” he said.
But scholars such as Prof Karli Srinivasulu from ICSSR, New Delhi, have a different take. They see NTR’s rice scheme as imposition of ruling class food culture on the areas where rice was not staple, leading to the destruction of the millet economy.
“Before 1983, chief ministers were from Rayalaseema which is also a dry region like Telangana. But NTR, having come from a rice surplus coastal region, thought of rice as a solution to poverty. While his scheme brought rice to millet zones, his period also witnessed huge influx of people from coastal Andhra to Telangana who popularized rice, rice products and cuisines suitable to rice consumption.
“Demand for rice coupled with minimum support price led to the expansion of paddy cultivation in Telangana as well. This drove the people to paddy cultivation by sinking lakhs of bore wells in Telangana which led to the destruction of native millet economy. Now, the ill effects are visible everywhere in Telangana,” Prof Srinivasulu said.
It is clear that Naidu’s statement on TDP bringing development and civilization to Telangana has not gone down well with the people of the new state. It was such belittling talk before the 2018 election in Telangana that prompted KCR to launch a successful anti-Andhra party campaign against Naidu who was part of Congress-led grand alliance. The result was a disaster to the TDP, which won just two out of 15 seats it contested. KCR’s TRS emerged victorious – its tally going up from 63 in 2014 to 88 in 2018.