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The martyr of Telugu statehood


He quit his job in the Great India Peninsular Railway in 1927 to join Mahatma Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement. He enrolled in Sabarmati Ashram, participated in various agitations along with the Mahatma and earned the latter's appreciation. Seeing his grit and determination and pursuing things till their logical end, the Mahatma had remarked, "India would have attained Independence long back, if only it had a few stalwarts like him".

That was, `Amarajeevi' Potti Sriramulu, who had sacrificed his life for the sake of statehood for Andhra. He took up the emancipation of Harijans as a crusade. He went on a fast and succeeded in getting entry to the dalits into the Venugopala Swami Templ in Nellore. He established the "Hindu Sanskarana Samithi", a voluntary organisation and worked relentlessly for the uplift of Harijans and for eradication of untouchability.

Born to Potti Guravayya and Mahalakshmamma in Madras on March 16, 1901, Sriramulu had his education in Madras. His ancestors, who belonged to Guntur district, had migrated to Madras in search of greener pastures. He did his diploma in sanitary engineering from the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute in Bombay. He worked in the G.I.P. Railway in Madras and Bombay for four years for a salary of Rs.250 a month.

In 1928, his wife gave birth to a child and died. Within a few days, the baby also died, leaving him grief-stricken. The subsequent death of his mother made him lose interest in worldly pursuits and paved the way for his entry into and active involvement in the non-violent movements led by Gandhiji.

He participated in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and underwent imprisonment. He took an active part in the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was jailed along with the Mahatma. In response to the call given by Gandhiji to serve the villagers, who constitute 70 per cent of the population, he enrolled in the Gandhi Ashram set up by Yerneni Subrahmanyam near Komaravolu village in Krishna district and spread the Gandhian philosophy.

Following the assassination of the Mahatma, Sriramulu was appointed director of the Gandhi Memorial Fund for Andhra. He was disappointed at the poor response from the Telugus to the cause. He also found the response to the Bhoodan movement, Gandhi Trust and Kasturba Trust was lukewarm. He contended that the poor response was due to the absence of a separate state for Andhras and decided to strive for it.

The demand for a separate state for Andhras first came up in 1910. Several Telugus were jailed during the `Vande Maataram' agititation. At that time, some of them underlined the need for a separate state. The demand gained momentum in the convention held at Nidadavolu in Krishna district in 1912.

The demand was also raised in the subsequent conventions held at Bapatla in Guntur district, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. The Congress Working Committee at its meeting held under the leadership of Annie Besant passed a resolution approving the division of states on linguistic basis.

The British Government, however, rejected the demand. The Dhar Commission, which was appointed by the Central Government after Independence on August 15, 1947 rejected the idea of formation of linguistic states. It felt that the Telugu pockets in Madras State could be considered as a separate state. The Dhar report was opposed by the people. Sensing the mood of the people, the All-India Congress Committee at its meeting at Jaipur in 1948, appointed Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Pattabhi Seetharamayya to look into the demand. The committee suggested that barring Madras, the remaining Telugu speaking areas could be linked to form a separate Andhra state. The Telugus were not prepared to part with Madras.

On August 15, 1951, Swamy Seetharam launched a fast-unto-death for achieving the demand for a separate Andhra state. The Central Government did not take notice of the agitation. The fast continued for 35 days. Sensing danger, Acharya Vinobha Bhave apprised Nehru of the situation. The two leaders met Seetharam and made him give up the fast, promising to get statehood for Andhra. Nehru, however, did not keep his promise.

Potti Sriramulu decided to undertake a fast-unto-death. He began the fast in the house of Bulusu Sambamurthy in Madras city on October 19, 1952. Several people thought that this would be another fast that would be given up after some days. After 20 days his health deteriorated.

Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu used to visit the hunger-strike camp daily and inquire about his health. The Gandhian, Yerneni Subrahmanyam, used to shed tears secretly seeing his plight. Though Sriramulu became physically weak, he was mentally strong and declined to give up his fast.

On the 56th day, he passed into a coma and a couple of days later, he developed breathing problems. On December 15, 1952, Sriramulu breathed his last, after 58 days of fasting. On the intimation of Yerneni Subrahmanyam, the legendary singer, Ghantasala, and freedom-fighter and singer, Moparru Dasu, rushed to the place. They composed and rendered a song in honour of the immortal leader.

The body was taken in a procession. When the procession reached Mount Road, thousands of people joined and raised slogans hailing Sriramulu. Later, they went into a frenzy and resorted to destruction of public property. The news spread like wildfire and created an uproar among the people in far off places like Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Eluru, Guntur, Tenali, Ongole and Nellore.

Seven people were killed in police firing in Anakapalle and Vijayawada. The popular agitation continued for three to four days disrupting normal life in Madras and Andhra regions. On December 19, 1952, Nehru, agreed to grant statehood to Andhras.

The State of Andhra was formed on October 1, 1953, with Kurnool as its capital. On November 1, 1956, Andhra Pradesh was formed with Hyderabad as its capital.

The statue of this selfless leader has been installed on Beach Road.

B.M.G.

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