Telangana The Twenty-Ninth What Next?
Telangana as the twenty-ninth state of India is a reality now and as expected it has launched a million mutinies (with apologies to Naipaul) almost instantly. First, within the existing state of Andhra Pradesh there are celebrations by the protagonists of Telangana and violent protests from the advocates of a united Andhra. All the existing active and dormant demands for statehood have suddenly come to the fore. Parties and leaders who have made occasional noises about one or the other state, have suddenly become vocal regarding their own dream state, even about larger schemes of reorganising big states. That small states would lead to better governance is also being reiterated; after all, some Indian states are bigger than many European countries. BJP which created three states—Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand—in ad hoc fashion is now stressing the need for a second States Reorganisation Commission.
However, it is the Congress, which at the moment is counting its votes as general election as well as election to the state assembly approach in less than a year. That the Congress has resisted the demand for bifurcating Andhra Pradesh is well known. The Shrikishna Committee that submitted its report in early 2011 did not really present a clear solution. Even though the issue was either to bifurcate existing Andhra Pradesh creating Telangana or to allow status quo to prevail at whatever cost. The committee, which some said was deliberately obfuscating the issue on instructions from the government, suggested six options, of which it declared three as unworkable (why then give such options at all!). Six possible solutions suggested by the Committee were status quo, bifurcation with Hyderabad as UT, bifurcation into Rayal-Telangana with Hyderabad as the capital and coastal Andhra (each one of them unworkable!), bifurcation into Seemandhra and Telangana with enlarged Hyderabad as a UT, bifurcation into Telangana and Seemandhra as per existing boundaries with Hyderabad as capital of Telangana and unified Andhra with constitutional/statutory measures for empowerment of Telangana region (each of these as workable options). The committee suggested the last one as the most workable option, while the Telanganites are rooting for the last but one, i.e., bifurcation into Telangana and Seemandhra as per existing boundaries with Hyderabad as capital of Telangana.
Indeed, they have succeeded, but it is neither rationale for a separate Telangana, howsoever strong that was, nor logic of a smaller state, that has worked. The Congress and the UPA have entirely been governed by their poll calculations. What must not be ignored in this case, as it may come into play in other cases of statehood demands too, is that weakening of political parties as institutions of representation and governance at each level in Indian polity. The rise of state level leadership with their own dreams of power being pursued under political outfits that resemble political parties but have weak democratic roots and moorings (this is not to assert that the politywide parties are more democratic) and the stage of politics in India has shifted from the national to the states. Neither the national parties, most of which have ceased to have national reach (this applies to the Congress as well), nor the state based parties that initiate, support or oppose such demands, have a consistent position on redrawing India’s internal map. In each case it is based on narrow consideration of region and votes.
Motilal Nehru Committee (August 1928) recommended linguistic provinces on the following ground: If a province has to educate itself and do its daily work through the medium of its own language, it must necessarily be a linguistic area, It happens to be a polyglot area difficulties will continually arise and the media of instructions and work will be two or even more languages. Hence it becomes most desirable for provinces to be regrouped on a linguistic basis. Language, as a rule, corresponds with a variety of culture, of traditions, and literature. In a linguistic area all these factors will help in the general progress of the province.
The States Reorganisation Commission partly followed the linguistic principle. No wonder, two major contestations arose within five years of the reorganisation of states—the Bombay state (bifurcation to Gujarati and Marathi speaking) and the Punjab (creation of a Punjabi Suba, which meant separating Hindi speaking areas). Neither was created with any ease; violence followed in each case. In fact, bifurcation of the erstwhile Bombay witnessed resignation of C.D. Deshmukh from the Union Cabinet and titanic clash of rhetoric between Nehru and Deshmukh in Parliament. Nehru opposed, though unsuccessfully, till the last this bifurcation expressing his disapproval of the principle that the committee headed by his father had enunciated over three decades ago.
The logic of reorganisation of Indian states since then, which happened again and again since 1956 in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and now in 2010s, which still has over seven years in it with many more demands knocking the door of the Indian government, has been mixed. Regionalism, ethnicity, underdevelopment (which was talked about in the case of Telangana too), small for better governance and some unstated assertions, all have been and are being used to demand a new state with one name or the other. On closer scrutiny we also see some leaders (and their parties) who are otherwise unable to make a political space for themselves to have a slice of power pie moving around with a new state flag and waving it occasionally. No wonder, some wagging tongues have been pointing out that Telangana Rashtra Samithi President K. Chandrashekar Rao, is a creation of the Congress, who eventfully used the platform to create a space for himself; in the process he created a new state. I was visiting Hyderabad in April 2012 when I talked to the driver of the taxi I was travelling in. From Telangana, he strongly advocated formation of the state. I asked him what if the state was not created, he smiled and said disarmingly: ‘Nothing, we would continue like this.’ Experts there explained to me that this was not an isolated but widespread feeling. We need to remind ourselves of these developments in order to consider portents and pontificate on solutions. It is no one’s case that in case India needs smaller states or a particular geographical formation as a state it should not happen. The issue is lack of clarity both in the popular realm and at political and administrative levels. The Shrikrishna Commission Report exemplifies this state of puzzlement at the official level, which simultaneously obfuscates, politicizes and gives a sense of solution that is temporary at the best.
In recent times, there have been calls for a separate state of Vidarbha, due to perceived neglect from the government of Maharashtra and incompetent political leadership. The region holds 21.3 per cent of total population of Maharashtra and owns of two-third of mineral resources of the state and is a net producer of power
Statehood demand of Telegana has revived agitation of Gorkhaland. The leaders of Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) are demanding to carve a separate state for the people of Gorkha ethnic origin. Earlier GJM reached an agreement with the West Bengal state government to form a semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration to administer the Darjeeling hills
The demand for a separate state of Bodoland in Assam might gain momentum after the bifurcation of Telengana from Andhra Pradesh. The demand is to carve out eight districts namely Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup, Darang and Sonitpur for the Bodo people. This movement lost its colour after an agreement between the three players: Centre, Assam and Bodo Liberation Tigers
Demands are made by people, for a long time now, for bifurcation of Uttar Pradesh in four parts out of which carving Bundelkhand out is of most importance. As CM, BSP chief Mayawati had supported the notion to create Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand out of Uttar Pradesh
While studying India’s rural development American political scientist Marcus Franda titled his book as Small is Politics (1979). He demonstrated how vested interests at the smallest level made developmental interventions into politics rather than making it beautiful in any particular sense of the word. The experience of small states in recent years has been mixed; obviously some small is turning into politics as well. While Chhatisgarh has stabilized, Jharkhand represents political instability at its worst. High level of corruption in the mineral rich state that always accused Bihar of robbing the tribal population of the region of royalties of its wealth shows that its own leaders are outdoing Bihar in robbing the poor tribal population of their wealth. Indeed, this is no one’s case that on this basis new states should not be created in the country. What is being argued here is that pure partisan politics must not dictate formation of new states in the country.
New states have costs and benefits. First cost of new states would elite based expenditure. A new state would need to support an elaborate rigmarole and paraphernalia of politico-administrative structure that is based on colonial structure. Administrative units get smaller, but each needs to be supported by an army of support staff that is avoidable. Political elites first attempt to secure facilities for themselves then only look at policy initiatives. Let us not forget that in many of the smallest states this eats into their own revenue and budget. Indeed, benefits of small cohesive administration cannot be ignored, but in many cases it is not balanced out.
Two sets of demands for states are being pressed at present. One set of demands are from the northeast, which already has several small states. Rich in diversity of indigenous population, each group is seeking a new homogenous state. Should formation of states focus on homogeneity? Would it not increase intolerance which has already surfaced in several parts of the country? Second set of demand are in rest of the country. Breaking Uttar Pradesh in three or more states, where demand for a Bundelkhand state, a region that straddles both UP and MP, for the backward region is alive for some time, has been argued on several occasions. Carving out Vidarbha from Maharashtra is another strong demand. Coorg is seeking being scooped out from Karnataka. There are some ferments in Odisha too. Should each one of these be attended in partisan and ad hoc fashion, or should we have a considered approach with some national debate on attendant issues. We cannot allow such demands to lead to xenophobia, even exclusion, of any kind violating the fundamental right of movement of citizens within the country.
(Boxes compiled by Rohan Pal)
By Ajay K Mehra