Telangana & Interrogating Autonomy
The five-member Srikrishna Commission’s report on Telangana, coming after ten months of deliberations, without really offering a definite solution to this five decade old tangle, deserves introspection by the entire nation to seek a more stable reconfiguration of India in a globalised world. Partisanship apart, it gives India another opportunity to interrogate autonomy under the umbrella of sovereignty of India.
Indeed, with the Congress leaders—even the parliamentarians and the legislators—from the region also on protest path in chorus with Telangana protagonist parties and leaders, popular and political resolve for realising the dream for another new state is far greater now. That the Commission has discovered fallacies in the argument of underdevelopment of Telangana vis-à-vis Andhra in face of evidence for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, complicates the issue on the one hand, and on the other offers an opportunity to the Indian society, polity, the governments at the centre and in the states and the entire spectrum of political parties to put on their thinking caps on the issue resolving India’s long winding autonomy tangle.
Though Home Minister P Chidambaram pinned his hopes on larger participation in January 6, 2011 all-party meeting, clarifying that the meeting would focus only on the report, non-cooperation by the TRS, TDP and BJP spoilt his party before it began and the meeting has been postponed to the third week of January. Whether Congress would succeed in ensuring presence of all its parliamentarians and legislators from the region in the meeting, who recently fell at the feet of the party leaders to grant the new state to save them and the party from the impending political doom, remains to be seen.
Given the hexagram options proposed by the Commission a concrete result appears illusive. The Commission itself has found the first three available options—status quo, bifurcation with Hyderabad as UT and bifurcation into Rayal-Telangana with Hyderabad and coastal Andhra—unworkable. Of the three workable options—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—the committee finds the last one as the most workable option, while the Telanganites are rooting for the last but one. Obviously, the politics over the fate of Andhra Pradesh has just been put in top gear. The Shrikrishna Commission’s dilemma should not be rejected as razor-edge walking; we would face such predicament in attending to many such claims.
Interestingly, another Telugu speaking state would go against the principle of linguistic states discussed since the Motilal Nehru Committee report of 1929 and would further sharpen debates on principles on which regional autonomy in India is and should be organised. Though the UPA government is adopting a path of least resistance by discussing the report with the opposition in taking a decision, we can only hope that the process and its consequences are not laced with partisanship. Already regional outfit Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which joined the UPA-I in the hope of a Telangana state, walked out on being ‘betrayed’ on the ‘promise’, reignited the demand with a ‘successful’ eleven-day (December 9-20, 2009) hunger strike by its leader K Chandrashekhar Rao, only recently offered to merge with the Congress in bargain for the state, has threatened to boycott the proposed all party meet; and so has the national opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Several leaders and political activists in Telangana have warned of agitation if the report does not guarantee the state. The nation has to wait and watch if prospects of dialogue are still open in the proposed all-party meet. Also, if there is any fall out on other such demands, particularly on Gorkhaland, which continues to be far more militant autonomy demand than any other in the country.
Even as the Indian republic celebrated its diamond jubilee in 2010 and 55 years have passed since the Fazal Ali Commission Report on reorganisation of states created fourteen states and seven union territories, the principle for drawing the internal boundary of the country and the question of situating autonomy within the Indian sovereignty remains opaque, ad hoc and acutely ridden with partisanship. Too preoccupied with India’s integrity following Partition, the Constituent Assembly subordinated autonomy to sovereignty. When the Constituent Assembly met after the Partition, Nehru, who in his objectives resolution on while the states did get autonomy under the Union Government, local autonomy got lost in Ambedkar’s belief: ‘What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness, and communalism(.)’ and was subordinated to scheming state leaders beginning 1960s.
At the second layer of federalism, the number of states has been doubled since the reorganisation of states in1956, a mini reorganisation having taken place in each following decade—1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. The second decade of the millennium is opening with the prospect of a Telangana state. Whether it gives fillip to demands for Gorkhaland, Vidarbha, Bundelkhand, trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh and several in the north-east is to be seen. However, autonomy at the local level continues to be at the mercy of states despite the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments. Other faultlines are also emerging in ensuring the autonomy of the local in the country.
Fearing linguistic majoritarianism in linguistic states Nehru asked in an article in The Times of India on April 23, 1953: ‘In a linguistic state what would remain for the smaller communities to look to? Can they hope to be elected to the Legislature? Can they hope to maintain a place in the state service?’ He recommended a system of ‘checks and balances’. His opposition to the creation of Maharashtra and the Punjabi Suba is well documented. His impassioned debate with CD Deshmukh in the Lok Sabha against bifurcation of the state of Bombay ranks as one of the finest parliamentary speeches.
It is in this larger perspective that we need to interrogate the emerging Telangana politics and discourse. The demand for Telangana consisting of nine districts—Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal, Khammam, Nalgonda, Mahaboobnagar, Medak, Nizamabad, Hyderabad, Rangareddy—of the north western region of Andhra Pradesh. The region covers 98,811 sq km of the total 2,75,000 sq km of the state and has a population of 23,873,307 (1971) of the state’s population of 76,210,007, making it nearly one-third of the state. Even when an Andhra state was constituted in 1953, demand for Vishalandhra and Telangana coexisted. Nehru visualised a ‘tint of expansionist imperialism’ in merging Telangana with Andhra, but when the SRC recommended the merger despite a leaning for a separate Telangana, he described it as a matrimonial alliance having ‘provisions for divorce’ if the partners in the alliance cannot get on well.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SRIKRISHNA COMMITTEE REPORT
The Justice Srikrishna Committee report that was presented after eleven months of consultation process by the five-member committee headed by former Supreme Court judge was released by the Union Home Ministry on January 6, 2011. The report places before the government several options rather than recommendations on how to handle the three parts of the state: Coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema. The 461-page report recommended six options including the creation of a separate Telangana state with Hyderabad as its capital, and keeping Andhra Pradesh united with constitutional and statutory measures for empowerment of the Telangana region. The Committee Report on Consultations on the situation in Andhra Pradesh was headed by Justice BN Srikrishna (retd) former judge, Supreme Court of India. The members of the committee included: Prof Ranbir Singh, Vice Chancellor, National Law University, Delhi; Dr Abusaleh Shariff, Chief Economist /Senior Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research, Delhi; and Prof Ravinder Kaur, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT, Delhi. Vinod Kumar Duggal, IAS (retd), former Home Secretary, Government of India, was the member secretary. The report has also suggested maintaining status quo with a rider that it is the least favoured option. The report states: “The Committee discussed all aspects of this option and while it acknowledges that there will be certain difficulties in its implementation, on balance, it found it the most workable option in the given circumstances and in the best interest of the social and economic welfare of the people of all the three regions.” In its 461-page report (along with Volume II containing Appendices), the Committee has examined in great detail the following issues :
(i) Developments in Andhra Pradesh – A Historical Background
(ii) Regional Economic and Equity Analysis
(iii) Education and Health
(iv) Water Resources, Irrigation and Power Development
(v) Public Employment Issues
(vi) Issues Relating to Hyderabad Metropolis
(vii) Sociological and Cultural Issues
Based on the analysis of the above parameters the Committee has examined in detail the issues pertaining to current demand for a separate State of Telangana as well as the demand for maintaining the present status of keeping the State united.
The Committee states that a possible split in the state should be seen in a larger context. “The division of the state will also have serious implications outside Andhra Pradesh. It would not only give fillip to other similar demands but it will be for the first time after the re-organisation of states that a political demand for dividing a linguistically constituted state would have conceded by the Union Government with creation of two Telugu-speaking states,” the report said.
One of the options for which political parties spearheaded by TRS have been campaigning, the Committee opined bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into two units—Telangana and Seemandhra as per existing boundaries. Telangana will have Hyderabad as capital, while Seemandhra, comprising Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra regions, will have a new capital. In the option for keeping the state united, the Committee has suggested that there should be simultaneous provision of certain constitutional and statutory measures for socio-economic development and political empowerment of Telangana region by creation of a statutorily-empowered Telangana Regional Council.
Another option is to bifurcate the state into Seemandhra and Telangana with Hyderabad as a Union Territory and the two states developing their own capitals in due course. Bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Rayala-Telangana and coastal Andhra regions with Hyderabad being an integral part of Rayala-Telangana is another option suggested by the Committee. Yet another idea is to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh into Seemandhra and Telangana with enlarged Hyderabad Metropolis as a separate Union Territory. This Union Territory will have geographical linkage and contiguity via Nalgonda district in the south-east to Guntur district in coastal Andhra and via Mahaboobnagar district in the south to Kurnool district in Rayalaseema. Bifurcation of the state into Telangana and Seemandhra as per existing boundaries with Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana and Seemandhra to have a new capital is proposed. According to the Committee, this option has to be given consideration. The continuing demand for a separate Telangana has some merit and is not entirely justified. In case this option is exercised the apprehensions of the coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema people and others who were settled in Hyderabad and other districts of Telangana with regard to their investments, properties, livelihood and employment would need to be adequately addressed. Considering all aspects, the Committee suggested that while creation of separate Telangana would satisfy a large majority of the people from the region, it would also throw up several serious problems.
Therefore, after taking into account the pros and cons the Committee did not think it to be most preferred, but the second best option. Separation is recommended only in case it is unavoidable and if decision can be reached amicably amongst all the three regions. Keeping the state united by simultaneously providing certain definite constitutional/statuary measures for socio-economic development and political empowerment of Telangana region-creation of a statutorily-empowered Telangana Regional Council. “In this option, it is proposed to keep the state united and provide constitutional/statuary measures to address the core socio-economic concerns about the development of the Telangana region.” This can be done through the establishment of a statutorily-empowered Telangana Regional Council with adequate transfer of funds, functions and functionaries. The regional council will provide a legislative consultative mechanism for the subjects to be dealt with by the Council. The united Andhra option is being suggested for continuing the development momentum of the three regions and keeping in mind the national perspective. With firm political and administrative management it should be possible to convey conviction to the people that this option would be in the best interest of all and would provide satisfaction to the maximum number of the people in the state.
“It would also take care of the uncertainty over the future of Hyderabad as a bustling, educational, industrial and IT hub/destination”. For management of water and irrigation resources on an equitable basis, a technical body, i.e., Water Management Board and an Irrigation Project Development Corporation in expanded role have been recommended. This action should meet all the issues raised by Telangana people satisfactorily. “The committee discussed all aspects of this option and while it acknowledges that there will be certain difficulties in its implementation, on balance, it found it the most workable option in the given circumstances and in the best interest of the social and economic welfare of the people of all the three regions.”
“The core issue being one of the socio-economic development and good governance, the Committee keeping the national perspective in mind, is of the considered view that this option stands out as the best way forward,” states the report. After going into all aspects of the situation as well as keeping in view the local, regional and the national perspectives, the Committee has put forward the following solutions/ possible options as the best way forward:
(i) Maintaining Status Quo:
“The Committee is of the unanimous View that it would not be a practical approach to simply maintain the status quo in respect of the situation. Some intervention is definitely required and though maintaining the existing status quo is an option, it is favoured the least.”
(ii) Bifurcation of the State into Seemandhra and Telangana; with Hyderabad as a Union Territory and the two States developing their own capitals in due course:
“There is a definite likelihood of serious backlashes in the Telangana region and on overall consideration the Committee found this option was also not practicable.”
(iii) Bifurcation of State into Rayala-Telangana and coastal Andhra regions with Hyderabad being an integral part of Rayala-Telangana:
“This scenario is not likely to be accepted either by the pro-Telangana or by the pro-united Andhra protagonists. While this option may have economic justification, the Committee believes that this option may not offer a resolution which would be acceptable to people of all three regions.”
(iv) Bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Seemandhra and Telangana with enlarged Hyderabad Metropolis as a separate Union Territory. This Union Territory will have geographical linkage and contiguity via Nalgonda district in the south-east to district Guntur in coastal Andhra and via Mahboobnagar district in the south to Kurnool district in Rayalaseema:
“This is likely to receive stiff opposition from Telangana protagonists and it may be difficult to reach a political consensus in making this solution acceptable to all.”
(v) Bifurcation of the State into Telangana and Seemandhrâ as per existing boundaries with Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana and Seemandiua to have a new capital:
“The Committee feels that this option has to be given consideration. The continuing demand for a separate Telangana has some merit and is not entirely unjustified. In case option is exercised the apprehensions of the coastal Andhra and the Rayalaseema people and others who were settled in Hyderabad and other districts of Telangana with regard to their investments, properties, livelihood and employment would need to be adequately addressed. Considering all aspects, the Committee felt that while creation of separate Telangana would satisfy a large majority of people from the region, it will also throw up several other serious problems. Therefore after taking into account the pros and cons the Committee did not think it to be the most preferred, but the second best option. Separation is recommended only in case it is unavoidable and if this decision can be reached amicably amongst all the three regions.”
(vi) Keeping the State united by simultaneously providing certain definite Constitutional / Statutory measures for socioeconomic development and political empowerment of Telangana region creation of a statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council:
“In this option it is proposed to keep the State united and provide Constitutional / Statutory measures to address the core socio-economic concerns about the development of the Telangana region. This can be done through the establishment of a statutory and empowered Telangana Regional Council with adequate transfer of funds, functions and functíonaries. The Regional Council would provide a legislative consultative mechanism for the subjects to be dealt with by the Council.
“The united Andhra option is being suggested for continuing the development momentum of the three regions and keeping in mind the national perspective. With firm political and administrative management it should be possible to convey conviction to the people that this option would be in the best interest of all and would provide satisfaction to the maximum number of people in the State. It would also take care of the uncertainty over the future of Hyderabad as a bustling educational, industrial and IT hub/ destination. For management of water and irrigation resources on an equitable basis, a technical body, i.e., Water Management Board and an Irrigation Project Development Corporation in expanded role have been recommended. The above course of action should meet all the issues raised by Telangana people satisfactorily.
“The Committee discussed all aspects of this option and while it acknowledges that there will be certain difficulties in its implementation, on balance, it found the most workable option in the given circumstances and interest of the social and economic welfare of the people of all the three regions. The core issue being one of socio-economic development and good governance, the Committee, keeping the national perspective in mind, is Of the considered view that this option stands out as the way forward.”
Terms of Reference
(1) To examine the situation in the State of Andhra Pradesh with reference to the demand for a separate State of Telangana as well as the demand for maintaining the present status of a united Andhra Pradesh.
(2) To review the developments in the State since its formation and their impact on the progress and development of the different regions of the State.
(3) To examine the impact of the recent developments in the State on the different sections of the people such as women, children, students, minorities, other backward classes, scheduled castes and scheduîed tribes.
(4) To identify the key issues that must be addressed while considering the matters mentioned in items 1, 2 and 3 above.
(5) To consult all sections of the people, especially the political parties, on the aforesaid matters and elicit their views; to seek from the political parties and other organizations a range of solutions that would resolve the present difficult situation and promote the welfare of all sections of the people; to identify the optimal solutions for this purpose; and to recommend a plan of action and a road map.
(6) To consult other organizations of civil society such as industry, trade, trade unions, farmers’ organizations, womerfs organizations and students’ organizations on the aforesaid matters and elicit their views with specific reference to the all round development of the different regions of the State.
(7) To make any other suggestion or recommendation that the Committee may deem appropriate.
By Uday India Bureau
The SRC was circumspect on the two claims. It felt that claims ‘in favour of a separate Telangana state are, however, not such as may be lightly brushed aside’. It pointed out with reference to the 1950s that Telangana had much higher incidence of land revenue in comparison to Andhra 17 crore and an excise revenue of the order of 5 crore per annum, which was argued in favour of its viability. Telangana also feared that their claims for development may not receive adequate consideration in Vishalandhra. The utilisation of the waters of Krishna and Godavari from the Nandikonda and Kushtapuram (Godavari) projects were pointed out as cases in point. Further, the educationally backward people of Telangana carried the apprehension that they may be swamped and exploited by the more advanced people of the coastal areas. Thus, backwardness, underdevelopment, unequal resource sharing and partisan neglect were the reasons cited for claiming statehood for Telangana.
The SRC visualised the advantages of Vishalandhra in large water and power resources, adequate mineral wealth and valuable raw materials, utilisation of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad as the capital, a unified control for the development of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, the economic affiliation of Telangana with the existing Andhra state would bridge its food deficit with the surplus of Andhra state. The lack of coal in Andhra would be fulfilled with supplies from Singareni. Telangana will also be able to save a great deal of expenditure on general administration in case it is not established as a separate unit. Obviously, the SRC rested its case for a united Telugu speaking state on economic viability and inter-regional interdependence in resource sharing that would also economise on the institutional cost, not a weak case by any standard.
However, former Planning Commission member economist CH Hanumantha Rao demonstrates in his recent publication, Regional Disparities, Smaller States and Statehood for Telangana (New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2010), how expenditure on the region has been less than receipts. The book incidentally is a collection of updated essays that he has penned over time on issues of regional imbalances that he has contextualised in recent claims of Telangana and other similar demands for regional autonomy. The data since the mid-1950s till the late-1960s show that while the receipts for Telangana have been in the range of 40 per cent the expenditure has stagnated at a maximum of 38 per cent. Net revenue surpluses of Telangana thus represent overspending in Andhra. However, as stated at the outset, the available interim conclusions of the Srikirshna Commission have discounted the claims of underdevelopment of Telangana advanced for the statehood. Krishnamurthy Subramanian of Indian School of Business (The Economic Times, January 3, 2011) has demolished the claims of neglect and lack of development made by Telangana protagonists with an analysis supported by detailed comparative statistics from the two regions in Andhra Pradesh. A discerning look at the comprehensive analysis he presents would either prove that the region has had a robust entrepreneurial skill which has led to development despite neglect by the Andhra Pradesh government, or it hints that perhaps the political ambitions of the Telangana leaders have not found sufficient space.
In any case, regional economic and human development in multi-region states has been caught in the web of avoidable partisan politics, strengthening the argument for smaller and more homogenous states. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand carved out of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in 2000 are cases in point; each has recorded a better economic growth since the grant of statehood despite facing their share of political and/or security problems.
Considering the grant of political autonomy as democratic entitlement and a means of ensuring democracy in a decentred fashion, how do we relate democracy with development? Social science literature does not establish a clear correlation between autonomy and development, the views are as apart as economist Mancur Olson arguing that democracy provides the best socio-political environment for economic development, political scientist C Douglas Lummis holding that development undermines democratic ideals and the Indian noble laureate and development economist Amartya Sen pointing out that the record of democracy in ensuring development in developing countries is mixed or even negative. Using the example of China and some other countries political scientist Bruce Bueno De Mesquita has argued that the link between economic development and what is generally called liberal democracy is actually quite weak and may even be getting weaker. The debate indeed is larger and contextualised in the context of autonomy within sovereignty raises several questions that democrats and social scientists propagating democracy must answer in the era of globalisation. Obviously, this debate is unlikely to end here.
The Indian experience adds to this dilemma. While liberal democracy in India in early years did not lead to noticeable development with state intervention (or control), post-liberalisation (i.e. since 1991) the Indian economy has flourished, though equity and the rich-poor gap continue to be serious issues. State autonomy guaranteed by the 1950 Constitution did not ensure adequate power sharing and resource distribution amongst regions of a state. Other instruments of autonomy ensured by the fifth and sixth schedules of the constitution, Panchayati Raj under the Balwant Rai Mehta scheme and now under the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments have neither succeeded in ensuring autonomy, nor development. This invites us to look at the models of constitutionally-guaranteed layered institutional structure guarding against uneven distribution and wielding of power.
The questions of autonomy and development in India, as elsewhere, are nonetheless linked to good governance and optimum distribution of powers and resources. The debates on democracy and development are unlikely to end the ethno-regional demands for autonomy in the country that transform into demands for new states by various regions. Linking autonomy and development in the era of economic liberalisation is an imperative under which the issues of small governable states, effective sub-state democratic institutions and judicious distribution of power and resources should be addressed. It is imperative to reassert that the issue has to be elevated above partisan considerations of the parties—national and regional. Given a number of demands for ethno-regional autonomy and new states, it is necessary to set up a second SRC to attend to contestations and develop a commonly agreed long-term solution.
By Ajay K Mehra