Division spurs growth?

Print edition : August 23, 2013

Activists of the All Bodo Students Union and other Bodo organisations block railway tracks during a protest at Kokrajhar in Assam on August 2. They were demanding statehood for Bodoland. Photo: REUTERS

Slogans painted by activists of various Karbi student organisations and the Congress’ student wing, the NSUI, in front of the secretariat in Diphu, in Assam’s Karbi Anglong hills district, on August 1. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Unchecked development in Uttarakhand resulted in a huge loss of lives and property in the recent floods. Photo: AP

Madu Koda, former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, who spent time in prison on charges of corruption. Photo: Manob Chowdhury

The site of a Maoist landmine blast. Chhattisgarh has performed poorly on its social and political accountability. Photo: AP

The demand for separate statehood in various parts of the country forces us to examine the complex relationships intersecting the boundaries of identity, region, language, culture, caste, class and the state. The time is ripe for a second States Reorganisation Commission to address these issues.

THE demand for a separate Telangana State has finally been met after more than a long, intense struggle of six decades. Although much has been written about the region of Telangana before and after its merger with the State of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, it is still a puzzle where one ponders over the mechanisms that go into the making of a State.

It is a well-known fact that the States Reorganisation Commission (1953-56) did not favour the idea of merging Telangana with Andhra Pradesh and it provided various safeguards to protect the interests of the people of the region for some years to come. Even Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who reluctantly conceded to the demand for the creation of Andhra Pradesh as the first State based on the idea of geo-linguistic and cultural compatibility, sympathised with the demand for a separate State of Telangana. He even quipped that wherever marriage (in this case merger of Telangana with Andhra Pradesh) failed, divorce should be preferred.

Way back in 1956 the Telangana region had all the ingredients that go into the making of a State. However, the last six decades have seen successive ruling parties not complying with the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of protecting the region’s interest, the re-emergence of the demand for Telangana statehood, particularly in the form of violent agitations in 1969 and 1972, and the perpetual delay and dilemma in meeting the demand. In particular, the last one decade has seen both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments reneging on their promises in granting statehood to the region.

Even though the Congress made the pledge to create Telangana on December 9, 2009, its final decision on it came only in the last week of July 2013. Now that the Congress Working Committee has passed the resolution on Telangana and the UPA II approved it at its meeting held on July 30, 2013, it is necessary to analyse the formation of the Telangana State not simply as an exercise in territorial re-demarcation of the body polity but as a case of State-crafting module. It forces us to think whether the discourse over statehood has changed its language significantly or not.

Are we witnessing the beginning of a new era marked by sheer political expediency and calculation of vote bank politics taking precedence over the legitimate historical social-cultural and political justifications for the demands for separate statehood? How do the demands for separate statehood strike a balance between the political representation and democratic legitimation of power? Does the identitarian politics based on region, caste, class, gender, language or ethnicity enable or disable a particular kind of economic development in a culturally diverse and institutionally federal country such as India? It will be important to see whether in the years to come Telangana statehood leads us to a new wave of reorganisation and its modular forms.

New issues, new politics

It is important to keep in mind the varied reactions and responses of political parties with respect to the formation of Telangana as a State in order to understand the larger political climate at this moment. Soon after the announcement was made, many Telangana-based leaders of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Congress party and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) gathered at the Martyrs’ Memorial near the State Assembly in Hyderabad to pay homage to those who died in the pro-Telangana agitation and supported the struggle. The political calculations in terms of the electoral gains began to be worked out seriously by various political parties. The Congress might emerge a winner in this game with hopes of bagging Telangana as a political reward from a grateful people.

Political leaders such as All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president and Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi reacted sharply. Owaisi initially opposed the bifurcation of the State but has now demanded that Urdu, along with Telugu, be made the official language of the Telangana State. The Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJA) and the TRS have opposed the idea of including the districts of Kurnool and Anantapur of Rayalaseema into Telangana. It will not help the Congress to play flip-flop on the issue, as the Sri Krishna Committee has not suggested the inclusion of these districts nor has there been any such demand from these regions. To do so purely for electoral gains will have diminishing returns for the party.

Given the fact that the Congress does not have much chance of winning in Andhra Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it hopes to bag a few of the 17 seats that would fall in the new State of Telangana. This will certainly give it a marginal edge over the other regional political parties such as the TRS, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the AIMIM. The Congress will have to not only gather support in the new State but also put the State formation process on fast-forward mode. In order to make significant electoral gains, it will also have to develop consensus among its various allies at the Centre (particularly among those who from time to time have vociferously opposed the statehood demand). For this the constitutional requirements have to be put in place for the approval of the proposal for statehood. The Central government is disproportionately empowered to make new States and change its boundaries under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution. The role of the State Assembly is limited to passing the resolution forwarded to it by the Central government.

To begin with, the decision on Telangana has to be approved by the Union Cabinet on the basis of inputs from the Home Ministry. The proposal then can either be sent to the State Legislative Assembly at this stage or after the Group of Ministers (GoM) has been formed to work out the process of bifurcation. Following this important stage, the proposal will be sent to the President, who will forward it to the Andhra Pradesh Legislature to get its views in a given time frame. Irrespective of the legislature’s views, a draft Bill will be introduced in both Houses of Parliament, which needs only a simple majority for passage. After its approval in Parliament, the President will specify a date on which the State will come into existence. The order on the constitution of a State will be published in the Andhra Pradesh and Union gazettes. The entire process can take several months as it did in the case of the Bills relating to the formation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. These Bills were approved by Parliament in August 2000 but the new States came into existence only in November that year.

The Congress will need to keep its flock together and persuade the dissenters both in Parliament and the State Legislature through reasonable dialogue over prospective political gains and losses in the forthcoming parliamentary and State elections next year. With a number of Congress legislators from the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly submitting their resignations protesting against the grant of statehood to Telangana, the task of building a consensus will not be easy. This would necessarily include the questions related to river water sharing, provisions of jobs and employment opportunities to the people of Telangana in the joint capital of Hyderabad, setting up a new administrative machinery, transfer and division of funds, assets and resources from Andhra Pradesh, utilisation of natural resources for Telangana, the status of the massive multi-purpose Polavaram project, State subsidies and many other administrative-developmental aspects of governing the State.

However, the most contentious issue will be the state of Hyderabad city, declared to be the joint capital of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for the first 10 years. The proposal to set up a new capital for Seemandhra (Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra) after 10 years may not be an easy option. The experiences with Chandigarh (Haryana and Punjab) and Dehradun (Uttarakhand) reveal how difficult it is to create or shift State capitals that have been established and have functioned as such for some years.

Where the parties stand

In a multi-party democratic set-up, and in the era of coalition governments both at the Centre and in the States, it is not surprising to see various political parties either supporting or opposing the idea of a Telangana State. The two national parties, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, have vacillated on this issue over the past several decades whereas several regional and State-level parties have from time to time voiced their support or opposition to specific demands for statehood.

For example, Bahujan Samaj Party chief and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati has supported the demand for statehood for Telangana, partially owing to her own consistent demand for the fourfold division of Uttar Pradesh. During her rule, she had a resolution passed by the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly on this subject and sent it to the Centre on November 23, 2011. The demand is still pending before the Union government. Her bete noire, Samajwadi Party chief and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh, has opposed the Telangana decision and has consistently opposed the idea of the division of Uttar Pradesh.

Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal has been demanding a Harit Pradesh in western Uttar Pradesh. BJP leader Uma Bharati has been demanding the creation of Bundelkhand, and the Congress Member of Parliament Jagdamika Pal wants eastern Uttar Pradesh as a separate State.

The Left parties too are divided over Telangana. While the Communist Party of India (CPI) supported the decision, the others such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) opposed it. The Forward Bloc and the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar have demanded the creation of a separate Vidarbha State.

Statehood and violence

History shows how modern states have emerged from the vortex of social violence of all kinds. Andhra Pradesh witnessed violent protests immediately after the Telangana announcement, leading to the deployment of paramilitary forces in Hyderabad and in other towns of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema districts.

A number of leaders associated with the demand for separate statehood—of Gorkhaland, Bodoland and Vidarbha in particular—have already started their agitations. The closure of public offices, schools and educational institutions and disruption of daily life in West Bengal and Assam are indicative of the desire and desperation of people for separate States for their regions. Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung has resigned as the chief executive of the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), which was set up in 2011, to press his party’s demand for Union Territory status for the Gorkhaland area of the Darjeeling hills. The GTA, as a regional autonomous council, had started functioning from August 2012 following a tripartite agreement between the Government of India, the West Bengal government and the GJM.

Similarly, through their call for a State bandh, rail blockade and the disruption and destruction of life and property, the leaders of Bodoland and the All Bodo Students Union in Assam have already intensified their struggle for Bodoland. The Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), which was formed in 2003 after the Bodo leaders ended their armed struggle, is now considered incapable of addressing the demands of the Bodos, the Karbis, the Dimasas and the Koch-Rajbangshis. The demand of statehood for Vidarbha too has re-emerged, with Vilas Muttemwar, the Congress leader from Nagpur, urging his party leadership to create a Vidarbha State.

The list is long: Awadh Pradesh and Bhojpur (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Bodoland (Assam), Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh), Coorg (Karnataka), Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Harit Pradesh (Western Uttar Pradesh), Konkan Pradesh (Konkan region), Marathwada (Maharashtra), Mahakoshal (Odisha), Mithilachal (Bihar), Muru Pradesh (Rajasthan), Poorvanchal (Uttar Pradesh), Saurashtra (Gujarat), Vidarbha (Maharashtra), and so on. These demands make us examine the complex relationships intersecting the boundaries of identity, region, language, culture, caste, class, and the state.

Need for second State reorganisation

The government has not acted upon the demand raised by several political parties in the past decade for the constitution of a second State Reorganisation Commission. Unlike the first SRC, SRC-II will have to consider a number of demands for separate statehood from different parts of the country. It will need to pay attention to the size and shape as well as the democratic-developmental governance of the State that needs reorganisation. Reorganisation can no longer be simply based on a “workable” formula or sheer political expediency.

A larger democratic consensus needs to emerge on pertinent questions such as whether smaller States are economically more viable and sustainable. The developmental indices of smaller and larger States in terms of economic growth, social security, education, health, ecology, child mortality, gender equity, and intra-State regional disparities, among others, need to be analysed to arrive at some kind of a rational criteria for the creation of newer and smaller States. Is it useful to compare States of unequal sizes and shapes irrespective of their historical-cultural and geo-linguistic context? States that are created out of political compulsions or the politics of the day cannot survive because of the inherent undemocratic impulses within them.

If “small is beautiful”, India can certainly have more than 28 States in the near future. It might be the case that smaller States may do better at times than the larger States from which they were carved out. For example, the three new States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand formed in the year 2000 do not tell a uniform story of growth and development. It is difficult to judge whether Uttarakhand would have done better than Uttar Pradesh without its special status, which entails extra aid and economic package from the Central government for its developmental needs. However, its drive for industrialisation without addressing the ecological issues has been a cause of concern and is unsustainable in the long run. Jharkhand is not a model to emulate for political stability and democratic legitimacy—the two virtues always associated with the idea of a small State. It shows how political anarchism can affect economic rationalism or growth adversely. Chhattisgarh has performed quite poorly on its social-moral and political accountability.

The new Telangana State will, therefore, have to move carefully on the road of development, not simply to ensure faster economic growth and intra-regional equality but to offer reasonable prospects for better governance, responsible and adequate devolution of power to people and equitable utilisation of resources. For the people of a small State, being closer to the corridors of power and its resources might prove beneficial; States of equality and justice might be more accessible to all sections, particularly to the most disadvantaged ones. The new State should break the caste-class hierarchical nexus and proceed to build the moral fibre of the political economy of development.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde seems to think that the government will no longer create new States on the basis of language. But he needs to see how close and organic the relationship between language and region, or language and land (territory) is in the various demands for smaller States and how central to the idea of a geo-linguistic notion of territorial identity to their imagination of a political community.

Asha Sarangi is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.