Threat to federalism

Print edition : August 23, 2013

Prakash Karat: "Some parts of a State may be backward compared with other parts, but is a solution to be found by the creation of a separate State?" Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Interview with Prakash Karat, CPI(M) general secretary.

THE resolution passed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) for the creation of a separate State of Telangana has not had the unanimous support of several political parties including some important constituents of the Left. The decision of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has now had a cascading effect with Statehood demands being raised across the country.

In an interview to Frontline, Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that the CPI(M) had all along stood for the integrity of the Union of Indian States based on the democratic principle of linguistic re-organisation. He explained the position of the CPI(M) vis-a-vis statehood and other related concerns. Excerpts:

What is your position on the decision of the CWC to create the 29th State of the Indian Union, Telangana, by dividing Andhra Pradesh? There is a strong feeling that this decision was motivated by purely electoral considerations.

The decision of the Congress leadership and the UPA government to divide the State of Andhra Pradesh and form a separate State of Telangana has come after a long period of prevarication and contradictory signals. The B.N. Srikrishna Committee which was set up to look into the issue, had submitted its report on Telangana in January 2011. Two and a half years passed before the Central government took a decision. It is clear that the decision to form Telangana has been taken with electoral calculations for the Lok Sabha polls, given the fact that the Congress party has lost ground in the State as a whole.

Does the CPI(M) not view the demand for a separate Telangana as a justified one, considering that the region has been neglected and left backward all these years?

There is no doubt that Telangana as a region has not got a fair deal. The blame for this lies with the Central government and successive State governments, most of which have been run by the Congress. The special provisions for development and employment for the Telangana region were decided upon but never taken up for implementation seriously. There was also the 32nd Amendment to the Constitution whereby Article 371 D of the Constitution was incorporated, which allowed for “special provisions with respect to the State of Andhra Pradesh” which, amongst others, provided that the President “may by order... provide ... for equitable opportunities and facilities for the people belonging to different parts of the State, in the matter of public employment and in the matter of education, and different provisions may be made for various parts of the State”.

The problem of regional backwardness exists in various parts of India owing to the nature of capitalist development. Some parts of a State may be backward compared with other parts, but is a solution to be found by the creation of a separate State?

What has been the basis and principle of the CPI(M)’s stand on Telangana? Is the linguistic principle the only basis for the CPI(M)’s support for the existence of a State or are there any other factors or reasons?

The formation of linguistic States was a demand that arose after Independence. The Congress party went back on its assurance to reorganise the States on a linguistic basis after it came to power in independent India. We saw the formation of linguistic States as an important step towards the democratic restructuring of the Indian state. Under British rule, there were multilingual provinces based on administrative needs. There were a host of princely states too. The formation of linguistic States was a democratic step so that people speaking the same language could have the administration and education in their own provinces. The Communists were in the forefront of the mass movements which developed for linguistic States. They raised the slogan of Visalandhra, meaning a State for all the Telugu-speaking people. Similarly, we argued for Aikya Kerala, Samyukta Maharashtra and so on. After the martyrdom of Potti Sriramulu [the Gandhian and revolutionary who went on a hunger strike for the creation of a separate State for the Telugu-speaking people of Madras Presidency. He lost his life in the process], Andhra Pradesh became the first State to be formed on linguistic lines. The State Reorganisation Commission in 1956 led to other linguistic States being formed. The CPI(M) has been consistently upholding the integrity of States formed on the linguistic principle. That is why we did not advocate the break-up of Andhra Pradesh.

The linguistic basis is the main principle. It is on this basis that the federal system operates. When you have homogeneous, well-defined States, it is on them that the federal structure functions. Those who advocate the breaking up of existing linguistic States and the creation of smaller States are asking for the weakening of the federal structure. It will lead to the Centre dominating the States. It is because we have strong language-based States like the four Southern States, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and so on, that the States are able to have their role in the federal system. The powers and rights of the States will get weakened further if the identity and role of linguistic States are weakened. You will see that States like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have all better scope for economic, social and cultural development because they are clearly defined linguistic units.

There is this argument that smaller States lead to better administration and more development. Some have, including those from the ruling Congress and the UPA, demanded the bifurcation of Uttar Pradesh on various grounds.

There can be no hard-and-fast rule about the size of States and correlating them to development and better administration. Most of the linguistically reorganised States are the better administered ones. They are also bigger in size like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and so on. Some of the smaller States, like Himachal Pradesh, have also developed better but you also have a number of States which are smaller in size but suffer from maladministration and have failed to develop economically. My position is that it is better not to divide the linguistically homogeneous States as it will undermine federalism and allow the Centre to dominate.

There is a demand that a large State like U.P. be broken up. Most of the States in north India have not been organised on a linguistic basis like the non-Hindi States. All the northern States belong to the same Hindi region. So the division of these States will not be on the same level as that of the linguistically reorganised States. So the division of Madhya Pradesh into M.P. and Chhattisgarh cannot be seen on a par with the division of a State which had been formed on the basis of linguistic reorganisation. So the question of U.P. being divided is not doing violence to the linguistic principle.

With Telangana being granted, the agitations for Gorkhaland, Bodoland and Karbi Anglong have been revived. This is apart from the new demands for a separate Vidharbha State in Maharashtra, and Harit Pradesh and Poorvanchal in Uttar Pradesh. Does this mean that all such demands will also need to be conceded to?

The Congress leadership and the Central government were well aware of the demands for separate States and the agitation for them when they took the decision on Telangana. If one can divide a State like Andhra Pradesh, how are you going to deny demands for separate States in other areas? Our party has a consistent stand that States formed on a linguistic basis should not be broken up. This would apply to Maharashtra where there is a demand for Vidharbha, or in West Bengal where Gorkhaland is being demanded, or in Assam where the agitation for Bodoland has been going on.

In all the linguistic States, there are areas inhabited by certain ethnic or tribal minorities. We should provide for regional autonomy for these areas and should not break up such States.

Do you also feel that such demands and movements generally divert attention from the real issues?

Yes, that danger exists, but who is responsible for this? It is the Congress and the Central government it runs. There are other bourgeois parties who are trying to cash in on regional and parochial sentiments. The BJP, for instance, is advocating the formation of a number of States. This will only divert attention from the real problems faced by the people of the country.

Do you think it is time to set up a second States Reorganisation Commission?

It is only if one believes that more and more States should be formed that such a commission would be required. I suspect both the Congress and the BJP will opt for such a commission.

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