Unity option

Published : Feb 11, 2011 00:00 IST

Srikrishna Committee chairman Justice B.N. Srikrishna presenting the report to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on December 30, 2010 . - RAJEEV BHATT

Srikrishna Committee chairman Justice B.N. Srikrishna presenting the report to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on December 30, 2010 . - RAJEEV BHATT

Andhra Pradesh: The Justice Srikrishna Committee lists good reasons for its preference to keep the State united.

A NATIONAL perspective, the future of Hyderabad and the threat from Maoist rebels were apparently the key considerations that weighed with the Justice Srikrishna Committee in recommending that keeping Andhra Pradesh united is the best way forward.

This decisive option is among the six suggested by the committee in its 461-page report, a result of 11 months of detailed consultations with political parties and experts, besides extensive field visits. Acknowledging that there will be difficulties in implementing the unity option, the committee stated that it was the most workable option and one that was in the best interests of the people of all the three regions of the State Telangana, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.

The committee felt that this option could even be a model to carry forward the national goal of deepening decentralisation and sustaining inclusive growth. It will be useful in addressing regional aspirations elsewhere in the country, its report says.

By not preferring to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, the committee has made it known that it had a broad national picture in mind it did not want to encourage the demands for carving out new States out of existing ones, such as Gorkhaland (in West Bengal), Bodoland (Assam), Vidarbha (Maharashtra), Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal and Harit Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh) and Ladakh and Jammu (Jammu and Kashmir). Whether the time is ripe for constituting a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) is for Parliament to decide, the report says.

The Srikrishna Committee's conclusions about the functioning of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the three States that were created in 2000, should provide some food for thought for the Bharatiya Janata Party, a strong votary of smaller States.

Uttarakhand, being a hill State, received special category status. This facilitated a more generous funding pattern and contributed to its rapid economic growth, the report says.

Although Chhattisgarh has seen political stability and decent economic growth, it continues to face serious internal security problems from the Maoists. It has been unable to control the violence and extortions indulged in by the naxalites, causing a huge drain on the exchequer, the committee says.

However, on Jharkhand, the report notes:

Jharkhand, unfortunately, despite initial signs of better economic performance, has failed to impress in most areas of governance. In 10 years, the State has had eight Chief Ministers, besides being under President's Rule twice. Its economic performance has been dipping steadily and the internal security problems created by the Maoists/naxalites continue to exist. The unemployment in the State presently is also among the highest in the country.

. Looking at their performance, it would be difficult to say whether mere creation of small States is a panacea for all ills and would ensure all-round development of the region and its people. The other view is that the goals of development can best be served by providing good governance irrespective of the size of the State.

The committee's emphatic stand on the future of Andhra Pradesh should normally put an end to the 60-year-long debate on dividing the State. But given the history of the struggles, it does not look that easy. Two region-based agitations one in 1969 for a separate Telangana and the other in 1972 for a separate Andhra did considerable damage to students' careers and set the State's development back by years.

Indira Gandhi's formula

In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi hammered out a political solution, called the six-point formula, following talks between leaders of the two regions. The leaders then agreed to stop further agitations, ensure development of backward areas and give preference to local candidates in admissions to educational institutions and in direct recruitment to non-gazetted posts in government. This agreement, everyone imagined, was the final settlement to a dispute whose origins can be traced back to 1948, if not earlier.

Around the time the Indian Army subdued the forces of the Nizam of Hyderabad in September 1948, people in the Andhra region launched a struggle for a province separated from the Madras State. Leaders of the Congress, including Jawaharlal Nehru, whose priorities lay elsewhere, favoured postponing the creation of linguistic provinces. Angry at their response, the people gave the Congress a drubbing in the 1952 general elections. The party could win only 42 out of the 140 seats from Andhra in the Madras Legislative Assembly.

Potti Sriramulu, a Gandhian, began a fast on October 19, 1952, for a separate Andhra State. His death on December 15 triggered a violent agitation. Nehru finally yielded and announced in the Lok Sabha the formation of the Andhra State, but excluding Madras State. Andhra Pradesh came into existence in 1956 on the recommendation of the SRC, which had Justice Fazal Ali as Chairman. The commission recommended the formation of a Vishalandhra integrating coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and the Telugu-speaking parts of Hyderabad State.

As differences over unification persisted, the Centre prevailed upon leaders of Andhra and Telangana to sort them out. The result was a 10-point Gentlemen's Agreement which, among other things, envisaged creation of a Regional Committee for Telangana, reservation of posts in subordinate services of the government for the local people, improvement in educational facilities in the Telangana region and a quota of 40 per cent of State Cabinet berths for legislators from the region.

Discontent began brewing in the late 1960s over the dilution of the safeguards laid down in the Gentlemen's Agreement. Students began a movement in 1969, and Marri Channa Reddy, who went on to become Chief Minister in 1978 and again in 1989, jumped into the fray by forming the Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS).

In November 2009, when Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhara Rao launched a fast demanding a separate Telangana, it was like revisiting the late 1960s and early 1970s. The tumultuous events that followed made the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre constitute a five-member committee headed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna, a former Supreme Court Judge who earned laurels for the inquiry into the Mumbai riots of 1992-93.

Telangana leaders, including Congress Members of Parliament from the region, are unwilling to settle for anything less than the passage of a Bill in Parliament for the creation of a Telangana State. They point out loopholes in the Srikrishna Committee report. For instance, it suggests the creation of a statutorily empowered Telangana Regional Council. How this would be different from a similar regional development committee that was tried earlier and had failed is not clear, they say.

Yet, the committee is unambiguous about the negative implications of a bifurcation. It has turned upside down long-held notions about backwardness of regions. With the help of figures relating to growth in per capita district domestic product, the report has concluded that Rayalaseema, and not Telangana, is the most backward region.

Conversely, it significantly observed that a separate Telangana State would be viable economically as its gross state domestic product (GSDP) would be above that of States such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. It also acknowledges how the education and health sectors in Telangana have remained neglected, and referred to the sentiment of people in the region for having a State of their own.

Andhra Pradesh, more particularly Hyderabad, can ill afford further instability. Destabilisation of the economy, flight of capital, or erosion of business confidence in Hyderabad, India's fifth biggest city, would be to the detriment of all regions, the committee says.

Firm political and administrative management is what the committee expects from the Centre in this issue. It will face opposition from Congress MPs and MLAs from the region but its task is not insurmountable if a distinction is made between genuine aspirations of the people and the narrow goals of some political leaders.

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