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States & the Union

Print edition : Dec 02, 2011 T+T-

A good mix of historical and contemporary perspectives on redrawing the maps of States within India.

THE reorganisation of States in India has not received the attention it deserves in the academic world. The question whether the existing States should be split further and, if so, into how many States has defied easy resolution. The issue is so complex and emotive that any attempt to unravel it without taking broad positions is a challenge in itself. Yet, an objective study of the issue, even if such an inquiry does not lead to answers to all the questions that could arise, has to be attempted if only to clear the mist.

Interrogating Reorganisation of States is one such attempt at brainstorming, which is followed by reflection on issues and refinement of concepts in the light of experience. The essays included in the book are papers presented at a seminar organised at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, in September 2008.

The editors, Asha Sarangi and Sudha Pai, both academics, maintain in the introduction that the task at hand before the contributors was not whether the reorganisation of States was a success or failure. Perhaps the question itself borders on irrelevance as one cannot think of reversing history even if the findings, arrived at under the most objective conditions, point to failure.

The book, however, makes a significant promise to the reader: to engage seriously with the theory and practice within which the rationale of reorganisation was conceptualised and carried forward. In this effort, however, the reader can easily discern where the contributors' sympathies lie.

The editors are clear that the emergence of regional parties and their importance in coalitions formed at the Centre to form governments could push demands for creating more States in the near future. This, the editors suggest, is not to be despised as an ominous sign, but welcomed as the continuing process of democratisation aiming to reach down to new social groups and regions hitherto excluded from the mainstream of governance.

The editors are confident that it would not only create and increase political consciousness among the disadvantaged groups in the States, but also produce new local and regional elites with participatory and decision-making roles. Such a process, according to them, is inevitable as regional inequalities widen among the existing States under the process of globalisation creating more intense competition for sharing resources in intersecting regions and subregions of the States.

Further division of the existing States is often opposed on the grounds that it could encourage centrifugal tendencies and lead to the dismemberment of India. In his Foreword to the book, the eminent journalist B.G. Verghese has sought to rebut this apprehension by making out a case for 60 States by 2050 with an average population of 25 million each, and some 1,500 districts. His discussion on States reorganisation in the context of the north-eastern States and Jammu and Kashmir is insightful.

Arunachal Pradesh, he suggests, is an extraordinary story that has gone unnoticed. There is no parallel between the success achieved there and anything else in any part of the world. The State is a mosaic of over 110 tribes of diverse racial and linguistic stock, numbering from a few hundreds to tens of thousands, speaking different languages, professing different faiths (indigenous, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian) but coming together through that process of nation-building and state-building to acquire a new sense of identity as Arunachalese Indians. Arunachal Pradesh continues to evolve and so we cannot sit back smugly but must use the existing platform for its further evolution on positive lines, he says.

Verghese then dwells on non-territorial solution as a key to unravel the vexed issue of reorganising Nagaland.

The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) is demanding Nagalian, or a greater Naga state. Verghese suggests that this is not a reorganisation that can be unilaterally imposed and would require the consent of other parties and States if civil strife is to be avoided as was experienced earlier in Manipur.

He writes: At the political level, there is already a Naga Hoho at the apex of the individual Naga ho-hos or tribal assemblies, going across all the Naga-inhabited regions in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal and into Myanmar. This has met from time to time in recent years to consult on pan-Naga issues. So it is possible to structure a non-territorial Naga entity or collective peoplehood if we look at this in a socio-cultural context. Such acquiescence would most likely diminish the intensity of the demand and make people more rational than emotional in judging where their interests lie.... The alternative would be to frame a separate Naga Constitution and forge an organic link between it and the Indian Constitution as in the case of J&K constitution. None of this will mean separation from India and a non-territorial entity will not entail further territorial reorganisation of the north-east of the country. It would mean accommodating things in a different way.

He elaborates: We do not have to worry about granting a new Naga entity its own flag, currency, or postage. Many Indian princely states of yore had their own stamps, coins and flags. This did not add anything to their sovereignty'. The princely states were more subject to British dominion than were the British provinces. Their gun salutes were a concession to vanity no more.

Arguing that oversized units are generally incompetent and inefficient, Verghese justifies the seemingly expensive effort at fragmenting existing States. However, alongside such fragmentation, he prescribes larger non-political entities such as natural resource regions, river-basin authorities, transport corridors, economic hubs, regional energy grids, and agro-climatic zones in order to encourage functional coordination.

Observers of States reorganisation often wonder how to describe the contribution of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in redrawing the country's map on linguistic lines. Nehru, despite the broad consensus during the freedom struggle in favour of such reorganisation, was hesitant and apprehensive whether nation-building should get precedence over building of the federation. Yet, faced with the reality that people were impatient, he facilitated the reorganisation of States on linguistic lines, after the submission of the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) in 1955. The SRC had recommended 16 States and three centrally administered territories. Nehru's government created 14 States and nine Union Territories (UTs) in 1956. During the next 50 years, the number of States doubled to 28, while the number of UTs came down to seven.

Verghese writes on the contribution of Nehru:

He ruled a small India with a big Bharat that scarcely mattered. The complete merger of Bharat into India may take several more decades, but those who have been waiting in a non-existent queue for thousand years will not be denied their due.

India's unity rests on its respect for diversity. India's stability depends on change. The process of becoming more fully India has an aspirational aspect which is as important as the time and space dimensions of nation building. So the reorganisation of States has to be seen as a three-dimensional task and a great work in progress.

The editors elucidate the different approaches of Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar to linguistic reorganisation. Nehru warned against any kind of passionate surge in demand for separate States based on an exclusive ideology of language or religion. He wanted large States to retain their cosmopolitan character. He was not fully convinced of the viability and durability of monolingual States.

Ambedkar, as Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, supported the demand for reorganisation of States on a linguistic basis. He strongly argued for the creation of Maharashtra on this basis. He considered four basic principles such as development, efficiency, equality and democracy for ushering in the era of reorganisation of States.

Ambedkar proposed that each State may have its own language for purposes of administrative communication with the Centre and other States, but disregarded the thesis of one language, one state. In other words, his view was that people speaking the same language need not be grouped into one State but there could be more than one State with the same language. The formula of one State, one language, he pointed out, was not to be equated with one language, one State. Instead, people speaking one language might find themselves in many States depending upon other factors such as the requirements of administrative efficiency, specific needs of particular areas and the proportion between the majority and minority communities within a State.

For Ambedkar, States in a democratic polity needed to have equitable size limits since this would ensure proportional distribution of resources among the States as well as their inhabitants. Like Nehru, he too favoured a strong Centre to ensure an equitable survival of different languages, cultures, regions and States within a broader framework of an inclusive developmental polity.

The editors argue, pointing to recent demands for smaller States, that large States can become hegemonic and undemocratic through their numerical strength and command over natural and physical resources, which can have a serious impact on the federal democratic structure of the country.

In the long journey of reorganisation from 14 to 28 States, the Centre has changed a few principles into guidelines to deal with demands for further redrawing of existing State boundaries. These principles, according to Paul Brass (whom the editors cite in their essay), are as follows: A. demands must stop short of secession; B. demands based on language and culture could be accommodated, but not those based explicitly on religious differences; C. demands must have clearly demonstrated public support; and D. division of multilingual states must have some support from different linguistic groups.

Except the major demands such as Telangana (Andhra Pradesh), Bodoland (Assam), Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Haripradesh (Uttar Pradesh), Vidarbha (Maharashtra) and Kodagu, or Coorg (Karnataka), not much is known about the remaining 26 or so demands reportedly pending for consideration before the government. As the editors note, there has been a significant shift from language and culture that shaped the earlier process of reorganisation to the one driven by specific needs of the political economy of development and socio-cultural inclusion.

What is surprising is why it took so long for this shift to take place. As the editors explain, the colonial state supported commercial agriculture and industry in selected areas such as the coastal regions, deltas, river valleys and mineral-rich areas, leaving the vast hinterland underdeveloped. Such a distorted pattern of unequal development continued in the post-Independence period as well. The result has been uneven development in the big States of India: some districts that have seen rapid development are surrounded by poorer regions that remain backward and underdeveloped. The editors point out that Telangana, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, Vidarbha and the inner tribal regions of Orissa have continued to remain deprived within large States.

The three small States of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, which came into existence in 2000, were not created on linguistic and cultural grounds. Answering the criticism that mere creation of small States does not guarantee that they will be well-governed, or will experience faster economic development, the editors say that these three States are not performing badly.

They, however, have a word of caution for the proponents of Telangana: liberalisation and the emergence of a growing private sector within the market economy could mean that the formation of a separate State of Telangana may not benefit the people of this backward region. They explain:

After Independence, the rich landlord class in the coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh moved inland into the agro-industry, manufacturing and in more recent years the information technology sector in Hyderabad.

Regional inequalities have markedly increased since the early 1990s with retreat of the state and a growing private sector increasingly controlling investment decisions of scarce resources. It will be difficult for the poorly educated and disadvantaged groups in the underdeveloped regions to obtain employment, particularly in the better paid and more dynamic sectors of the economy. The well-educated and better-off outsiders' might benefit leaving the people of the new State behind, heightening feelings of regional chauvinism. Indeed, the editors slam the Congress for not following up its promise to set up another States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), in the light of the Telangana demand, and for going back on the United Progressive1 Alliance government's agreement with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti because of the fear of a backlash from other regions of Andhra Pradesh.

However, after having articulated the contemporary demands for smaller States, the editors appear reluctant to suggest any solution in the light of their excellent analysis. They conclude with their readers unable to conceal their disappointment the issue of reorganisation of States in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere remains a complex and unfinished task before the political leadership at the Centre and in the States.

The book is structured into four parts the historical and political context, reorganising the Hindi heartland (Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand), western and southern India (Sindhis, Maharashtra, Telangana, Kannada), and the east and the north-east (Orissa and Assam) with chapter authors providing a detailed background to the movements in their chosen States. It is a good mix of historical and contemporary perspectives on the reorganisation of States in India.