The birth of three States

Published : Aug 19, 2000 00:00 IST

The resumption of the States reorganisation process after a 30-year lull will impart a new momentum to regionalist demands in all parts of the country.


FOR close to three decades, no significant changes have been made to the territorial boundaries of the States that make up the Indian Union. Since the last reorganisation of States occurred in the northeastern region in 1971, a number of regionalist move ments have sprung up. Some have festered for long, while others have quickly dissipated their energies and subsided into a harmonious existence within established boundaries.

By these standards, the passage through Parliament of three bills reconstituting the States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, is little short of historic. This really is the first major reorganisation to have affected the Hindi heartland in the north. The idea of reorganisation was applied first to the south in 1956, and then successively to the west in 1960 and the Punjabi areas to the northwest in 1966.

The principle underlying these successive demarcations was that linguistic solidarity could be the basis of a State's identity. Seemingly so unambiguous, it was a standard that in its application proved to have more than its share of irritants. Marathi a nd Gujarati linguistic groups, to begin with, could not quite agree on the disposition of the city of Bombay and this delayed the reorganisation of the western region until four years after language was legitimised as a marker of sub-national identity. B ut the more severe test by far came in the northwestern region, where the demand for linguistic autonomy seemed to run perilously close to the principle of religious separatism.

Tribal affiliations were recognised as a basis of statehood in the northeastern region as far back as 1964 with the creation of Nagaland. This was partly to dampen the fires of the Naga insurgency, which was the first armed challenge to the unity of the Indian state. The North-Eastern Areas Reorganisation Act, 1971, reconstituted that part of the country into a number of distinct tribal homelands. And by 1986, the conferment of statehood on all these homelands had been completed.

Through all this, the Hindi heartland remained impervious to change. There were significant movements for reorganisation on cultural criteria, as with the tribal areas of central India, which straddled no fewer than six States. The hill regions of Uttar Pradesh had their own claims, on the grounds that ecological distinctness made for a certain degree of cultural specificity and a separate set of economic problems that could only be addressed within the framework of autonomy that statehood ensured.

These demands were consistently ignored both because they never managed to gather a critical mass of popular support and because of the compelling power of inertia. Moreover, nationalist ideologues, particularly of the Hindu-Hindu stripe, believed that the stability of geopolitical formations in the heartland would be essential to preserve the unity of the Indian state.

This latter belief could not withstand the growing realisation that the heartland States, far from showing the way ahead, were actually beginning to fall behind all other regions in the basic parameters of development. Changing realities in the 1990s est ablished a congruence of interests between the main political formations and certain of the movements for statehood in the Hindi heartland. A number of contingent grievances still persisted. But these were overcome as the reorganisation efforts began, go t stalled and then resumed with renewed energy.

There are undoubtedly many more complications to be dealt with before the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal come into existence. Notable among these would be the division of assets and liabilities and the distribution of funds devolved fr om the Centre between the predecessor and successor States. But the mere fact that the States reorganisation process has resumed after a 30 year lull, will impart a new momentum to regionalist demands in all corners of the country. And the States of the Hindi heartland are unlikely to be immune from more such movements.

THREE decades into the prosperity of the Green Revolution, the western districts of Uttar Pradesh have begun articulating the demand for a Harit Pradesh that would give them an identity distinct from the rest of the State. The Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal regions also have begun dusting up the historic baggage of their statehood demands, which have sputtered briefly in the past without seriously threatening to catch fire. Vindhyachal in Madhya Pradesh, Telengana in Andhra Pradesh, Vidarbha in Maharashtra , Kodagu in Karnataka, Gorkhaland in West Bengal and Bodoland in Assam could follow suit.

Paradoxically, for a party that has been identified with a particularly paranoid attitude towards ethnic and linguistic diversity, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been very permissive in acceding to the demand for smaller states. The Congress(I) for its part has no overarching viewpoint on this matter and is inclined to deal with each case as it comes along.

The smaller Left parties too seem willing to accept the notion of States reorganisation on the limited grounds of administrative efficiency and democratisation. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been an exception, arguing that there is no basis for further subdivision of States after the linguistic criterion has been fully accommodated. Administrative efficiency and democratisation, it asserts, can be better achieved through devolution of powers to local bodies, rather than by pandering to ever y manner of ethnic particularity that exists.

The formation of three new States is both a point of arrival and a point of departure. A further dimension is imparted to this by the compulsions of dealing with insurgencies in the northeastern region and Kashmir. The promise of equality under the law h aving frayed, the politics of identity has acquired a new lease of life. A new idiom in the relations between the parts and the whole could well be the outcome of these diverse stirrings and urges.

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