There are schools of thought which claim that India is an artificial construct, a subcontinent and not a nation; that our diversity of language, ethnicity and culture will always create conflicts that cannot be resolved. The truth is that, despite all our differences, there is a thread of unity running across our nation. Mahatma Gandhi understood this when, with his garland tour, he sought to unite the nation under one banner for the freedom movement. In fact, our unity lies within our diversity. It is only by protecting our individual diversities that we preserve our actual unity. It is incumbent upon us to give protection to any diversity that seeks recognition so that we can preserve and protect the whole. We must have the maturity to understand that the seeking of individual rights is not a challenge to our sovereignty.
We finally have specific steps being taken towards the creation of Telangana. The Telangana movement began with a peasant revolt against the regime of the Hyderabad Nizam in the 1940s. This transformed itself into the first major challenge to the authority of Independent India and the army had to be sent in to quell a revolt that showed no signs of abating. A unit of the army even joined the rebels, proclaiming that their cause was just. It was finally put down and stayed dormant.
Its resilience showed itself when it transformed itself into a most successful Naxalite movement, which took over many districts of Andhra Pradesh and gave leadership to other similar movements against injustice in different parts of the country. This movement was just about dealt with when it got further transformed into a demand for a separate state, which is finally close to its goal. Or, looking at the reactions to the announcement by the Centre, is it?
It is said that the genie is now out of the bottle and that the various demands for statehood across the country will gain momentum. The portion of Sikkim ceded in the 18th century to the British, and at present a district of West Bengal, now demands Gorkhaland. The division of the erstwhile Assam Province, which begun with statehood for Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, now faces demands for Bodoland and Karbi Anglong states. Will Assam finally be reduced to just the Gauhati Valley? Vidarbha, transferred from the Central Provinces to the erstwhile Bombay Province in 1956, was eventually made a part of Maharashtra in 1960 with special guarantees provided under Article 371(2) of the Indian Constitution. For years, it has been claimed, even in various parliamentary debates, that these guarantees have not been properly implemented and there are demands for separation. The list goes on and on…
Historically, colonial powers have tended to form political boundaries based on the realities of conquest and ease of administration without taking into account contiguities of language, region, culture and ethnicity. In Africa, tribal lands were divided and added onto the lands of hostile tribes. The various conflicts we have seen, now getting even bloodier, are a direct result of these decisions. In South America, tribal lands were subsumed into larger entities for pure commercial exploitation. The exploitation carries on to this day, sometimes arousing the conscience of the world.
In our subcontinent, people were divided and added to each other without any perceivable rationale. The most blatant of these cases is that of Uttar Pradesh. The United Provinces of Agra and Awadh was one of the most unwieldy of the British Indian provinces, which was, upon Independence, renamed as Uttar Pradesh.
The regions of Garhwal and Kumaon came under the British through the Treaty of Sugauli after the Anglo-Nepalese war in 1816. These were added to the United Provinces, but retained their unique character. Sustained economic neglect created an abiding sense of grievance leading to a demand for statehood, which resulted in the creation of Uttarakhand in 2000.
Awadh, with its unique undying character, was taken over by the British in 1856, eventually merged into the United Provinces.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh is contiguous to Bihar and has the same ethnicity, language and composite culture. Both were a part of the Bengal Presidency but eventually split. Thus the western part of this area became eastern Uttar Pradesh after being conjoined with that province. Once again, economic neglect at the hands of successive provincial governments has given an impetus for separation. Despite various measures such as a special economic package being announced, there is little to be seen on the ground. The demand for Poorvanchal will only accelerate with time.
Western Uttar Pradesh was a part of the Greater Delhi Province of the Mughals. Since a major part of the 1857 movement took place in this area, it was duly punished by dividing it between Punjab, which got what is today Haryana, and the Agra Province, which later was conjoined with Awadh and other areas to form the United Provinces of Agra and Awadh. This entire region has retained its sense of identity and cultural integrity through language customs and inter-marriages. Thus the resident of western Uttar Pradesh has more in common with his counterpart in Haryana or Rajasthan than with anybody in Awadh and is totally alien to a person from the eastern districts. A demand for its separation was even raised in the Constituent Assembly by Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava on 2 August 1949:
“During the Mutiny too, when the people rose in revolt, this territory was a part of Delhi. Because the people of this area had mutinied against the British in 1857, this territory of Delhi… was integrated with the Punjab as a measure of punishment… I want to submit that the people of this area have been expecting for a long time that on the advent of self-government, all their difficulties would be removed.”
The situation in western Uttar Pradesh acquired a new dimension with the Green Revolution, which brought prosperity and changed the economic dynamic of the region. The people, who have little in common with the rest of the state, now feel that they are subsidising the other lesser developed parts. Lucknow is too far from them and they argue that even Lahore is closer.
As if all this was not enough, a simple look at the current map of Uttar Pradesh will show up the last of the injustices heaped upon this state, this time by Independent India. The map shows a long bent leg protruding from Uttar Pradesh into the heart of northern Madhya Pradesh. Soon after Independence, the princely states of Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand were amalgamated to form the new state of Vindhya Pradesh in 1949 with Rewa as its capital. This was dissolved and partitioned with one portion going to Madhya Pradesh and another to Uttar Pradesh, giving rise to the demand for Bundelkhand, which resonates in the minds of its people with the legends of its heroes, most prominently, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.
The momentum for statehood is gaining ground in the different entities that make up Uttar Pradesh. The constitutional train is today parked at the Andhra station waiting for the Telangana bogies to be detached. Where is this train headed next? Is the next station Uttar Pradesh? Only time will tell.
The views expressed are the author’s own and don’t reflect the official position of the Congress party