Public in tight spot over politics of small states

Gorkhaland by vijay pandey (2)
States at stake: There have been demands for creating several separate states

Undoubtedly, India is a big country with 29 states and 7 union territories. Nonetheless, the demand for even more states is being raised from time to time. In the aftermath of creation of four new states in 2000, this demand has in turn got more intensified. The last few years have witnessed a constant tug of war between the champions of smaller states and larger states. There have been demands for creating a separate Mithilanchal in Bihar, Saurashtra in Gujrat, Coorg or, Kodagu in Karnataka, Gondwana in Madhya Pradesh, Mahakosal in Orissa, Bodoland in Assam, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Vidharba in Maharashtra, Bundelkhand in U.P. and M.P., Haritpradesh and Poornanchal in UP. Mayawati even proposed to divide Uttar Pradesh into four smaller states – Purvanchal, Bundelkhand, Awadh Pradesh and Pashchim Pradesh.

Demands have also been echoed to accord Ladakh a Union Territory status and Jammu separate state in Jammu and Kashmir, special status for Gulbarga, Bidar, Raichur, Koppal and Yadagir, Tulu Nadu areas in Karnataka, Kukiland in Manipur, and Kongu Nadu in Tamil Nadu etc. — as their progress is lacking behind as compared with their parent states more advanced regions. In West Bengal the Gorkhas of Darjeeling are demanding for a smaller state. Creation of new states — Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand — in 2000 has been followed by recent creation of Telangana as a separate state.

Independent India, then comprising nearly 565 princely states and 4 presidencies, in the immediate aftermath of the Partition, was faced with the problem of governability and the government of the day agreed to reorganize the states, preeminently on linguistic basis. Subsequently, the formation of Andhra State in 1953 on linguistic basis-sparked the agitations all over the country, with linguistic groups demanding separate statehood. Inability of the State Reorganization Commission of 1950s toput a stop to the demands for the creation of new states based on the notions of ethno-linguistic and regional identity culminated in the formation of the linguistic states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960 and Haryana in 1966. Northeastern States were also formed to ascertain tribal aspirations, such as in 1962- Nagaland, in 1970, 3 districts of Assam were detached to create Tripura. Goa had its own historical antecedents.

Some experts feel that the issue of language and culture-which had shaped the earlier process of reorganization- shifted to those of better governance and greater participation, administrative convenience, economic viability in the developmental needs of sub-regions. Undoubtedly, there are of course emotional considerations such as culture, language, religion and a sense of economic and regional deprivation; nonetheless, politicians envision plum posts of power as chief ministers, or ministers, leaders of opposition, assembly speakers and so on along with bureaucracy’s clamour for plum administrative posts. This leads one to infer that these desire-based demands are the result of power politics.

Divergent views

Among the mainstream political parties, both the BJP and the Congress have supported bifurcation of states as has the Bahujan Samaj Party. In the Left, there is a division with the CPM consistently opposing any further division of states while the CPI changed its stance in the case of Andhra-Telengana. The CPM in its resolution in 2001 made it clear that if all the existing demands were to be considered, India would be divided into more than 60 units and that would seriously undermine the federal concept of a multilingual, multinational country. This would lead to an authoritarian unitary State structure further worsening Centre-state relations.

Demands for separate statehood have been emerging from different regions, political groups, and cultural identities and such demands often get fructified in formation of new state when a particular region or identity had a potential support of the ruling political class at the centre. Some constitutional experts opine that the main objective of Indian constitution makers behind adopting Federal kind of political structure was to enhance democratic ethos and spirit by recognizing, accepting and defending different regional identities and civil rights in a plural and multi-cultural country. The constitution makers were very well aware of the complex ethnic identities and plural culture of India, which has been the reason for adopting the unitary kind of federal system, as enshrined in Article 1 of Indian Constitution.

Besides, the Article 3 of the Constitution provides the powers of formation of new states and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of existing states to the Parliament. According to thisarticle, before introducing the `Bill’ for the purpose in to parliament, the prior recommendation of the President is necessary. The bill should be referred to the relevant state legislature for ascertaining their views, but the important thing is that their approval is not necessary. Creation of the new states on the regional feelings always had been a sensitive issue to Indian state. Vulnerability towards national unity has been a strong factor for hesitation of Union government from creation of newer states despite strong demands for it.

The central argument advanced in favour of creation of smaller states is to tackle the regional backwardness and correct the economic imbalances. People of the regions where such demands emerged, and continue to emerge, insisted that the parent state did not allocate resources for all-round growth even though that part of the region contributed more to the kitty.When mineral rich Jharkhand was being created, the refrain in Bihar was that it would be left with ‘Baalu aur Aaloo’ (sand and potatoes) leading to another demand for a package to bridge the revenue deficit. A divided Andhra is demanding a special package for rebuilding the state.

Some observers question the economic prudence in setting up new states, which may find lacking in infrastructure, which requires time, money and efforts to build. Examples of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are cited, which make it discernible that the formation of smaller states is no guarantee for the development of better livings for the socially backward groups for the cause of whom these states have been created. Uttarakhand continues to be at the lower end in the human development index. The government failed to deal with the recent floods.

Media reports indicate that in Jharkhand worst politics have been going on and as a result it has not able to achieve the desired growth as promised prior to its formation. Bihar on the other hand with its minimal natural resources has been able to achieve second highest GDP after bifurcation. Small states depend to a substantial extent on central government for financial aid.

On the political front too there are many challenges that smaller states have to face, as the dream of new smaller states was ushered in by the leaders needs closer introspection – something that has been missing so far from the discourse. Political instability is a new trend in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand ofpolitics of polarization is also emerged. In its 16 years of existence, Uttarakhand has seen seven chief ministers and a brief spell of the President’s rule. Similarly, Jharkhand which wasformed around the same time by bifurcating Bihar has already had more than half-a-dozen CMs and three stints of the President’s rule.

Way forward
Political pundits have opined that smaller states are not a panacea for India’s myriad problems. Neither can they resolve issues faced by various regions and sections of society. Larger states may be in fact more economically and financially viable and better capable of serving people and achieving planned development. If the administration in a large state suffers, what is the guarantee that it will become competent by merely creating smaller states? After the bifurcation, states have been suffering from several issues, such as backwardness, illiteracy, food security problems, low human development etc.

The recent decisions to create new states have been taken under political pressures, but the situation demands that the government needs to handle the issue by better political governance, fiscal management and rule of law.

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