State of the Matter

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The creation of a separate Telangana entity could rejig the parameters that have defined state-making in post-Independence India

Breakaway group KCR’s son Rama Rao waves after the Centre’s assurance
Breakaway group KCR’s son Rama Rao waves after the Centre’s assurance
Ashok Malik
Ashok Malik

GREAT MEN shape history; so do social and economic forces and, occasionally, accidents. On December 9, all it took was a panic attack. At midnight, Home Minister P Chidambaram made the dramatic announcement that the “process of separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh will be initiated soon”. K Chandrashekhara Rao — or “KCR”, as the chief of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is known — couldn’t believe his ears. The other guy had blinked.

Earlier in the evening, at about 10 pm, KCR’s confidants in Hyderabad had been sending very different signals. On the 11th day of their leader’s fast, they were holding out for a suitable carrot, specifically a phone call to KCR from Ahmed Patel. The political lieutenant to the Congress president would “request” the TRS chief to end his fast. KCR would honour Sonia Gandhi’s “request”. He was looking for incremental gains; two hours later, he had a state.

What happened in those two hours? The man in the eye of the storm is Chidambaram. A senior Congress MP who has known him for many years says he was genuinely worried by medical reports from KCR’s bedside. “He didn’t want something happening to KCR under his watch,” offers the MP. Another insider says the turmoil on the streets had long overtaken KCR’s gimmicky fast-unto-death. When he saw restive students leading emotional crowds, Chidambaram felt he had run out of time.

Whatever the truth, the loss of nerve has cost the UPA. It is facing a first-class crisis in Andhra Pradesh, and also being inundated by demands for new states. Some of these — Gorkhaland in north Bengal; Harit Pradesh in western Uttar Pradesh — are known quantities. Others — Seemanchal in eastern Bihar, bordering Nepal and Bangladesh; Maru Pradesh in western Rajasthan, bordering Pakistan and rich in oil, gas and tourist locales — are bolts from the blue.

A new States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) appears imminent. If nothing else, it will give the UPA government breathing space. Nevertheless, in the next year or three, India’s cartographers are going to get busy.

States have been bifurcated and even trifurcated earlier. They have been broken up and the pieces merged with components of other states to form new entities. So, despite the turbulence in Andhra Pradesh and notwithstanding the civil war in the ruling Congress itself, is there anything new afoot?

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