Ever since October 9, 2009, when then Union home minister P Chidambaram announced the Centre’s decision to grant statehood to Telangana and the principal opposition party endorsed it, it was clear that the clock can’t be turned back. However, the way the UPA government went about it leading to the passage of the bill in Parliament is exactly how the Centre should not go about creation of new states.
It is tragic that the birth of India’s 29th state should be such a messy affair. Instead of building a consensus,
passions have been aroused to an extent that the supporters and opponents of the new state are at war with each other. Parliamentary institutions and traditions have been degraded. The reorganisation of Andhra Pradesh and its timing has been propelled by electoral calculations of the party ruling at the Centre without due considerations of governance issues that are bound to crop up during
division of a state.
A certain amount of tension is inherent in process of reorganisation of states and the birth of Andhra Pradesh itself had followed a trail of blood. It would be wrong, however, to conclude that reorganisation of Indian states is just an electoral ploy or the demand for new states will stop after the formation of Telangana.
At present, India’s population of 124 crore people is organised into 28 states and seven Union Territories. In contrast, the US, with a population of 32 crore, is divided into 50 states. The eight crore inhabitants of Germany are governed through 16 states.
India sits at the bottom of the federal league table in terms of numbers of states and population. It has an average of over 35 million people per state. That compares to about seven million people in Brazil, six million in the US, and four million in Nigeria. Quite a few of the Indian states cover a larger area and serve a larger population than some of the developed nations. Were it to be declared an independent country, Uttar Pradesh would tie with Brazil to be the world’s fifth largest nation.
Given that there is already a shrill clamour for creation of smaller states from different parts of India, granting of statehood to Telangana is bound to spur them further. It would be more sensible to create a framework of new states rather than wait for regional demands to turn violent.
The only sensible way out can be setting up a new States Reorganisation Commission (SRC). There have long been calls for the establishment of a second SRC to take a more comprehensive look at the shape and size of India’s states. Both those who seek a thorough, dispassionate analysis of the issue and those who seek to kick difficult political decisions into the longer grass have called for a fresh exercise.
The argument advanced by opponents of Telangana that the first SRC had already completed the reorganisation of states on linguistic lines is untenable. When the linguistic states were formed, the objective was to give Indian languages and culture the institutional support they did not have under colonial rule.
Now that decades of support and nourishment have allowed Indian languages and cultures to flourish, these languages are no excuse for blocking popular aspirations. Hindi-speakers are already organised into multiple states and sharing a language has not proved a hurdle in creation of the new states of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh by the NDA regime.
As experience has shown, creation of smaller states is good politics and has mostly led to faster economic growth. After the first SRC was set up in 1953 and the States Reorganisation Act was passed in 1956, subsequent governments have addressed the demand for new states on piecemeal basis. It is time to set up a mechanism to do so after due consultation with all stakeholders and settle the issue with a degree of finality.