The other day Jairam Ramesh, perhaps wearing the Congress ideologue hat, had pronounced that Uttar Pradesh needs to be divided into four parts. Was this the first salvo in the war for votes in the 2019 elections? Or was it geared to immediate electoral benefits from this critical state in the elections. Or does it reflect his conviction that the backwardness of India among the comity of nations is due to the large size of many states; is balkanising India the single button solution for rapid development, and for removal of poverty, corruption and other evils?
Do we really need existing states to be broken up? What is the national policy? If there is one, why is it not clearly articulated? Is this a ‘State subject’, in which the Centre plays its role depending on its convenience of the moment? Is there no rational, well considered national position in this regard? If not, why is that so? Is that because we are unwilling to look at any major current or potential issue, think it through, and have a strong stance, which would preempt any agitation or demand? Or, use the issue in a crass political fashion for immediate partisan interest?
The Telangana issue has been ‘solved’, by breaking up the Telugu nation into two parts, potentially pitting brother against brother. The Vidarbha demand has been muted for a while, but could resurface in a strong manner if the political circumstances change. There have been many calls for ‘dismemberment’ of Uttar Pradesh to bring in ‘efficiency’ in management. The Bundelkhand regions of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Bhojpuri region of Uttar Pradesh as well as Mithila area of Bihar are also potential candidates for raising the call of separation. The Gorkhaland bugle has been sounded. The calls are endless; nearly in every current state, there is the possibility of a new demand for creation of separate states.
Let us look at past experience in this regard. Assam was broken up into six or seven states; has the region really benefited? Apart from providing a playground for national parties to spread themselves there, and to encourage local insurgency movements, there is no question but that the dismemberment of Assam has had strong negative consequences. Besides, a couple of states in the Northeast, as is well known, have encouraged large-scale migration from Bangladesh, creating much confusion—naturally supported heavily by certain national parties. It cannot be argued credibly that the common man in Jharkhand or Uttarakhand or Chhattisgarh has benefited.
The proponents of smaller states point out that the quality of governance will improve, since the CM and other ministers can give personal attention to development projects in a smaller, ‘more manageable’ state. Unfortunately, this theory has been disproved by past experience. Besides, there is a logical flaw here—it is precisely the personal attention given by political leaders to individual projects which is deleterious. Division of UP will merely provide the ‘benefit’ of the equivalent of three more Akhilesh Yadavs, Azam Khans, supervised by Mulayam Singhs—hardly a recipe for great success. In a highly corrupt atmosphere, personal attention of political leaders invariably leads to ever-increasing cuts, eating into the value of development projects. The real need is for impersonal development by committed officials who are supervised strictly and are made accountable to the political leadership. The clamour for new smaller states is fuelled by the fact that creation of a new entity will lead to multiplication in the number of ministers, legislators, secretaries and other senior officials, along with other government staff—all non-productive expenditures, which do not benefit the common man or economy. It is not surprising, therefore, that all local politicians and bureaucrats generally strongly support a new state—their opportunity to make a quick buck is much greater.
Essentially, the quality of governance is the key element; not whether a state is large or small. Decentralisation and accountability in decision-making provides the key. Development administration cannot be centralised, whether it is a small state or a large state. The US has very small states like Maryland and Vermont, or very large states like California and Texas. They all coexist because the officials are highly accountable and the public is watchful. Governance is ‘size-neutral’.
Many of our political pundits have evolved their careers entirely in Delhi, with very little hands-on experience of the circumstances and situations in the states, districts, tehsils, blocks and other sub-formations. Their view of governance is based on a macro picture, without having a feel for the kinds of micro-forces that operate all over the country. It is only political expediency, and the desire to fish in troubled waters, which impels the periodical demand for break-up of states. In a country with over 700 languages and dialects, and myriad mini-cultures, it will be folly to keep the door open for new states on the specious ground of cultural differences or better administration or better governance. The key national issues relate to removal of corruption, provision of a basis for good governance and a concerted move to address the basic challenges—not to befuddle the public with artificial solutions.