Expediency is the mot juste for the Congress credo. The party founded by Alan Octavian Hume exactly 129 years ago swears by its imperial inheritance from the Union Jack—the British policy of divide and rule. For a party that advertises inclusive economics and politics, its policies and actions have always been aimed at polarising the nation along casteist, regional and religious lines. It chooses to divide when it fails to unite through pressure, persuasion and power. For example, after stonewalling the creation of a Telangana state for over five decades, it has suddenly discovered that dividing Andhra Pradesh is its only option to capture a small sliver of the stormy state. It is rare that a new state is created, not for economic and administrative reasons but purely to improve the political prospects of a party. The economic necessity of bifurcating Andhra is as much relevant today as it was 50 years ago. But a clique of the high and mighty had for long sabotaged the midwifing of a smaller state, because it would have adversely affected their financial and political clout.
Ever since former CM YSR Reddy died, the Congress and the ruling elite have been orphaned in Andhra. To the High Command’s delight, the mercurial CM’s argumentum ad baculum policy was successful in gagging even legitimate dissent while keeping the state politically united. After his death in a helicopter crash, the Andhra Congress became a divided house as its control over castes and regions crumbled with Jagan Mohan Reddy deserting the party and floating his own.
Since the return of the Congress to power for a third consecutive term in 2014 also depends on its performance in Andhra, which gave it 33 seats in 2009, the leadership has decided to surrender a large part of coastal Andhra to Jagan while trying to retain and win Telangana, which sends 17 MPs to the Lok Sabha. UPA was fast and furious in completing almost all the administrative and legislative formalities necessary for the creation of a new state; this, however, exposed the Congress’s political compulsions. Never before has the Central government initiated the process of dividing a state, ignoring strident opposition from a large section of the state. When the NDA divided Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, it carried the state leadership along and the process was seamless and politically perfect. In Andhra, the Congress, buckling under local pressures, vacillated and agonised for two years. It swerved haphazardly at opportunistic U-turns. In the end, it reckoned that it was better to salvage whatever little support was left. The UPA surgeons finished the amputation exercise in eight weeks. The Group of Ministers headed by Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, a former Andhra Pradesh governor, went through the motions of talking to all political parties. They even brought on board civil servants from over a dozen ministries from the state and the Centre. Finally, the Union government has endorsed a draft Bill to be passed during the Winter Session of Parliament.
The falsetto for the creation of smaller states has reached a high pitch in other states. But a powerful confederacy of political, corporate and social interests has sabotaged the genuine need to divide India into many economically viable smaller states. While the Congress is in a tearing hurry to be Telangana’s political obstetrician, it has not spoken a word about similar pleas emanating from other states. It is almost three years since Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh’s CM at the time, wrote to the Centre to start the process of dividing her humongous state into four smaller ones. Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has been fighting for a separate Harit Pradesh, though his demand is confined to occasional speeches and letters, with no serious agitation attempted so far. In West Bengal, people from hilly regions around Darjeeling have been struggling for Gorkhaland, but ironically both the Trinamool Congress and arch enemy CPI(M) have pooled their political resources together to fight the division of the state. In Maharashtra, none of the national parties are backing the strong demand for Vidharbha, which has stayed a backward region for decades.
The demand for new states is the outcome of poor governance and economic and social benightedness of those parts of big states which are resource-deprived. Both Vidarbha and Telangana are significantly poorer on all economic parameters than other parts of Maharashtra and Andhra. Since the established political leadership fears loss of power if their fiefdoms are divided, they conspire with opinion makers, corpulent corporates and even social organisations to oppose such moves. For example, the opposition to Telangana is coming from the section of India Inc based in Hyderabad, which holds over 70 per cent of the assets of a dozen powerful families. Their nominees control the political and bureaucratic machinery. The Mumbai elite would feel insecure if Vidarbha is created because they will not be able to influence decisions in that region of Maharashtra to protect their business and social stakes. In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the Yadavs are opposed to division because their caste control is much less in various parts of Western and Eastern UP. Even the upper caste-dominated BJP fears the contraction of its political base if UP is quartered into four. It is surprising that the UPA leadership, which follows market economics, is opposed to creating more states like the US has. The raison d’etre for the Congress aversion to appoint a States Reorganisation Commission is expediently political. It makes sense to divide India on developmental lines as it makes both good economics and better politics. Even if the Congress adheres to its well-tested philosophy of divide and rule, it should do so without discrimination. An India divided into 50 smaller states, based on economic reasons and not caste or language, will ensure the birth of a true Shining India of tomorrow.
(Emails to the author can be sent at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla)