Eight percent growth does not define India. It is living people who do. For decades, it is poor who have made India proud. Harassed and manipulated, they cling on to their identities of faith, group and culture in ways that both assimilate and divide.
To accommodate regional and historical claims, India evolved flexible boundaries and ideas for its federalism. From 1950-1956, there were class ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ states. A States Reorganization Committee (1956) abolished this framework to create new States and Territories. After Nehru gave up his resistance, linguistic federalism went further with the creation of Maharashtra, Gujarat (1960), Punjab, Haryana (1966) and Himachal (1971). Cultural and political pressures led to the reorganization of the North East creating Nagaland (1962), Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura (1972), Mizoram, Arunachal, Goa (1987), Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarkhand (2000). Indian federalism is a-symmetrical with special status to Jammu and Kashmir (article 370), and to various other states (article 371A) and the Tribal Areas (Vth and VIth Schedule). Each reorganization has worked well despite the disapproving flutter that India is splitting into unmanageable pieces.
The Constitution accommodatingly allowed geographic restructuring by the Union, requiring no more than the legislature of the affected state to “express its views” (article 3). The people were not involved. There was no referenda. But should Indian federalism be re-written by agitational politics? Is there no limit to redrawing state boundaries? Just because Potti Sriramalu’s fast to death created linguistic Andhra, it does not follow that K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KSR) fast should yield a similar shot gun result. Conceding Telengana has triggered off a chain reaction of demands including Rayalseema within Andhra, Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh and Purvanchal in Uttar Pradesh, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Bodoland in Assam, Coorg from Karnataka, Vidharba from Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Mithilanchal in Bihar, Mahakhosala in Orissa and Ladakh and Jammu in J&K.
Demands do not implement plans. The 1956 States Reorganization Commission drew detailed plans. A lesser exercise went into the split up of Punjab in 1966 and the North East in 1971. With no role given to the people, their will is eclipsed by demonstrations, slogans and political aggrandizement – with each political party wondering how its electoral chickens will hatch. But, if the will of the people is an un-Gandhian fast unto death, KSR’s 11 day fast is now to be out-matched by 21 Gorkhas launching a hunger strike unto death.
The peoples’ will should be given effect to by a Second States Reorganization Commission (SSRC) 2010 - initially to examine the claims of Telengana, Rayalseema and Andhra. The SSRC 2010 should then examine other claims to statehood – dealing not with legislators but the people, economists, geographers and technical experts. Without overlapping with the Punchi Commission on federalism, the SSRC would concentrate on geographic federalism so that state boundaries are settled by 2015 – after which changes should be by referendum.
The historical demand for Telengana suffers many inexactitudes. In princely Hyderabad, the ‘land of the Telugus’ was distinct. Today Telangana has 10 districts, including Hyderabad, a population of 35 odd million, an area of 114,800 Sq. Kms and the mighty Krishna and Godavari rivers flowing through it. Land locked, it produces 119 out of 294 MLA’s and tips the balance with 17 out of 42 MPs. For political parties, the future will remain a puzzle. This is the probable reason why the Congress is hesitatingly willing to risk the Telengana gamble. The BJP is happy either way. It will criticize Congress if the movement fails and take the credit if Telengana becomes a reality. There is more to creating a state than party politics. Many questions arise: (i) Will the creation of the new state bring peace and a lasting solution for the area? (ii) Will the new state be financially and economically viable? (iii) Will the sharing of resources be equitably worked through? (iv) Will the developmental prospects and peoples’ rights and development be enhanced? (v) Where will State institutions and the capital city be allocated. The Chandigarh solution for Punjab and Haryana remains disputed as a lasting solution. In our context, who will claim Hyderabad? This cannot be worked out by a special session of the state legislature to affirm a Union Parliament Bill which is the only constitutional requirement.
Across the border, Nepal is trying to create a federal system. Its assembly members are concerned that small states may not generate a sufficent Consolidated Fund to pay for minimal infrastructure of a legislature, courts, police and administration. The poorer the state, the greater the need for distribution of federal revenues and grants. When I went to Iraq to discuss federated units with Iraqi legislators, they wanted to know who would control oil revenues. In Canada, oil rich Alberta shares with other provinces by negotiation. Dreams get shattered by an impoverished federal structure unable to meet just demands with federal equity.
India is now committed to a multi-tier federal structure including a panchayat system. At this point, many states are still dealing with issues concerning the representation of dalits, tribals, women and OBC’s rather than the panchayat’s real empowerment and control over development, planning, welfare and resources. Why is this important? The geographic distribution of power does not vouchsafe a real and live democracy. If many federal units induce alienation, despair and disillusionment, it is because even amongst the new units, real power eludes the real people. Koda’s Jharkhand is a classic example of how new states break down into corrupt politics. Eventually, the true test of electoral democracy is local government. If England, Europe and America breed democracy it is because local government is strong, responsive, transparent and participatory. To build new states without assuring resources to and empowering local government is to surrender these states to the zamindari of party politics immersed in the ping-pong swerves of periodic elections.
What direction will the new spate of demands for new states take? The federal reorganization of 1956, 1960 and 1966 was along linguistic lines. The North East (1971, 1975) and the recent new states taken out from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and UP (2000) sported new cultural identities. Even amongst the linguistic states, Mahrashtra and Punjab display xenophobic truculence in ways that exasperate India’s quest of unity and diversity amidst migratory movements. Even if Nehru’s apprehensions about linguistic states were not well founded, he was right in forewarning the dangers of micro-splitting India without reserve. The message: nothing in haste.
Indian federalism’s geographic boundaries cannot be resolved by fasts unto death, stoning trains, burning buses or bringing all business and traffic to a halt. The Constitution makers (article 3 and 4), created an easy method to create new states without referenda. They did not imagine that such a process would become absurdly facile. The silences of the Constitution were to be filled with wise solutions. Each reorganization has to be thought through as viable, necessary and truly democratic and not just shifting MLA’s from the old state to the new. Carrying ‘Telengana’ further requires skill, patience and a democratic approach to divide resources and empowerments. The answer is a Second States Reorganization Commission to meet all demands so that India’s federal structure is not perpetually in unstable equilibrium. Wisdom must sober the shrill demands of politics. 10 Janpath’s knee jerk solutions cannot define the will of the nation.