With the Centre conceding to the demand of a separate Telangana State, similar demands from various regions of India have started emerging fast in a stately procession. The Centre has received demands for at least 10 new states including separate Mithilanchal, Saurashtra, and Coorg. As expected the announcement by the Manmohan Singh Government was confronted with strong opposition from the Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and over 100 MLAs, 20 Ministers have resigned in protest, and now even the Chief Minister K Rossaiah has threatened to quit in revolt against the Centre’s decision on Telangana State.
It is a classic case of ‘marry in haste and repent at later’. The Central Government seems to have taken this decision to create separate Telangana State out of existing Andhra Pradesh, buckling under the pressure caused due to fast unto death undertaken by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K Chandrasekhar Rao. His 11-day fast obviously compelled the UPA Government at the Centre to act in quick response without considering its full ramifications. Now, confronted with large scale protests, resignations and counter-offensives from Rayalseema and Coastal Andhra regions, the Prime Minister said that the Government has agreed to creation of separate Telangana State ‘in principle’ and no hasty decision would be taken in this regard. That is very much indicative of the Manmohan Singh Government’s vulnerability to pressures.
However, the UPA is caught in its own cobweb over the Telangana now. Endless demands for new smaller states have been raised from various states. Ajit Singh of Rashtriya Lok Dal has demanded creation of Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh; the Bodos in Assam are demanding Bodoland; supported by Jaswant Singh the Gorkhas in West Bengal have already raised their voice for creation of separate Gorkhaland in West Bengal. Besides, popular support is being sought to further the demands for separate Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Coorg in Karnataka, and Gondwana in Madhya Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has given her consent for trifurcation of her state into three smaller political units. Former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma has also favoured smaller states for rapid development and to check regional disparity. The National Federation of Small States and the Indian National Front for New States have decided to forge a national alliance of regional parties to further the reorganisation of states and contest the next Lok Sabha polls on this issue. The Centre seems to be at loss as it hardly expected that its move on Telangana would boomerang so fast and live it directionless to act forthwith.
To deal with issues related to popular sentiments in such hasty manner buckling under the public pressure or giving in to pressure tactics of some leaders has been the tradition of the Congress Party governments. The history of free India is replete with numerous examples to substantiate this statement. Reorganisation of states on language basis is one such classic example to show how the successive Congress governments gave in to pressures from various quarters.
Historically, the Congress Party had adopted as early as in 1923 a resolution aimed at creating states based on languages within the Indian Federation. The Congress was the only political organisation in the country then, and it claimed to represent the whole of the country. It also envisaged a federal pattern of government for our country besides the language-based states. Once this was agreed to in principle, the Congress should have initiated steps in the direction of formation of linguistic states immediately after independence or later after the first general elections held in 1952 following the acceptance of the Constitution. But that did not happen.
During the British occupation of India, the states were formed merging new adjacent areas which were brought under the British Crown. There was no particular policy as such for formation of these areas into contiguous states based on language or development criteria. The situation remained so even after the British left and political power was transferred to the Government of India under Prime Minister Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru. Credit must be given to Sardar Patel for amalgamating all the princely states into the Indian Union and quelling the possible revolts by Junagarh, Hyderabad and Bhopal principalities headed by the Nawabs and the Nizam.
But it was only in 1953, ironically that too in Andhra Pradesh, one Sri Ramlu undertook fast unto death, and eventually died in the course of his fast triggering violent reaction and protest all over the Andhra Pradesh for the formation of separate Telugu speaking state. The then Pt Nehru Government conceded to demand and new Telugu speaking state of Andhra Pradesh was created. Immediately in the same year the Government appointed Fazal Ali Commission, popularly known as States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), to look into the formation of linguistic states. Some more new states of Kerala, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh etc. were formed after the government accepted the recommendations of the SRC.
The same Fazal Ali Commission had also recommended creation of separate State of Vidarbha comprising of eight districts of the erstwhile Central Provinces and Berar. The Commission stated in its report: “Considering the financially sound position of Vidarbha and deficit of the rest of Maharashtra, excluding Brihan Mumbai, the people of Vidarbha are not much interested in merger with Maharashtra. In case, Vidarbha merges with Maharashtra, the people are not sure whether their surplus revenue and resources would be used for the development schemes of Vidarbha and prima facie this doubt seems to have solid reasons to believe.” (SRC Report, Para 448) The SRC further noted, “Judging impartially all the arguments made before us in favour and against Vidarbha, we feel that the Marathi-speaking districts of Madhya Pradesh that is Vidarbha, is a contiguous region and creating separate state out of that would be in the interest of all.” (SRC Report, para 452.) However, the Nehru Government did not accept the recommendation on separate Vidarbha. Instead, Vidarbha and Marathwada were merged with the large bi-lingual state of Bombay (Gujarat and Maharashtra).
Even this large bilingual state was further bifurcated into two separate states of Gujarat and Maharashtra not until the public demand, agitations and death of over 100 people compelled the Nehru Government to take such step. Similar strong public agitation forced the government to trifurcate PEPSU into Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana states. Take the case of North-eastern states. Nagaland was created in 1960 to satisfy the Christian missionary-led separatists, while Meghalaya was created in 1971 when the Indira Gandhi government gave in to the pressure of the Christian Church leaders. Same was the case with Mizoram which was granted statehood in 1987 by Rajiv Gandhi Government. Compared to these the recent formation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh during the Vajpayee Government was smooth and without any pressure.
However, the Centre’s response to K Chandrasekhar Rao’s 11-day fast and subsequent countrywide reactions on the separate Telangana issue vis-à-vis demands for new smaller states coming from various corners of the country, there is an express need for setting up a second States Reorganisation Commission. This panel must go into the details of various demands and submit its report to the Central Government within a stipulated time frame.
Not that all the demands for new smaller states should be taken as affront on the principle of federalism enshrined in the Constitution of India. But the possibility that such a demand would not be usurped by the anti-India forces aimed at weakening India should not be ruled out entirely, especially in the border regions. Most of the demands for smaller states like Bodoland, Vidarbha, Harit Pradesh, Gondwana or Bundelkhand are made because of development imbalance. There is no proper infrastructure, no industries worth to name, no better facilities of education and health etc. in these regions. Lack of development led to ever growing unemployment and subsequently that inspired the people in these regions to demand separate state for themselves. Initially, there was a demand for development but when continuous neglect was heaped upon the people, the demand for separate state was put forth. This had happened in case of Bodoland movement. When in 1987, the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) submitted a 100-point memorandum to the then AGP Government led by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the 99 points in it were related to providing development infrastructure in Bodo-dominated areas of Assam. The 100th point had said that if the government failed to provide all these facilities then the Bodos would be left with no alternative but to demand a separate state for themselves! Unfortunately neither the Centre nor the State government took any serious note of this memorandum paving the way for anti-India forces led by the vested interests to sneak into the movement and to grab its leadership later. That turned it into a violent insurgent movement aimed at weakening India into that sensitive border region.
States were reorganised on the basis of language the majority people spoke in a particular geographical region. But in doing so geographical size and population ratio were not taken into consideration. Thus we have Uttar Pradesh with a population of over 17 crore and Mizoram with a population of just 9 lakhs! Similar is the case with Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. This uneven distribution of population, and consolidation of political power in the hands of few influential leaders of a particular region in large states had resulted in development imbalance and neglect of a particular region. To overcome this imbalance, the late Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya had suggested that some 60 small what he called ‘Janapadas’ could be carved out so that each region would get an equal chance to develop itself. The Bharatiya Janata Party in its National Executive meeting at Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh in 1987 made a mention to this concept of ‘janapadas’. But the issue remained there only. If we study the demands of smaller states we find that these regions once formed the ‘janapads’ in early periods of history. We come across innumerable references to ‘janapads’ during the Maurya or Gupta period when democracy was firmly rooted in the Indian socio-cultural system of governance and administration. Will dividing Indian states further into smaller ‘janapads’ as advocated by Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya serve the purpose? The thinkers, planners, administrators and political and social leaders must give a serious thought to this. Reorganisation would be a gigantic task requiring time and patience. But it needs to be undertaken without any further delay. And the first step in this direction would be announcing the second SRC.