When the British completed their conquest of India, they couldn’t care a tuppence for the linguistic affinities of Indians. They called their administrative units ‘Presidencies’. Bengal Presidency covered not just the entire Bengali-speaking territory but what we now know as Bihar, Orissa and Assam. The old Madras Presidency consisted of Tamil and a few Telugu-speaking districts, a small part of what is now Orissa, one district (Malabar) speaking Malayalam and another, South Kanara which was multi-lingual, not to mention the districts of Bellary, Anantpur, Cuddappah and Kurnool.
The All India Congress Committee had its provincial committees strictly on linguistic lines, such as the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) or the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC). This was to spawn linguistic fanaticism which eventually led to the creation of linguistic states such as we know them today. In a multi-lingual city like Mumbai, it has also led to rioting and hate-mongering of a kind that has brought disgrace to India. There are, no doubt, sound arguments in favour of linguistic states and they have been stated over and over again. Andhra State was formed by resorting to emotional blackmail and one wonders what Potti Sriramulu would have said were he alive today. His technique has now been tried by K Chandrasekhar Rao, making a mockery of Gandhian values. May be going on a hunger strike unto death is a clever way to achieve even an undesirable end, but it has its inevitable end-results.
Rioters have burnt private automobiles, trucks and buses causing untold damage both to private and public property and apparently no one is answerable to such crimes. Whatever the arguments in favour of linguistic states (first voiced at the Belgaum Congress in 1924)their formation in post-independence India seemed not only desirable but inevitable. Multi-lingual states were considered an anachronism. They were dismantled. Now people want to move one step further: ethnic (tribal) states akin to Jharkhand are being openly demanded. The Gurkhas want their own small state, Gorkhaland to be carved out from an already truncated West Bengal.
A Pandora’s Box has been opened and there are demands for the trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh, with the creation of Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand. The Bodos in Assam want Bodoland and there is talk of setting up Vidharbha (now part of Maharashtra), Bhojpur (comprising some areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) and a Mithilanchal (comprising districts of Northern Bihar) and a Greater Cooch Behar out of parts of West Bengal and Assam. The Coorgis in South India want a state of their own. It is mind-boggling. Interestingly enough, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayavati swears that she fully supports trifurcation of her state on grounds that economic development of the new states would be easier and faster.
One may argue that there are enough sound reasons for the creation of smaller states. Were that concept to be taken to its logical conclusion, there should be no protests in advocating a unitary form of government implying dissolution of the states as they now are and making districts the base units of administration. Would that be a sound proposition? The time has come to do some serious re-thinking in the matter of reorganising states all over again, but this issue has to be tackled not on a piecemeal basis but on a macro-level, dispassionately and in a civilised manner and not through organised rioting. It may take months if not longer to arrive at a meaningful and largely acceptable solution but that calls for disciplined patience and forbearance. We have time on our side. The blackmailing tactics of Chandrasekhar Rao and the weak-kneed reaction of Home Minister P Chidambaram have messed up the situation creating wholly unnecessary problems that need to be addressed.
One suspects that the era of linguistic division of the land has become outdated. What the people yearn for is economic progress and at a faster rate, in tune with growing aspirations. And this has to be dealt with wisely, reflecting the needs of changing times. And this is a job not just for the Congress or the UPA, but for all parties that have the good of the country and its people at heart. Politics should not be brought in the picture under any circumstances. The ultimate aim should be to enhance industrial and agricultural growth and quick dispensation of justice. Literally thousands of cases are pending in the State High Courts and the setting up of new High Courts could substantially help in resolving them. And who knows, we may see a significant value change in the educational field with English-medium schools attracting greater public support.
What needs to be asked and debated is whether a shift to smaller States would be beneficial to the country in the end. Perhaps it would be. Perhaps not. How can one provide an answer without first experimentation on howsoever limited a scale? But then arises another-and more pertinent-issue: will we become a nation of small men with limited ambitions? That would be a disaster. The one redeeming feature of a large state is that one provides leaders with more space to grow. In the circumstances would breaking up a large state be good for the nation in the long run? It is questions like these that must make our current leaders pause and think. The Congress has wisely put the Telangana issue on the back-burner for the time being to let passions cool down. Let there be a nation-wide debate.
Let all the pros and cons of creating small states be discussed at both the micro and macro levels before any decision is taken. India can wait. But let it be remembered as a senior IAS officer from Jharkhand recently revealed that “several Jharkhand Ministers’ daily income ran into crores and many of them have got currency note counting machines at their homes”. Madhu Kode, Jharkhand’s Chief Minister, is apparently not an exception, but the rule.
The presumption is that small States can more easily be “robbed” of their Treasury by scheming politicians. Besides, how can small State with limited resources be able to handle the Naxal problem? Telangana, as is well known, has been in the past notorious for its Naxalite activities. In the name of assuring better management through the creation of small States are we going to sacrifice national security? Questions, questions, questions. But we need to attend to them before taking any rash action out of fear. More issues are at stake than many are even dimly aware of.