WITHIN minutes of the Centre telling the Supreme Court that Belgaum district in Karnataka cannot be ceded to Maharashtra just because it has a large chunk of Marathi-speaking villages, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray came down heavily on it saying that if language is not the criterion, all the states which have been structured on linguistic basis should be dissolved. And no wiser words were said. The British, during their 90 years’ rule had divided India into Presidencies of Provinces on an ad hoc basis which turned out to be multilingual and multi-ethnic. Whatever might have been their intentions in doing so, such provinces added to our sense of national unity and cultural togetherness.
The Congress Party on the other hand set up its regional parties along linguistic lines and when the demand arose for re-organisation of states on a strictly linguistic basis it found itself in a dilemma. There were many, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who were uneasy with the thought. His hands were forced by the relentless stand taken by the likes of the Telugu leader Potti Sriramulu who went on a hunger strike that ended with his tragic death. He had sought the creation of Andhra Pradesh and his wish came to be fulfilled. Thus came to be set up states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. It was then fondly hoped that creation of linguistic states would help in greater oneness among people and make for vaster progress but that has turned to be a dream. The reality is that linguistic states have brought out the worst in us such as been witnessed in Mumbai where even the resurgence of malaria is attributed to ‘outsiders’ mostly labour from Bihar. This calls for a new approach.
The concept of linguistic states has its own merits-no one can deny that-but if the demerits outclass the merits, it is time for some deep introspection. The anti-Hindi hatred spewed by the Shiv Sena as when an MLA took his oath in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly should wake us up. There are in India, three kinds of states: mega states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh still has the reputation of being the sixth largest administrative unit-population wise-in the world. Then there are mid-sized states like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and finally we have mini-states like the north eastern Seven Sisters, Goa in the East and Pondicherry in the South. There is now a strong school of thought which holds that the mega-states have become ungovernable and perform poorly in every Human Development Index measure and for many years the people in Telangana and those in Vidharbha have been demanding separate statehood, one carved out of Andhra Pradesh and the other from Maharashtra. That makes sense. Obviously, language is not necessarily a unifying force.
There are other factors such as having greater say in development matters among compact regions within a state and these have to be attended to. The mega states, with the best of intentions are unable to meet the development requirements of specific regions and that has been painfully evident in Telangana and Vidharbha. More than 80 per cent of the people in these regions would be happy to get the status of new states. Both Vidharbha and Telangana have very strong cases for separate statehood. Two points are raised in this connection one, that small states do not have the kind of leadership that is needed to administer them effectively and that such leadership that exists are easily susceptible to corruption. The example of Jharkhand is cited in this connection. Himachal Pradesh was considered a basket case when it was founded in 1971 but it is a well-functioning and stable state today. Besides, is it the case that the larger the state, the less the corruption?
The recent developments in a couple of states in the matter of illegal mining should give us a wake-up call. The size of the state has nothing to do with the administrative qualities of its leaders. Politicians in large states can be no less corrupt as their counterparts in smaller ones. But why should only Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra be further divided? Why not Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh as well, not to speak of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? And how many states should we, in the final analysis, set up? The United States has some 50 states, large and small. India can have between 45 and 50, for better governance. If we divide the population of India by the population of Punjab/Haryana, for instance, we get a figure between 45 and 55.
According to one authority, the following potential candidates stand up for statehood: Telangana (from Andhra Pradesh), Ryalseema (from Andhra Pradesh), Honaseema (balance coastal pacts from Andhra Pradesh), Kongu Nadu (from Tamil Nadu), Coorg or Kodagu and Vijaynagar) both from Karnataka), Marathwada, Konkan, Khandesh and Vidharbha (from Maharashtra), Western Maharashtra (also form Maharashtra), Saurashtra (from Gujarat) Kutch (from Gujarat), Marwar (from Rajasthan), Mewar (from Rajasthan), Bundelkhand (from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh), Baghlekhand (from Madhya Pradesh), Mahakoshal ( from Madhya Pradesh, Awad (from Uttar Pradesh), Rohilkhand (from Uttar Pradesh), Poorvanchal (from Uttar Pradesh), Gorkhaland (from West Bengal) Kalinga Utkal (from Orissa) and Kosala (from Orissa).
This country has had enough of linguistic fascism. The encouragement of intense linguistic separatism is doing terrible damage to the concept of One India One People, and these chauvinists must be put in their place. What is presently required is an intense debate throughout the country. We are supposed to be moving towards Great Powerhood but what sort of Great Power can we possibly be if we are divided amongst ourselves non-linguistic lines barring free movement from one state to another through an appeal to our worst instincts? We need to marginalise our chauvinists in order to stay together. Just think of the way a former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu was treated in Maharashtra. It is a sign of things to come. We must wake up before we slide into anarchy.