With the announcement for creation of Telangana, similar demands for separate states have erupted from various other regions in India. One is from Gorkhas, currently in West Bengal, who have been asking for a separate state for nearly hundred years now. The other is Vidarbha from Maharashtra which was proposed by NDA government but was kept in cold storage. Mayawati proposed breaking Uttar Pradesh into four new states.
Lot of people in India, especially those who are not exactly entangled in Telangana and Andhra issues, are asking one question – when will these divisions end? Will it result in breakup of India? Did Telangana open a Pandora’s Box?
Doubts about India
Prior to 1947, many pundits of the world history doubted if India would remain united as a nation. Winston Churchill believed that India will descend into anarchy.
Looking at India of 1947, one might have easily concluded that it was impossible to keep India together. It had so many religions, so many cultures, so many languages, and so many kingdoms. It looked similar to multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual Europe or may be Africa. How could such a continent live as a country?
Fast forward sixty years, and it looks like we have proved those pundits wrong. India is going strong in economy, human development, science and technology, industry, agriculture and military. India remains a vibrant, strong and united nation.
But is that really true? India saw its first breakup right at in 1947 when it created Pakistan (and later Bangladesh). Partition of India led to massacre of half a million people. That separation haunted Indian subcontinent for a long time.
‘Division is bad’
Thereafter, India looked at every division with suspicion. There was certain degree of iron hand used to keep the country from getting divided. We always had uneasy feelings about creating new states as if every such division would lead to another partition. Breaking up meant proving the pundits right. Breaking up meant telling your enemies we are getting weak. A strong nation doesn’t divide its states, we told ourselves. Those were the heady times of nationalism and patriotism. Asking for a state meant anti-Indian.
Meanwhile, the Cold War ended. National fervors across the world subsided. External threats decreased. War with Pakistan doesn’t look as imminent as it did before. India became confident of itself. Our perception of India started to change. We were getting mature.
No Unity without Diversity
Unity is important, but not at the cost of sacrificing our diversity. Division is not as bad as we thought it would be. Creation of states has been a continuous process. India created 21 states starting in 1953 till 2000. It has not led to disintegration of the country.
We started to admit to ourselves that India is not homogenous, that people have group and regional identities which were as important as national identity itself. It became clear that we are a united nation only if our local identities are recognized.
Though Nehru was reluctant to create new states along linguistic identities, it is now seen in retrospect as pragmatic and wise move. Creation of states along linguistic lines resulted in containing lot of contention within India, making the people feel empowered. But limiting ourselves to recognizing only language as group identity to form states, thereby ignoring all other group identities, is quite unfortunate. India is now compelled into recognizing that there are more group identities other than languages, as Telangana has established.
Independent India accepted caste identities and made provisions for uplifting of lower castes through reservations. India accepted sex identity half-heartedly – it allowed for laws to protect women but has not done enough to ensure their proper representation.
While some group identities are spread uniformly like men and women, upper and lower castes, other group identities have distinct geographies, like Telangana, Gorkhas, etc. Some of them may feel that their aspirations are better addressed only in a separate state.
First 30 years: Big is good
For a long time, it looked like bigger states had better advantages in India. India being a flawed federal system did not give equal importance to each state. Since Lok Sabha only recognizes number of MPs; and since big states supply more number of MPs, it was clear that big states have more clout and bargaining power from the Center. Indeed, the first thirty years of India saw the monopoly of big states.
However, that monopoly from big states was confined to politics, not necessarily development. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar, some of the big states of North failed miserably in all economic indicators though they had more political power. Meanwhile, the smaller and nimble Southern States and Western States emerged as successful states.
Next 30 years: Emergence of regional and identity parties
In absence of a proper representation for states at the Center, various states put up regional/identity parties to make their case. Punjab and Tamil Nadu have a long history of voting for regional parties in their states. Other states joined the fray. TDP came up in Andhra Pradesh and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. These parties contested against national parties on the plank that they are able to get more benefits to their regions.
During the late 1980s, national parties could not muster majority to form government on their own, and India went through a period of political turmoil to settle on what we call coalition politics. The national parties started taking support of these regional/identity parties to form the government at the Center. That’s how states started to negotiate for better representation. Today, coalition politics has become the norm. Emergence of regional parties has led to partial federalization of India. For those who ask why India has so many parties, this is the answer- because India is not a strong federal country. The answer cannot get simpler than that.
In coalition politics, the states that position regional parties to support the government at Center bargain for better representation. That’s how some small-to-medium states have been able to break the clout of bigger states and have been able to make great progress in economy and human development.
Incumbent states didn’t pay for their crimes
One of the sad outcomes of suppressing every movement that sought new states was that incumbent states became complacent. They could continue to neglect certain regions with impunity and did not have to pay for the consequences.
Nehru tried to build democratic institutions, while Indira Gandhi went about destroying them or emasculating them. Indira Gandhi suppressed many people movements with ruthless force. In 1969 Telangana agitation more than 370 protestors were killed and more than 70,000 were put in jail. With this action, Indira Gandhi allowed for complacency in many states. The message was evident- they could go on marginalizing and discriminating certain regions within the state without having to pay for their crimes. No court, no law, no institution could protect these suppressed regions from the onslaught of the majority and privileged within a state because the Center had no jurisdiction on how the state would allocate its funds, use up resources, build hospitals and schools.
A state having two regions A and B could consistently marginalize and dominate region B using the majority of A, and there is nothing the region B could do. The region A could flout all agreements, revoke all rulings, and break all promises, deprive region B of its waters, its jobs and its funds, and still there is no price to pay.
That complacency led to many regions getting completely neglected in India, the foremost being Telangana because Andhra Pradesh was divided starkly along geographic lines with many difference between the two people. The majority and privileged Andhras consistently flouted all rules, all laws, and all safeguards to continuously oppress Telanganas. And Telanganas couldn’t anything about it. All doors were shut. Indira Gandhi has set a precedent that no matter what happens to you, you should still go back to the bully and ask for favors and for forgiveness.
That’s where Indian democracy went really wrong. A weak-federal strong-central structure led to creating a nation that could not uphold the cherished promises it made in its Constitution to some of its people.
When will these divisions stop?
With the creation of Telangana in the background, I would like to discuss the division of states in India and why I think these divisions would eventually stop, reaching an acceptable equilibrium.
Because of the prevailing tone set by Indira Gandhi who opposed formation of Telangana no matter what happened inside Andhra Pradesh, incumbent states got the message that no new divisions will be tolerated. After the successes of 1970s, when Andhras could even reverse a Supreme Court decision that tried to safeguard interests of Telanganas, the majority and privileged of Andhra escalated the marginalization and discrimination of Telangana with impunity because now it was given that the center will never create a new state.
That was also the reason why most political parties of Andhra Pradesh agreed to support separate Telangana in 2004 and 2009 elections, falsely believing that Center will never grant statehood to Telangana. When they made their promises they never thought they had to live up to them. Hence abrupt consternation ensued when P Chidambaram, who believed their letters written in support for Telangana, came out on 9th December 2009 to announce the steps towards formation of separate Telangana.
The biggest transformation that has happened in the recent past, second to the passing of RTI act, is the acceptance by all national parties a need to create new states. With creation of Telangana, there will definitely be a clamor for more states.
Future for evolution of States
India is going to see creation of many more states in the near future. There could be at least another 20 states created in the next 10 years. So, we could ask, ‘when will stop this division, why won’t this go completely out of control creating a domino effect? Why won’t there be 1000 states? Why won't this lead to break up of this country into many nations?’
Most Indians fail to understand why India continues to be a united nation. It stays united not because its people are forced into staying together, but because Indians have faith in this country. We are all willing citizens of this country, not the oppressed subjects. The fact that we are still together in spite of so many problems is a testament to our belief in this country. India will not break up so easily just because we create few more states. In fact, creating more states will result in reaffirmation of our faith in this country that it cares for us by actually addressing our problems.
According to some pundits, India could easily add few more states, like Harit Pradesh, Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand, Gorkhaland, Vidarbha, etc.
This does not mean we will continue to break up states into smaller states forever ad infinitum. Big states will not go out of fashion no matter what. There are certain advantages in living a big state and those advantages will continue to motivate people to stay together. Creation of the next set of 20 or more states will set in motion many changes in how the incumbent states will behave.
The incumbent states will start fearing that some of their neglected regions may seek separation any time. Such fear is good because the incumbent states will now concentrate on improving those neglected regions. Neglected regions will get incentives and sops, including better representations and opportunities, safeguarding their interests, reducing the need for these regions to form separate states. Major breakups and separations would decrease with time because most states by then would have learnt their lessons NOT to marginalize or discriminate their regions.
We would have reached a level of maturity then - may be in another 30 years. That’s when these divisions will stop. And who knows, we may see reunifications and mergers after that.
More states can be good
We call Telangana a ‘small’ state. Telangana once formed will be home to 35 million people. If it was a country, it would rank 36 amongst 224 countries in the world, more populous than Canada, Australia or Malaysia.
USA with 300 million people has 50 states while India with 1,200 million people has only 28 states. Why should India stop at 28? Why can’t we have 50 or 80 states?
For a very long time, Indians did not believe that small states could do well. There were prevailing examples of Northeast states which were really small and showed no progress in economy, standard of living, education or industry.
At the same time, big states did not necessarily mean better development. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar were big states of North that performed poorly in all indicators. With creation of Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chattisgarh, it was recognized that small states could do much better than big states. By 2009, Uttarakhand has averaged 9.31% growth annually, Jharkhand 8.45%, and Chattisgarh 7.35%, some of them more than national average. Per Capita of Chattisgarh is 29,000 while it is 18,000 in Madhya Pradesh. Infant Mortality in Uttarakhnd is 44 compared to 67 in Uttar Pradesh. Literacy Rate in Jharkhand is 61 compared to 55 in Bihar.
The states like Haryana- carved out of Punjab, and Gujarat- carved out of Bombay State, are examples of states doing good economic progress.
India started to see the advantages in being small. No longer do people have to put their faith in big states for development and improvement. Smaller states are able to give better administration, allow for electing leaders with more accountability without giving any excuses, and give empowerment through better representation of regional identities.
Managing States in India
There are two initial conditions for the current set of problems we are facing where many regions are clamoring for new states.
Problem 1: The center was averse, reluctant and sometimes downright opposed to formation of new states in India equating it to balkanization of the country.
Problem 2: India being a weak-federal strong-central country, the incumbent states like to remain big so that their bigger strength in the Parliament gives them better negotiating terms.
These two problems form the premise for most of the problems that we are facing with various neglected regions in India. There are two ground realities that emanate from the diversity of this country.
Reality 1: Though there are many states in India, we do not recognize various kinds of identities in India. While some identities (like languages) got statehoods, others did not. Many states have one majority identity clubbed with few or many minority identities.
Reality 2: All individuals and all identities work with self-interest. If unchecked, a majority and privileged group could inadvertently dominate and marginalize the minority and underprivileged group within a state, even when no preset agenda or a plan exists.
Over a prolonged period of time, the above two problems combined with above two ground realities could result in the following situation.
Imagine a state where region A forms the majority and the privileged while region B forms the minority and the underprivileged. Reality 1 and Reality 2 suggests that there should be safeguards, protections, guarantees and reservations to protect people of region B. In most states those safeguards and protections do not exist because of shortsightedness and reluctance of India to recognize those identities as valid constituents.
And where those safeguards and protections exist, like in Andhra Pradesh for Telangana, the region A could still flout them with impunity using the clout of majority; and there is nothing the region B could do other than complain, protest, agitate, and in the worst case scenario ask for separate statehood.
When the region B clamors for separate statehood, the incumbent state will be unwilling to let go of this region no matter what, because of Problem 2 – they don’t want to become smaller. All efforts by region B to get attention from the Center will be snubbed, because of Problem 1 – center doesn’t want to create more states.
So how do we get out of such situations? Here I propose some of the possible methods.
1. Run states as mini-nations
India should allow states to run like mini-nations. That means recognition of an identity should not stop at state level, but should extend it within the state as well. The way a nation protects the states from each other’s domination, a state should protect the regions from each other’s dominations. That means the current setup of treating a state as a homogenous entity where only the number of people’s representatives has a role to play is fraught with problems.
The way a nation has states, a state in turn should have regions. If state is a mini-nation, then each of those regions is a mini-state. Each of those regions should have their administrative safeguards, protections, and reservations. For example, extending Mulki Rule kind of protection (as done in Andhra Pradesh with an intention to protect Telangana) should be the norm not the exception. Having a head, like mini-Chief Minister for those regions could also be considered.
We should realize that it may come natural for a majority region to suppress a minority region in each state – it comes as a natural outcome of common man and his leaders acting selfishly in their narrow schemes. We should not see it as an exception but as a norm and design our states keeping that in mind. It’s time we realize that we have far too many identities and that all of them cannot be accommodated with a state for each of them.
If Andhra Pradesh was run like a mini-nation, Telangana would NOT have been so easily discriminated and marginalized. A smaller region would have almost equal power as the larger region and thereby nullify the discriminatory resolutions. We should learn lessons from Telangana and make sure other states do not go through similar problems.
2. Make India a federation
The inherent assumption that center is always the best decision maker is flawed. Many decisions that the center has taken have not gone well with many regions and they have suffered for that. It is also high time we started moving towards full fledged federation. Right now, we are a very weak-federal country- called quasi-federal.
We became a strong-central country because our forefathers who framed the Constitution, and the first few Prime Ministers, had to contend with the possible problem of breaking up of the country. They believed that a Center was more benevolent compared to the states when it came to the mandate of keeping the country united. This concentration of absolute power at the Center also led to certain excesses where Chief Ministers were fired again and again by New Delhi. The only way to combat the excesses of the Center was to position regional parties at the states. That’s exactly what happened in the last thirty years where regional parties came to power diluting the national parties’ power, forcing New Delhi to work with coalitions to recognize the needs and demands of states. Coalition politics came as a substitute for federal system in India.
After 60 years of freedom, we don’t have to feel insecure anymore. We should accommodate more states. We can also look at more options to make our country more federal in nature.
Senate for India
USA has two houses – Congress and Senate. US Congress elects candidates from each constituency reflecting the population of each state. Bigger states have more Congressmen. The Senate, on the other hand, has two members from each state. The Congress represents the people while the Senate represents the states. Even a small state is equal to the biggest state in the Senate thereby bringing in the federal nature of that country.
We could scrap Rajya Sabha completely and replace it with a Senate like structure. Currently Rajya Sabha has absolutely no real use. The Senate like structure at the Center should have equal number of representatives from each state. They should be elected directly by the people and not appointed.
Such a strong federation will allow for small states like Mizoram and Nagaland to get the deserved attention. With a strong federation, there is no more a compelling reason to be big. Incumbent states that have neglected some regions, marginalized and discriminated some regions, or failed to create equitable society in wealth and opportunity amongst various regions, will no longer be able to continue the injustices, because the regions could break away and form new states.
3. Democratization of political parties
Though the Indian political parties participate in democracy and expect people to vote their leaders in an open election, they do not necessarily practice democracy within their party.
A candidate for MP or MLA is chosen by the high command; they are not elected by the party workers of that constituency. Therefore, an MP or MLA is always subservient to the high command thereby nullifying the very concept of democracy.
Lack of right spirit of democracy in political parties has resulted in MPs and MLAs making a beeline to touch the feet of the high command, grovel on the floor, lick their feet, making Indian democracy a farce. The CM of a state is removed or appointed and the whims and fancy of the ruling party in New Delhi. Many regions feel that their leaders do not truly represent their aspirations and therefore the demands for separate states become more prominent and vociferous.
Promoting intraparty democracy will usher real democracy making elected leaders more accountable to the people of the region without having to bow down to the majority region.
Selection of candidates, election of party leaders and registration of party members should be democratized and overseen by Election Commission or any equivalent body. This will bring in true democracy making candidates more accountable and responsible towards the people rather than their party high command in the hands of one single leader or the family.
Governing states like mini-nations and regions like mini-states, creating a strong federation, introduction of Senate-like structure, and democratization of political parties will make India mature in handling current issues coming from regionalism and make India a strong and vibrant democracy. We will see fewer demands for new states because smaller regions will now be protected from dominance of bigger regions if run as mini-states. We will see a decrease in the number of regional parties because now with strong federation, regional aspirations are met even by national parties.