STATES in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are partly the result of accident and partly the circumstances attending the growth of the British power. India regrouped them in 1955 on linguistic basis. Even then, it had to reconstitute four more states in the last few years to suit political demands.
Pakistan has resisted the pressure because mapping out new states may have created more problems than solve them. Bangladesh is determined to retain the unitary system although the unruly mob suggests that decentralization of power to small units may be a better way of administering the country. Yet the key question has been how to avoid mixing political considerations with the people’s aspirations.
After carving out 14 states since independence, New Delhi still faces the ever-growing demand for creating more new units. The most pressing demand has been for Telangana, embracing more or less the same territory which the Nizam of Hyderabad had under him before the state was amalgamated into Andhra Pradesh.
People in Telangana feel that they have not got their due which the Telugu language speaking people have enjoyed. The opening of the Urdu university at Hyderabad has been of no avail. However, Muslims who constitute 41 per cent of population in Hyderabad are in favour of united Andhra Pradesh because in the rest of the state they number less than five per cent.
Earlier last year, when Telangana was engulfed by a fierce agitation and Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader K Chandrasekhar Rao went on fast unto death, the centre was once again panicky as it was when it hurriedly appointed the Commission for Reorganisation of States (CRS) in 1954. Then Potti Sreeramulu had died after fasting for the demand of a separate state for the Telugu speaking. This time the government appointed a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge Sri Krishna to propose steps to deal with the problem of Telangana, at present part of Andhra Pradesh.
In his report, Justice Sri Krishna has discussed six options but has preferred to keep Andhra Pradesh united. The question of the future status of Hyderabad city seems to have influenced the five-member commission. It has mentioned this in four out of six options. A bifurcation of the state without Hyderabad going to them is not acceptable to the people of either region, both for economic reasons and sentimental factors.
If Andhra Pradesh is disturbed, there is no doubt that the business confidence in India’s fifth biggest city would be to the detriment of all regions. In fact, the information technology industry in Hyderabad was connected more to the national (through investment) and global (through the market) economies than it was to the regional economy. The IT industry accounted for 15 per cent of India’s software exports in 2008-09.
New Delhi’s predicament is that if it concedes Telangana, it faces the revival of demand for new states. Local passions have become stronger than the regional loyalty. People in minority in a state have felt over the years that they have been pushed into the corner by the majority’s chauvinism. The initial idea of citizenship has worn out because a common citizenship for the entire Indian people has not given equal rights and equal opportunities throughout the union. At least development-wise, many areas have lagged behind because the states with more resources have marched ahead. The centre has been interested only in the growth of GDP to 9 to 10 per cent without bothering about an equitable development of all areas.
Telangana is once again in the midst of unrest because it wants a state of its own. New Delhi’s bungling is blatant. It announced in parliament that the process of forming Telangana would be initiated soon. And then it went back on its word. The other parts of Andhra Pradesh were up in arms. Only the appointment of a committee did restore peace.
The dangerous fallout of carving a new state will give birth to many a demand for new states. The Gorkha land, the hilly parts of West Bengal, has already started stir to get the demand conceded. The Bodobad in Assam has threatened violence if it is not made a union territory. And Vidarbha in Maharashtra is an old demand which even the commission on reorganisation of states had recommended in 1954.
How India or, for that matter, the ruling Congress sorts out on Telangana will give a peep into the government’s thinking on the formation of other states. The party will be damned if it constitutes Telangana and damned of it does not. It appears that the events would meander ultimately towards constituting the state of Telangana.
Such a politics of opportunism has resulted in exploiting the educated youth by politicians, causing inter-regional and inter-community differences. This articulation is as much applicable to Pakistan and Bangladesh as India. All the three countries may be treading the different paths but they share the same infirmities because of unprincipled politicians. Prosperity may change the scenario one day but until then all the three countries may face bigger and fiercer law and order problems.
Another CRS, which has been demanded by many, may open the floodgates. What the country does not seem to realise yet is that new demands are primarily an assertion of caste, not language. The scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes, the backward classes and the minorities have their own aspirations for political space, economic development and reservation benefits. This observation is borne out by the clear caste divisions witnessed among the Telangana joint action groups, including those on the Osmania University campus. The violence witnessed before the formation of linguistic states in the early 50s may engulf the country once again. It is already grappling with the problems of corruption and communalism and not doing a good job.
Unity or integration of a country does neither depend on raising slogans nor on chastising people who want to opt out because they are maltreated and denied what a dominant group in a state enjoys as its right. This leads to desperation and people come to have faith in extremism. In some cases, the ethnic cleansing is considered a way out. Small evidence is visible on the border of Meghalaya and Assam where people speaking other languages have been pushed out of territories.
Societies have to have a sense of accommodation and spirit of tolerance if they have to live together peacefully. It is the integrity of a nation on which the future is centered. Communities of different hues and different thinking are the limbs of a nation, not the nation by themselves. That the limbs should be healthy and strong is in the interest of the country. But they cannot supplant the nation.