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Telangana: Trigger for smaller Indian states?

Creation of new state carved out of Andhra Pradesh is likely to spur movements for more states in the country.

Last updated: 21 Feb 2014 08:20
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The creation of Telangana has been a divisive issue and sparked violence [EPA]

The creation of the separate state of Telangana in India's south is likely to spur movements for more states in the country - states that are smaller, more manageable and reflective of the aspirations of the grassroots.

Some Indian intellectuals see this as inevitable. They have already begun to call for a new State Reorganisation Commission, like the one that shaped the division of India into States and Union Territories in 1956. India has 28 full states and seven Union Territories (governed more directly by the federal government).

There is nothing wrong in envisaging India in 2050 as a country of 1.6 billion people organised into fifty to sixty states and some 1,500 districts

B. G Verghese, editor/author at Centre for Policy Research 

The new state of Telangana is now just a signature away. With both houses of the Indian parliament having passed the bill for its creation - albeit amid uproarious scenes - only the president's signature is awaited. Once that is done, Telangana - carved out of Andhra Pradesh -  would come into being as India's 29th state.

"If the USA has 50 states for its 300 million people, if Germany has 16 federal states for 86 million people, what is wrong if India has more states for its population of one billion plus," says political scientist Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhuri, now vice-chancellor of Calcutta's Rabindra Bharati University.

Leading author and veteran editor B G Verghese of the Centre for Policy Research agrees.

"There is nothing wrong in envisaging India in 2050 as a country of 1.6 billion people organised into fifty to sixty states and some 1,500 districts," says Verghese. "It makes sense."

But Verghese wants a State Reorganisation Commission, like the one in 1956, to go into the question and not leave the whole process to violent agitations and disruptions that will unsettle the country. The creation of Telangana, for one, proved to be a deeply divisive issue and continues to evoke strong support and bitter opposition on the streets.

Verghese also wants "techno-economic-administrative considerations" to be given greater importance for creation of new states, rather than language, which was the basis of the 1956 reorganisation.

"More states will not destabilise us, but agitation and alienation seen during the Telangana movement will," Verghese warns.

Separation along language

Some say that the time has come to reconsider language as the organising principle for a separate state.

Telangana was not created on the basis of language - other factors like alienation and economic backwardness drove the movement for it.

Leading historian of post-independence India, Ramchandra Guha, is enthusiastic about a new States Reorganisation Commission to work for the creation of new states.

"India now faces a second generation of challenges, mostly pertaining to regional imbalances in social and economic development . A dispassionate examination of the separate statehood demands has become necessary," says Guha.

Guha says beside creating more states, it will also be important to grant 'real financial and political autonomy' to panchayats (village councils) and city corporations.

That follows a general argument many Indians accept now - that democracy has created a flood of aspirations at the grassroots and only smaller states and stronger village and city bodies can manage them. 

"Economic backwardness of sub-regions in bigger states have given rise to demands for smaller states," says Sudha Pai, who teaches political science at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. "The move towards smaller states seems inevitable."

The last time India created smaller states was in 2000, when Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, Uttarkhand out of Uttar Pradesh and Chattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh.

But some argue that smaller states do not necessarily mean they are better governed.

Not necessarily better 

Bihar is much better run now than Jharkhand, whose reputation has been sullied by massive scams, though Uttarkhand is better governed than Uttar Pradesh.

"Both large and small states have fared well and poor performance is not necessarily linked to size. Technology can make governing larger territories easier now and bring far-flung areas closer," says Rakesh Hooja, director, Indian Institute of Public Administration.

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"If the administration in a large state suffers from inefficiencies, what is the guarantee that it will become more competent merely by creating smaller states," Hooja asks, opposing former UP chief minister Mayawati's demand that India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, be split into four more states to make it governable.

If Uttar Pradesh were to be a separate country, it would be the eighth most populous in the world.

Considerations of security and financial viability are also brought up against creating smaller states in some regions considered sensitive.

In India's Northeast, the former large province of Assam was broken up in phases to create new states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

Now there are strong campaigns for creating at least three more states for Bodo, Karbi and Dimasa tribes.

"But if these smaller states are created, we will have more economically non-viable states in Northeast, too many of them," says public finance expert Paromita Dasgupta.

Feeding aspirations

The Nepali-speaking Gorkhas are also fighting for a separate state in the tea-producing hills of Darjeeling that they want carved out of West Bengal.

Bengal's chief minister Mamata Banerjee has controlled the movement by a mix of tough police action and by dividing the ethnic groups in Darjeeling.

That has forced back the campaigners for the separate state to return to the fold of an autonomous body created to satisfy Gorkha aspirations.

But as Telangana comes into being, many of those across India who are fighting for the creation of smaller states may feel their time has finally come.

"How do you deny us a separate state now," says Bodo politician Urkha Gywra Brahma, insisting his fellow tribespeople were determined to get a separate state for Bodos now.

Brahma has to face off more radical elements in the Bodo tribe, some of whom have run a separatist campaign for a Bodo homeland independent of India.

Separate statehood is often one good way of getting such separatists to return to normal life with prospects of office in a democratic dispensation, say experts.

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