A Brand New Map For India

By Sanjeer Alam

Demands for new states won’t stop because of the population boom

Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

ONCE AGAIN, the agitation for a separate state of Telangana is back to the centrestage of political drama in New Delhi. Once again, the spotlight is fixed on the blame game. And once again, the Centre seems to be sleeping with the virtues of reticence. For many, the fresh wave of Telangana crisis triggered by the resignation of elected representatives of people, MLAs and MPs, is largely an outcome of the inactivity of the central government, for it chose to sit over the recommendations of the Justice Srikrishna Commission for resolving the issue. However, the fact remains that the Telangana tangle epitomises the deeper structural problems facing India since the reorganisation of states way back in 1956. Today it is Telangana. Tomorrow it will be Vidarbha and so on.

One cannot be oblivious to the fact that the echoes of Telangana go far beyond Andhra Pradesh and New Delhi. There are longstanding demands for a Vidarbha state in Maharashtra, for Harit Pradesh and Purvanchal in Uttar Pradesh, for Mithila state in Bihar, for Koshal state in Odisha, for Gorkhaland in West Bengal and the list goes on. This is probably why the central government is interested in buying time rather than resolving it once and for all. The worry of the Centre is that statehood to Telangana will give momentum to many more demands of creating new states. So why put their fingers in a can of worms?

Why are there sustained movements for new states? Such movements, violent or otherwise, owe their career to the short-sightedness and the static approach of the political class. In the first place, administrative boundaries in any country are never static. They change in the course of time and in response to changing demographic social, economic and political conditions. In India, the last major exercise of drawing politico-administrative boundaries was carried out under the State Reorganisation Act (1956). Under this Act, the state boundaries were to be drawn on linguistic lines. In other words, the state and linguistic boundaries, as far as practicable, were to coincide with each other. As a result, due attention was not paid to other relevant criteria such as geographical contiguity, area, size of population, and socio-cultural attributes other than language. Therefore, dissatisfaction cropped up within a few years of reorganisation of the states. Even as linguistic homogeneity provided the basis of redrawing administrative maps of India in 1956, the problem remained far from settled. The Gujarati- speaking people rose to demand for a separate state. So, Gujarat was carved out of Bombay state in 1960. Six years later, in 1966, Punjab was divided into three states – Punjabi-speaking Punjab, Hindi-speaking Haryana and hilly state Himachal Pradesh. Furthermore, three new states based on mixed criteria of relative economic backwardness, geographical terrain and socio-cultural features were created in 2000. These states were Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The journey of carving out as many as twenty-eight states so far suggests at least two things. One, that the aspirations of people channel out in complex ways. So, drawing or redrawing of politico-administrative boundaries should be sensitive to such complexities. Two, even if certain demands have enough justifications and usefulness, the political class will not move until push comes to shove.

Secondly, one, if not the sole, reason for having pluralities of administrative units is to ensure administrative efficiency and good governance. India is too big in size both in terms of area and population. The population of India is almost two times the population of Latin America and one and a quarter times the population of the whole of Africa. Owing to a relatively high growth rate of population, we add almost the total population of Australia or of Haryana every year. This obviously necessitates a periodic exercise of redrawing politico-administrative boundaries.

Thirdly, many states of India are not only super large but also quite heterogeneous in terms of socio-economic and cultural attributes. For example, Uttar Pradesh has more population (199.6 million in 2011) than Brazil (189.6 million in 2008). The population of Uttar Pradesh is two and a half times the population of Germany. In Maharashtra, there are more people than France and Spain put together.

IN BIHAR, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, there are more people than Germany. Internally, Uttar Pradesh has more population than Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the two largest states in terms of area, put together. Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have fewer people than Uttar Pradesh alone. Generally, though not necessarily, smaller states are better able to ensure administrative efficiency and governance. If the twin objectives of administrative efficiency and good governance are central to the exercise of redrawing and readjustment of administrative boundaries, states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and other bigger states can be divided into many viable states.

Fourthly and finally, most states are marked by huge socio-cultural and economic differences. For instance, economically and culturally, the western and eastern parts Uttar Pradesh are poles apart. On both counts, western Uttar Pradesh is closer to Haryana than eastern Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, the western and eastern parts of Bihar stand out in sharp contrast to each other. Both culturally and economically, the western region of Bihar is closer to eastern Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra stands out in sharp contrast to the rest of Maharashtra. And so does Telangana in Andhra Pradesh. What needs to be underlined is that socially and economically backward regions within states have remained backward across time, without showing signs of convergence. Whether real or feigned, the backward communities tend to see their backwardness rooted in the discriminatory practices of the state dominated by those coming from an advanced region. Given that smaller states are generally doing reasonably well and are marked by lesser degree of regional inequalities, part of the problem of deprivation along regional lines can be resolved by carving out more states in the bigger ones.

The way the Telangana issue is unfolding, granting statehood to Telangana is inevitable. It is also certain that once Telangana becomes the 29th state of India, it is bound to give salience to the demands of creating states in other parts of country. It is high time that the Centre constitutes a Second States Reorganisation Commission to look into the legitimacy and usefulness of demands for new states. [Tehelka]

Sanjeer Alam is visiting associate fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi

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