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"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


27 August, 2013

Conference of Asian parliamentarians and rights defenders on elimination of torture

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and DIGNITY.are jointly organizing the second Regional Conference of Asian Parliamentarians and Human Rights Defenders on Elimination of Custodial Torture and Ill-treatment in Hong Kong from November 11 to 13, 2013.

The following is the Concept Paper prepared in this connection:

States across the world deny that custodial torture and ill-treatment exist within their jurisdictions. Yet, in reality, not only does such practice exist, it is often promoted within states, as a policy, whether clandestine or open, for the enforcement of state writ. Wherever the practice is endemic, it has adopted various forms: custodial torture and ill-treatment to facilitate corruption, to maintain absolute state control, or to silence political opposition being the most prevalent.

Endemic torture and ill-treatment has proven to be expensive for the state. Law enforcement agencies that engage in such practice accumulate enormous deficit in their morality, irreparable denting the very concepts of justice, equality before law, and human dignity in that land. The psychological trauma etched into individuals and communities through torture practices has proven to be contagious, affecting the entire society, in various ways, including trans-generationally. It affects the normal functioning of the criminal justice apparatus to such an extent that, in jurisdictions where custodial torture and ill-treatment exist, courts are often reduced to mere marketplaces, where even the veneer of justice, equality, and dignity erodes.
A critical assessment of the promise and fulfilment of justice in any jurisdiction, therefore, is directly related to the prevalence and acceptance of torture as a – declared or otherwise accepted – state policy. State agencies that practice custodial torture and ill-treatment are incompatible with the concepts of equality and freedom, and negate the fundamental premises of democracy.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in collaboration with DIGNITY, has therefore made the practice of custodial torture and ill-treatment a core area of their engagement on human rights in countries. With a view to counteract the widespread practice of torture, the AHRC and DIGNITY have formed an Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-treatment (AAATI) in 2012.

In an attempt to bring policy makers and human rights defenders eager to work against custodial torture and ill-treatment to a common platform, the AHRC and DIGNITY has organised conferences in Asia. In this endeavour, the AHRC and DIGNITY brought together Asian parliamentarians in Hong Kong to discuss this critical issue.

The first conference of Asian Parliamentarians and Human Rights Defenders on the elimination of custodial torture and ill-treatment organised by the AAATI was held in Hong Kong from 21 - 24 July, 2012. The report of the meeting has been published in Torture - Asian and Global Perspectives Vol. 1, No. 3 issued in August 2012, and in Ethics in Action, Vol. 7, No. 3 published in June, 2013.

The consensus arrived at the first conference is that the Asian governments must take firm action to eliminate torture and ill-treatment. Discussions at the conference revealed details about the widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment in the countries represented. The participants identified the cause for such endemic practice of torture and ill-treatment in their countries. The proceedings from this first meeting will be used for the second meeting as reference.

The focus for the second meeting will be to identify the reluctance of governments to achieve a substantial change in the nature of policing in their countries to bring these institutions at par with the policing systems of advanced democracies. The assumption is that as long as the old models of policing that prevail in Asia continue, torture and ill-treatment will remain an integral part of the form of states in the region. Therefore, the need to have fundamental reforms in policing systems in Asia, in order to achieve the publicly stated aims of all the governments, i.e. to guarantee justice and equality to all people, must be discussed. Understandably, the elimination of custodial torture and ill-treatment would be one of the key aspects for such a reform.

Often custodial torture and ill-treatment is portrayed as a problem that mainly arises due to the torturers, i.e. officers who commit torture. As a result, recommendations that are made for the elimination of custodial torture and ill-treatment are often confined to suggestions for better training and education of officers, and to recommending investigation, prosecution, and punishment of the individual officers who engage in this act.
However, from experience it is proven that mere training and education will not make significant improvement to reduce the practice of custodial torture and ill-treatment. On the other hand, investigations, prosecutions, and punishment are not carried out because the governments do not establish the mechanisms required to achieve these aims.

The above approach fails to consider the fact that the central reason for the continuance of custodial torture and ill-treatment is the encouragement and pursuit of this practice by the governments of states that consider the practice as a tool for investigation of crime and for social control. This complacence of states, or rather dogged resolve to continue the practice of custodial torture and ill-treatment, arises from the fact that an old style policing system prevailing in Asia cannot function in any other way but through the widespread practice of torture.

Therefore, any serious discussion on the elimination of torture in Asia must be linked to reforms of policing systems. Reforms must be discussed and viewed with the objective of building a justice apparatus, most importantly on law enforcement units that would not have to depend on the practice of custodial torture and ill-treatment. It is this issue that will be pursued in the proposed second conference of Asian Parliamentarians and Human Rights Defenders.

The AHRC will make arrangements to prepare participants to maintain a focus on police reforms with the specific objectives mentioned, by assisting them with preparatory materials, including a questionnaire that may help them draft advance papers that will be presented and discussed in detail during the conference.
Just like the first conference, parliamentarians who have expressed interest in the elimination of custodial torture and ill-treatment in their countries and in achieving police reforms are invited for this conference. Human rights defenders who share similar interests will also be invited.

The basic approach to the conference will be that of the folk-school. Maximum effort will be expended to have a conference where the participants are encouraged to make interventions as well as seek clarification on the issue mooted. The proceedings of the conference and papers presented will be published and shared globally with the view of pursuing this discourse throughout Asia in the coming years.

For details please contact:
Bijo Francis
Executive Director
Telephone: + 852-26986339

India and the US pivot

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Indian defence ministry denied last week a US air force general’s claim that his country will be locating military aircraft at Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern state of Kerala, as part of the strategy of pivoting to the Asia Pacific.

The pivot-to-Asia policy, also described as one of “rebalancing”, involves a shift away from the Middle East, where the US have been involved in armed conflicts in recent years, to the Far East with a view to meeting a possible challenge to its global supremacy from China.

The policy was announced in 2011, but the only concrete step taken so far in pursuance of it is the deployment of US marines in Australia.

The possibility of sending military aircraft to Thiruvananthapuram was mentioned by Herbert Carlisle, chief of US air force operations in the Pacific region, while talking to reporters in Washington last month.

He said US military presence in the Pacific would be dramatically expanded this year by sending jets on rotational basis to places where there was no presence now. Instead of making heavy investment in infrastructure, existing airfields in the region will be used.

Interestingly, Pakistan, America’s partner in the Central Treaty Organisation and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, two Cold War era military alliances, and collaborator in its campaign against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is not among the countries Carlisle mentioned in this connection. Apparently, it has been left out in view of its close ties with China.

Only a few years ago, Washington and Beijing were moving close to each other, and some countries — Vietnam, for instance — were fearful of a US-China condominium over the region. The long-term interests of the countries demand that they maintain cordial relations with the two. However, it looks as though they may be compelled to choose between them.

China views the US rebalancing act as an attempt to counter its growing influence as a global power. It recently overtook the US as the world’s largest trading nation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has forecast that it may overtake the US as the world’s largest economy in the next three years.

To counter the US move, China has put in place what the Pentagon describes as a policy of “anti-access and area denial” (A2/AD). It involves investment in anti-ship, land attack and ballistic missiles, counter-space weapons and military cyberspace capabilities with a view to limiting US access to likely theatres of conflict in the region and restricting its movements within the theatre.

The US plan to send military aircraft on rotation is in fact part of a new war tactic to overcome A2/AD. Dubbed AirSea Battle, as distinct from the AirLand Battle concept evolved to meet possible Soviet threat to Europe during the Cold War, it envisages combined use of air and naval power.

Although the non-alignment policy, enunciated by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the context of the Cold War, has undergone mutations after the emergence of a unipolar world, there is little possibility of India associating itself with the US Pacific strategy since it will not be in its interest to do so. However, if the unresolved border dispute with China flares up the government may come under pressure to change its stance.

Several border incursions by Chinese troops have been reported in the past few months. Some critics have characterised the government’s response to them as meek and warned that the more timorous India is the more belligerent China will be.

Talks to resolve the border dispute have been going on for years without much progress. China has repeatedly stated that a quick resolution cannot be expected in view of the complex character of the dispute. It has proposed that the two countries sign a border defence cooperation agreement to prevent face-off between troops along the 4,000-kilometre long line of actual control.

Recently the Indian government approved a proposal to set up a mountain strike corps to meet the Chinese challenge. Some defence experts have questioned the wisdom of raising such a force. They are of the view that in view of the army’s drawbacks at the border the focus must be on the Indian Ocean, where China is weak.

In the wake of the Chinese aggression of 1961, Nehru himself had sought US nuclear protection. According to declassified CIA documents, his government also permitted US spy planes to use an Indian airfield.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 27, 2013

20 August, 2013

Bickering over food security

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which survives in office with the support of parties that are not part of the coalition, is making a bold bid to push through Parliament its ambitious food security scheme which aims at providing grains at low rates to about two-thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The UPA, which, according to opinion polls, is set to suffer heavy losses in next year’s parliamentary elections, expects the Food Security Bill it drew up in 2011 to turn the tide in its favour. Lack of a consensus held up its passage.

Last month, while Parliament was not in session, the government promulgated the measure as a presidential ordinance. Congress President Sonia Gandhi called a meeting of the 13 state chief ministers belonging to her party and exhorted them to implement the law in letter and in spirit.

Continuous disruption of Parliament has put a question mark over the future of the measure. The ordinance will lapse unless the two houses of Parliament pass a bill to replace it within six weeks of the start of the session.

With Rajnath Singh, president of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, assuring support to the bill last week the way appeared to be clear for its passage. But Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, whom Singh favours as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, threw a spanner in the wheel.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Modi claimed the measure was flawed and could not ensure calorific and nutritional security of the poor. He wanted the government to call a meeting of state chief ministers before enacting the bill. Chhattisgarh’s BJP chief minister Raman Singh and Tamil Nadu’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief minister J Jayalalithaa have also voiced reservations about the bill.

Their opposition may be motivated by a desire to deny the Congress the electoral dividend it is looking for. But, then, some in the UPA camp are also critical of the measure. National Congress Party chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has said it will make the beneficiaries lazy and dissuade them from working for a living.

The Samajwadi Party, which supports the government from outside, recently threatened to vote against the bill, peeved by the Congress party’s criticism of its government in Uttar Pradesh for initiating disciplinary action against an Indian Administrative Service officer.

According to government sources, up to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population will get 5kg of grains each month under the measure at rates as low as Rs3 for rice, Rs2 for wheat and Re1 for coarse grains.

Modi has alleged the measure will reduce the entitlement of families below the poverty line, which are now getting 35kg of grains a month at subsidised rates, to 25kg. This is factually incorrect. The government has clarified that families classified as “poorest of the poor”, who are getting 35kg, will continue to enjoy the facility.

Right to Food Campaign, a civil society coalition, has criticised the measure on the ground that it is based on a minimalist vision. It wants a comprehensive law which will take into account the production, procurement, storage and distribution aspects and address the needs of vulnerable groups like migrants and the aged and the differently-abled.

The government has ignored the call to broaden the scope of the bill as it does not want to increase the burden on the exchequer. As the measure now stands, its implementation will require 61.23 million tonnes of grains a year, and the subsidy burden in the current year is estimated at Rs124.73 billion.

India Inc. has opposed the measure, arguing it will impose a heavy financial burden and slow down economic growth. It wants the government to use its resources to help the corporate sector with tax subsidies, claiming industry is the best driver of growth. Corporate India is so engrossed in itself that it does not see the productivity loss resulting from the poor physical status of workers.

The Food Security Bill is not perfect but marks a good beginning. It is in conformity with the Supreme Court’s ruling that right to food is a fundamental right of the citizen. What’s more, it may help plug the loopholes in the present public distribution system. India, which was 106th among 120 countries in the World Hunger Index last year, has to act fast to reduce poverty.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 20, 2013.

13 August, 2013

A pilgrim’s progress to wider ecumenism

Rev. Dr. M.A. Thomas (1913-1993), Founder of the Vigil India Movement and the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalaore, whose birth centenary falls this week  

B.R.P. Bhaskar

I am not one who can truthfully claim I have no regrets. I can readily confess to one. I regret that I did not get to know Rev. Dr. M. A. Thomas sooner than I did. The regret is all the greater since there was an opportunity to make his acquaintance two decades earlier.

In the 1970s I received an invitation from Rev. Thomas to attend a meeting at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore, to discuss press reform. Indira Gandhi’s government was toying with the idea of a law to regulate the press and there was sharp division in the country on the issue.Rev  M. A. Thomas decided to take up the issue. I was News Editor at the UNI headquarters in New Delhi and my preoccupations did not allow me to travel to Bangalore. In 1991 I was preparing for retirement from Deccan Herald, of which I was Associate Editor. After leaving the job I wanted to engage myself in public life without being hampered by the professional journalist’s commitment to give equal consideration to all, regardless of who is right and who is wrong. I was on the look-out for a non-governmental organization with which I could associate myself and work for causes I considered right without having to be solicitous to those who were in the wrong. I happened to discuss my plan with Dr. M. Basheer Hussain, former Principal of the Government Law College, Bangalore, who was an occasional contributor to the newspaper. I told him I had two conditions: the organization must be non-political and non-communal. He suggested that I consider working with the Vigil India Movement, of which he was a member of the Board of Trustees, and arranged a meeting with Rev. M. A. Thomas, the Founder President.

Rev. Thomas told me I could come in and involve myself in any activity which falls within the broad range of human rights. “This place is open to you,” he said. “You can decide what to do.” I grabbed the offer. It was agreed that I would help with the editing work on hand, which involved production of an occasional publication named Vigil and editing of two books he planned to publish. One of the books was an English version of his life story, which had been published in Malayalam earlier.  The other was a collection of articles he had written and speeches he had delivered over several decades. The two books helped me to understand the man and his mission. That was when I realized how much I had lost by not making his acquaintance earlier.

Editing of the two books gave me an opportunity to appreciate the qualities of head and heart that set Rev. M.A. Thomas apart from others and see the story of his life as a pilgrim’s progress towards wider ecumenism. He grew up in Kerala as the feudal society was crumbling and reform movements, inspired by visionaries, were seeking to bring into being a modern society. He has recorded how, early in life, along with a few friends, he actively propagated the idea that Jesus alone was the Saviour.  He then involved himself in the activities of a group which was promoting the ideal of religious harmony.  It was this early exposure to religious teachings and the concept of oneness of mankind which, in the fullness of time, led him to found the Ecumenical Christian Centre and the Vigil India Movement, two institutions which he bequeathed to us. The ECC was born out of his commitment to the principles of Ecumenism and the VIM testifies to his faith in the ideal of Wider Ecumenism.

The popular apathy to the denial of rights during the Emergency proclaimed by the Indira Gandhi regime prompted him to found the Vigil India Movement. He provided logistical support to a small band of people who were secretly working against the Emergency. He recognized the need to educate the people about their rights as human beings and prepare them to fight to protect and preserve them. The Emergency ended when the people used the opportunity afforded by the election, which was called to give it legitimacy, properly and threw out the regime lock, stock and barrel. Animated by a desire to ensure that there would never again be an Emergency, he continued with the work of forming Vigil units in different parts of the country and encouraged them to take up cases of human rights violations in their immediate vicinity. While the country has a plethora of human rights organizations, VIM was about the only national body with networks at the grassroots level. Over the years Vigil units were engaged in a wide range of activities in varied fields such as civil rights, women’s rights, Adivasi and Dalit rights, environment rights etc.

Rev. Thomas made a heroic effort to contain the spread of communalism in the wake of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi controversy. He promoted a dialogue between Hindu and Muslim groups with a view to defusing the tense situation.  While the mission did not succeed, it deserves to be marked as the only non-governmental effort of its kind.

He was one of the first in the country to foresee the dangers inherent in the globalization process. Even as the Western countries were canvassing proposals to create a new dispensation in place of the expiring General Agreement on Trade and Tariff  he realized that it would have harmful consequences for the poor countries and for the poor people in the rich countries. Under his leadership, VIM campaigned vigorously against the iniquitous order that was on the way.

He was also one of the earliest in the country to recognize the dangers inherent in the developmental paradigm promoted by the Western countries. He pointed out that it would cause immense damage to the environment and expose vast sections of the population to deprivation. He called for sustainable development.

When a Vigil activist wrote to Rev. Thomas about the Kerala government’s Agasthyavanam Biological Park project which will result in the eviction of 55 Adivasi families from their traditional habitat in the reserved forest, he asked me to visit the area and study the issue. I found that the project will violate laws relating to forests, environment and wildlife. The issue was not merely one of protecting the Adivasi families but preventing destruction of the environment. The bureaucrat who was the prime mover behind the project had enlisted the support of all political parties by offering their local leadership the right to nominate two or three persons each for the 50 odd jobs that will be created. In the circumstances I saw little chance of our being able to get the government to scrap the project. The government could easily go ahead with the project even though the Adivasis were vowing they would die rather than move out of the forest.

Rev. Thomas told me not to worry about whether or not we will succeed. “If you are convinced that the project is bad, oppose it,” he said. “We will do what we believe is right.” He asked me to mobilize a campaign against the project. Accordingly, I organized three seminars on the subject at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. As suggested by him I invited Mrs. Lakshi N. Menon to the seminar at Thiruvananthapuram, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer to the one at Kochi and Gandhian P.P. Umer Koya to the one at Kozhikode. At his instance I also produced a special issue of Vigil with focus on protection of the environment. 
In response to the Vigil India Movement’s representation, the Centre wrote to the State government asking it to abandon the project which ran counter to the laws. The State government thought it could overcome our objections by shifting the administrative buildings of the project to a place outside the reserve forest. It decided to acquire a rubber plantation just outside the forest for the purpose. The owners of the plantation, who moved the high court against the acquisition proceedings, produced in the high court the copy of a letter the Centre had written to the State pointing out that the project violated various laws. The court passed an order staying work on the project and said the issue could be reopened if the Centre withdrew its objections. That experience convinced me of the soundness of Rev. Thomas's advice to do the right thing without worrying about the result.

During my brief association with him I could see how he maintained constant vigil and identified instances of human rights violations which demanded immediate attention. He saw the Vigil India Movement not as a body of self-appointed human rights defenders but an organization in which ordinary people came together to agitate for right causes. He developed a strategy to optimize the limited capabilities of the organization. He said the Vigil India Movement was a tent. “If there is an issue to be tackled at some place we go and pitch our tent there,” he added. “We may succeed, in which case we move to some other place where there is a battle to fight. Even if we do not succeed we may find it prudent to move on and pitch our tent somewhere else where there is a cause to take up.”

When it became clear that acceptance of foreign funds aroused suspicions about the motivations of human rights defenders Rev. M.A. Thomas announced that the Vigil India Movement would no longer accept donations from abroad.

As I look around and see human rights violations on the rise, I cannot help muttering to myself, parodying the poet’s lines: "Achan, thou shouldst be living at this hour". 

Threat to peace process

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With guns booming across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir for more than a week, the India-Pakistan peace progress has been thrown into jeopardy. In the present context, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif will find it difficult to take any meaningful measures to normalise bilateral relations.

Nawaz Sharif had spoken of his desire to improve relations with India during the election campaign and reiterated it immediately after the victory of his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Last month, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz discussed confidence-building measures with India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on the sidelines of the Asean summit at Brunei.

Later Sharif sent his special envoy, Shahryar Khan, to New Delhi with a letter to Manmohan Singh. Following this, the two governments made tentative plans for a meeting of the prime ministers when they are in New York for the United Nations General Assembly session next month.

The LoC developments have set these initiatives at naught. Public opinion, incensed by the killing of five Indian soldiers while on patrol duty in the Poonch sector on the night of August 5, has forced New Delhi to slow down the peace process.

Ceasefire violations in the region are not unusual, especially at this time of the year, when terrorist infiltration into Kashmir from across the line of control is at its peak. India has accused the Pakistan army of providing the infiltrators fire cover. Pakistan claims India is guilty of more truce violations than it.

The Indian army blamed the Poonch killings on Pakistani troops. However, in an apparent attempt to soft-pedal the issue, Defence Minister AK Antony told Parliament that the assailants were terrorists in Pakistani army uniform. Loud protests led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party forced him to make a fresh statement a day later, laying the blame at the door of the Pakistan army.

Most Indian analysts believe the spurt in truce violations and the gruesome incidents like the Poonch killings and the beheading of an Indian soldier in the same sector a few weeks earlier are part of a deliberate plan by a section of the  Pakistan army to queer the pitch for Nawaz Sharif. They say the army fears improved ties with India will reduce its clout in the Pakistani power structure.

As in Pakistan, hawks and doves are in contention in India too.

Parliamentary elections are due in less than a year, and the BJP, which is making a bid to return to power after a gap of ten years, has picked Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a hardcore Hindutva exponent, as its prime ministerial candidate. The party sees stoking India-Pakistan tensions as a means of boosting Hindu sentiments against the Congress-led government.

BJP President Rajnath Singh has demanded that the government scale down diplomatic relations with Pakistan and declare that there would be no talks until Islamabad stopped supporting terror activities directed against India.

The way Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh joined the BJP in the anti-Pakistan chorus in Parliament illustrates how electoral compulsions can weaken a political party’s commitment to the secular ideal.

Beyond the realm of electoral politics, there is a body of opinion which believes it is in India’s interest to help bolster the position of the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif. Those who subscribe to this view want Manmohan Singh to go ahead with the plan to meet Sharif.

Developments in Afghanistan have a bearing on the current state of India-Pakistan relations. The United States is looking up to India to play a role in stabilising the situation in that country after it pulls out next year.  Extremist forces operating in Afghanistan and elements of the Pakistan army which support them do not favour the idea.

Those who are keen that the peace process must continue uninterrupted point out that direct engagement between the governments of India and Pakistan at the present stage is necessary to negotiate the Afghan imbroglio in such a way as to ensure regional security.

While Indian experts are agreed that a section of the Pakistan army does not share Nawaz Sharif’s enthusiasm for improved relations with India, there is sharp disagreement among them on how India should respond to the situation. Some want the peace progress to be abandoned, some others want it to be delayed and some others want it to go on. Strangely, those who want the process stalled do not seem to realise that they are on the same side as the hawks in Pakistan.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 13, 2013.

06 August, 2013

Demand for new states

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With demands for creation of new states erupting into violence in some parts of the country, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government faces a piquant situation as it prepares for the parliamentary elections due early next year.

What has precipitated the present situation is the government’s decision to separate the Telangana region from Andhra Pradesh and make it the 29th state of the Indian Union.

Telangana was part of the Nizam’s state of Hyderabad during the colonial period. At the time of reorganisation of states on linguistic basis in 1956, Hyderabad was split into three and merged in the adjacent states.

While favouring integration of the Marathi and Kannada speaking areas with the adjoining states, the States Reorganisation Commission headed by Justice Fazl Ali had recommended retention of the Telugu-speaking Telangana region as a separate entity under the name Hyderabad for the time being. However, the Central government decided to merge it in the state of Andhra, which had been created only a year earlier by separating the Telugu-speaking areas of the British-created Madras presidency.

Apparently two factors influenced the Centre’s decision. One was its belief in gigantism and the consequent appeal of big states. For the same reason it had resisted the separation of the Marathi and Gujarati speaking areas of the erstwhile Bombay presidency. The other factor was the fear that Telangana, which had witnessed an armed uprising a few years earlier, may fall into the hands of the Communists.

Since 2001 the Telangana Rashtra Samithi founded by K Chandrasekhara Rao has been campaigning for the creation of a separate state and the Congress conceded the demand in principle in 2004 to gain its support in the elections. The TRS broke away from the alliance two years later as the Congress dragged its feet on the Telangana issue.

While the creation of the Telangana state was inevitable, the Congress and UPA erred in announcing the decision so close to the elections. It was known that the people of the Rayalaseema and Circars regions, which were part of British India, were opposed to the division of Andhra Pradesh, but the government did little to assuage their feelings.

The protests sweeping the whole of Andhra Pradesh have cast a shadow over the Congress party’s electoral prospects in both the Telangana region and the rest of the state. While the people of Rayalaseema and the Circars resent the division of the state, those of Telangana are unhappy that they are not getting full control over the city of Hyderabad, which is to remain the joint capital of the two states for ten years.

According to the Home Ministry, it has before it representations from many groups demanding the creation of new states, and if all the demands are conceded the number of states may go up to 50. Considering the vast geographical area and huge population of the country, this is by no means an alarming number. However, not all the demands appear to have popular sanction behind them.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, while heading the Central government, had formed the states of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh by carving out areas from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh respectively. The Bahujan Samaj Party, while in power in UP, demanded that the state be split to form four new units called Purvanchal, Bundelkhand, Awadh Pradesh and Paschim Pradesh. However, it could not push through the proposal.

Bodos and Karbis in Assam and Gorkhas in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal have disrupted life by organising bandhs and blocking traffic during the past few days demanding the creation of separate states for themselves. Assam has a population of about 31 million, of which the Bodos constitute less than two million and the Karbis less than a million. The Gorkha population of Darjeeling district is estimated at 900,000.

While the performance of the small states created so far has been generally good, there is room to doubt if the proposed Bodo, Karbi and Gorkha states will be financially viable. At the root of the demand for the creation of these states is the feeling among these groups, which are socially and economically backward, that they are not getting a fair deal in the present dispensation. They need to be given a measure of autonomy.

In an attempt to address the grievances of the Bodos and the Gorkhas, separate regional bodies were created for them within the existing states a few years ago. These mechanisms need to be refined and strengthened urgently in such a way that the people are able to manage their affairs reasonably well. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 6, 2013.