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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.

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