India has an amazing ability of doing all the “right” things in absolutely the “wrong” way! The way in which the Home Minister, P Chidambaram, exactly one year back, had handled the ‘near-granting’ of the creation of the state of Telangana, and its ripple effect across the country was a classic example. With the deadline for the Srikrishna Commission’s report on Telangana fast approaching, and the TRS once again threatening to up the ante, one really needs to take a long hard look at the concept of smaller states.
The jury is still out on the efficacy of smaller states as opposed to larger ones, but people still have strong points of view on it. The first is that there are three types of states in India:
- Mega-states – like UP, MP and Maharashtra (UP is the sixth largest administrative unit in the world – by population)
- Mini-states – like the north-eastern states and Goa
- Mid-sized states – like Haryana, Punjab and Himachal
There is a strong school of thought that the mega-states are largely ungovernable, and perform poorly on every development index measure. The mini-states on the other hand are unviable, largely from an economic standpoint, and also face a lot of political instability (the classic example being Goa). While all the newly formed smaller states have not been exemplary successes, they have not been outright failures also, and almost in all cases (with the exception of Jharkhand), have at least performed better than when they were part of their original mother states. One also needs to give enough time to the last set of three states (Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand) before pronouncing judgement on them (ten years is hardly enough time to judge them). Himachal was considered to be a basket case for many years, when it was formed in 1971, but is a well functioning, viable and stable state today.
With the domino effect that the Telangana movement is likely to have, it is obviously time for the country to take a long hard look at the way our basic administrative units are organized.
Firstly, let us get the fear of “secessionist” feelings out of the way. I don’t understand why people start viewing demands for new states as if the country is being broken apart? The demand only reflects a feeling (even if it is misplaced) that the people of a particular region are getting a raw deal, and think that they will be better administered if they are part of a smaller state. There is no need to equate the demand for a small state with secessionist demands, and get unnecessarily emotional or hyper about it.
Secondly, since we have not established a process for the creation of a new state, or even channelizing such demands, people keep on trying to either indulge in violence, or sit on neverending “fasts-unto-death”, to get their voices heard. The Central government, when it gives in based on fear and panic, only gives a fillip to more such demands and creates further chaos.
India is a very large country (the seventh largest in the world in terms of land area) and needs more manageable administrative units. India is also a very variegated country, with many languages, castes, religions, geographic profiles, and societal problems. These mega states are unable to meet the developmental requirements of all the regions within, as some of them are larger than many countries. While nothing much can be done about the micro states now (since they already exist) for emotional reasons, we can definitely do something about the mega states of India. However, except for the initial States Reorganization Committee that was set up, all other states that have been created in independent India have followed a flawed process, and were the outcomes of stupid political give-and-take. That doesn’t mean that they should not have been created, but it does mean that we need to have a better process in place, so that people with justified aspirations, from neglected regions know how they can go about getting a state of their own.
I think that a country of this size and population, deserves to have almost 50 states (like the US), so that people do not need to travel a thousand kms to get to their state capital, and to their elected governments, to get their grievances addressed. OK, so why fifty (as a wag once asked me, why not 100, or 150). I believe that Punjab and Haryana are optimally sized states, both from a population and size point of view. The experience with them over the last 35 years has been positive and better for people of both the states, as compared to lets say what would have been possible under the mega-state of “East Punjab”. If you divide the population/area of India with the population/area of Punjab / Haryana, you get figures ranging from 45 to 55. Therefore fifty states!
Interestingly, a Hindu priest had once told me (and no this is not some right-wing Hindu revivalist agenda), that ancient India was anyway divided into around 50 “khands”, and a faint consciousness of these geographical entities (not religious mind you) still persists in the collective memories of people, in folk songs, in religious texts (like during incantations) and funnily enough, even used in electoral voting analysis (we have all heard psephologists enunciating about the voting behaviour in say the “Mahakoshal” region of Madhya Pradesh)!
Here are a few suggestions about the process:
- Let there be a permanent three-member statutory body called the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), the Head of which should be elected the same way as the Chief Election Commissioner.
- Any citizen can file an application with the SRC for the creation of a new state, giving a justification for it, which would have to include historical, linguistic, geographical, and other reasons, with at least 10,000 signatures from registered voters of that proposed state.
- The SRC would review such an application (to eliminate all frivolous ones, like one mentally bankrupt “intellectual” who declared secession from India, to form a mobile, independent, republic of one person) and approve it for further processing
- Post approval by the SRC, the Government of India has to mandatorily commission a detailed study on the viability of this new state, including financial, economic, societal, security, etc., including what city could be proposed as the state capital; as well as the impact the creation of this new state would have on the parent state, with suggested counter-measures (e.g. no one planned for the impact of the creation of Jharkhand on the finances of the state of Bihar; not to suggest that Jharkhand should not have been created, but we should have planned for countering the impact on Bihar, through developmental funds, industrial policiy packages, tax rebates, etc.). The report should also include whether there are competing names for this new state (there was an ungainly spat between “Uttaranchal” and “Uttarakhand”).
- This report should be prepared by independent institutions of repute, which should be selected through a competitive bidding process, and the report should be released publicly by the government, in English, Hindi and the regional language of that state (if relevant), for wider discussion and debate.
- The release of this report should be followed by a year-long public consultation exercise, facilitated by political parties and the state/central governments, wherein a public hearing should be conducted in all districts of the proposed new state and the impacted parent state
- One year from the release of the report, the election commission would be asked to conduct a referendum on the issue of creating the new state (who said that creating a new state would be a cheap or a quick process), in both the areas of the proposed new state and the impacted parent state(s).
- The referendum should ask two simple questions – Should the new state be created? What should be the name of the new state (if there is more than one name in contention)?
- The motion should be considered as passed if more than 50% of the voters in the proposed new state and more than 25% of the voters in the parent state(s) approve it. If not, then the motion should be denied and the state cannot be created. In the peculiar but possible outcome of a parent state not willing to let go, and if more then 75% of voters in the new state vote in favour of the motion, then it should either be passed by a 2/3rd majority in both the houses of parliament (to overrule the voters of the parent state) or it should be deferred (and cannot be brought up for another referendum for a minimum of five years).
- Post the passing of the motion from the state’s voters, a simple majority motion in parliament should suffice to actually create the new state.
- Once the parliament has approved the motion, the new state should be created after a period of one year, as that much time needs to be provided to the parent state to plan and execute the division of assets and liabilities, etc., and only then should a new state be created.
There are many demands for the creation of new states in the country, including Telangana, Vidarbha, etc. Even a casual look at the geography of India, throws up at least the following potential candidates for statehood:
- Telangana (from AP)
- Rayalaseema (from AP)
- Konaseema (balance “Andhra” coastal parts of AP)
- Kongu Nadu (from TN)
- Coorg or Kodagu (from Karnataka)
- Vijaynagaram (from North Karnataka)
- Marathwada (from Maharashtra)
- Konkan Pradesh (from Maharashtra – and probably merge Goa with it – Goa can be the Capital)
- Khandesh (from Maharashtra – it had a large geographical spread during the British days, and included parts of South Gujarat)
- Vidarbha (from Maharashtra)
- Mumbai (the MMR region that is – this was Jawaharlal Nehru’s original plan – Congress are you listening?)
- Maharashtra (Basically Western Maharashtra, may be better to call it the state of Pune or even Peshwa Pradesh)
- Saurashtra (from Gujarat)
- Kutch (from Gujarat)
- Marwar (from Rajasthan)
- Mewar (balance part of Rajasthan)
- Malwa (from MP)
- Mahakoshal (from MP)
- Bundelkhand (from MP and UP)
- Baghelkhand (from MP and UP)
- Awadh (from UP)
- Rohilkhand (from UP) – this is the original name of the region; frankly Harit Pradesh, sounds dumb
- Poorvanchal (from UP – although I prefer the name Kashi – which was a bonafide kingdom in ancient times, and the region is still known by that name)
- Gorkhaland (from WB – why not – it is a 100 year old demand)
- Kalinga / Utkala (from Odisha)
- Kosala (Balance of Odisha)
I am sure that there could be other options and different names for these proposed states, or even different Geographic contiguities (e.g. Gondwanaland from MP and Chhattisgarh).
Finally the mother of all decisions should also be to separate Jammu, and Kashmir into separate states and grant the legitimate demands of the people of Ladakh for a Union territory of their own.
While this whole grand idea sounds almost “splittist”, frankly, we will see much better governance and a greater devolution of powers. It will also make the central government less dependent on the ‘satraps’ of large states, which actually creates a problem in addressing national issues (like river-water sharing), because the central government cannot afford to annoy the satrap of a large state.
We also tend to become emotional about the splitting up of states (as if they are seceding from India). This is just acknowledging the utter impossibility of administering the mega states that we have and the fact that large sections of people in many parts of these states genuinely feel neglected.
Having a process in place makes it clear to all the Chandrashekar Raos out there that politics in the name of a state, wherein you don’t have a plan to deliver or a mechanism in place, can only give short term political gains. The message should also go out that we don’t need to become emotional about taxonomical monstrosities like Uttar Pradesh (a brain-dead translation of the British-given United Provinces) and Madhya Pradesh (similarly from Central Provinces), when we have our own lovely historical names to get emotional about like Awadh and Malwa?
So many states can be overawing as a concept. Also, India cannot absorb the financial impact of creating more than say three new states every five years (this would have to be ensured by the SRC), as this is a long-term plan, and should not be disruptive. The pipeline for which ones get taken up first would also have to be drawn up by the SRC.
Why can’t the media or industry bodies take up this issue, to demand the establishment of a process, so that legitimate demands of the people do not get stifled due to petty politics, and also mindless politics does not create needless demands for states that are not viable?
Finally, along with the creation of smaller states, we should also address the other long-ignored administrative reform in India, to create a genuine federal structure. Grant genuine powers of planning and execution to the Panchayats in rural areas, and create a directly elected mayoral system of governance in cities. The demand for smaller states is as much about the concentration of power in the hands of the central and state governments, as about the political aspirations of people of India’s neglected regions.
Can we have a more comprehensive, planned and humane way towards states formation, rather than getting forced to do so when people decide to “fast-to-death” or if people get killed, the unfortuante truth behind the formation of Andhra Pradesh and Mumbai not becoming a Union Territory!