Small States. Big Debate.

August 9, 2013

After the recent announcement of creation of the Telangana state, my first reaction was a sense of disappointment.

‘This is just a political stunt.’

‘These people will break up the coutry for their petty gains.’

‘Are we going back to the hundreds of princely states Sardar Patel and co. helped consolidate?’

And i posted my dismay on Facebook, only to hear back from a friend of mine who had some historical context to share. That gave me some perspective. A few days later, i got an invite from Al Jazeera to be on The Stream, a panel discussion debating the merits and demerits of the case for smaller states.

This led to some more research, and my opinion gradually changed. Read a detailed analysis of the Telangana struggle here. Wikipedia is also enlightening.

[You can read about the Al Jazeera show, and watch the full episode here. There was a politician on the panel, and that in other words means that he hogged the limelight, leaving little scope for a more nuanced debate. It was a bit fascinating to watch something i had only seen on my icon Arnab ji’s News Hour so far.]

[Map showing where we might be headed, if we keep creating the states being demanded]

The case for smaller states is a complex one, and can be easily debated from both sides.

The argument for smaller states, the one raised by the people asking for  Telangana or Gorkhaland is primarily based on identity. The feeling of Gorkhas not belonging in a Bengali speaking state where people dont look or talk like them. The feeling of people from Telangana that they haven’t got their due in a state where they are look down upon as inferior. The fact that of the 13 backward districts in united Andhra, 9 are in Telangana. Clearly they’ve been left behind.

Somewhere the problem also lies in the post-independence creation of states based on language. Given the plethora of languages we have, we are bound to have demands for more such states that got left out.

While this debate is not an easy one, and i don’t claim to be a policy strategist, the demand for each state must be viewed for its own merit. Will the new state be economically viable? Is there any solid case for such a separation? (Surely if all the Aroras get together and ask for a state of their own, we won’t create one, no?) Does the state have the resources required to sustain itself, or will it be left clamoring for ‘special status’ or bailout packages from the center, like *cough* some others being run by PM aspirant chief ministers?

In the case of Telangana, it was actually a separate state from Andhra back in 1947, but the two were merged together as Telugu speaking states. The decision even then was a conflicted one, with Prime Minister Nehru sceptical of the merger, which he compared to a matrimonial alliance having “provisions for divorce” if the partners in the alliance cannot get on well. Over the years, the people of Telangana felt being discriminated in the new Andhra and that’s been the reason for the long struggle for their own state. The marriage didn’t work out, so they want divorce.

All said and done, we Indians are communal people, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that people want states for their own communities. We may go anywhere, but will only trust and want to be around people from our communities. Gujarati. Bengali. Marathi. Punjabi. Bla bla. Indian later.

Personally, i was born a Punjabi, raised in Delhi, and currently live in a third state. While i feel a little affinity for my regional identity, i couldn’t care less for a specific state. I am an Indian who happens to belong to a particular community, versus being a member of a community who also happens to be an Indian.

This feeling of nationalism is where the problem arises, and is also the argument against the new states. They will break up the country. People are not patriotic anymore.

Perhaps this is just hyperbole. The concept of India as a nation is already a thin one. We are at best a group of states banded together by an increasingly weak center. I say let’s just complete the unfinished job of creating newer states that will be more cohesive and run by people who will then hopefully care for their region.

The only risk is this turning into a turf war, with politics resulting in the country carved up into convenient vote banks by parties who feel confident of maintaining a permanent hold on the states they are creating.

On the topic of politics, another problem is state governments pandering to specific or convenient communities, thereby ignoring the interests of others. In such a scenario, what option do the communities who feel left-out have, but to seek out their own destinies? If only our leaders were a bit more inclusive, maybe we wouldn’t have this clamor for new states.

If i sound conflicted, it is because i am. While i find myself leaning towards creation of new states, at the back of my mind i don’t entirely understand why gainfully employed (or enrolled in colleges) people would care so much for drawing up a new border and think that it is a panacea that will help improve their lives. For the sake of the Indian nation, i can just hope this doesn’t end up into ugly politics with no relation to public sentiment.

Sorry Shahrukh, we may be Indians, but let us get our states first.

[Image Courtesy]

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