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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 6, January 30, 2010

Issue of Organisation of States in India

Monday 8 February 2010, by P R Dubhashi

The December 9, 2009 midnight announcement by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram that the constitutional process will start for the creation of the new State of Telangana literally stirred a hornets’ nest in Andhra Pradesh, while it opened up a Pandora’s box in the rest of the country. While the Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader, Chandrashekhar Rao, broke his fast leading to the restoration of calm in the Telangana region, it evoked an immediate virulent reaction in the Andhra region consisting of Rayalaseema and the the coastal Sarkar areas where mass meetings and processions were held to oppose the carving out of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh to form an independent State with Hyderabad as its capital. Hyderabad, as could be expected, became a bone of contention. An idea was floated to make Hyderabad the joint capital of the two States—Telangana and Andhra—on the Chandigarh model, but was rejected outright on the ground that Hyderabad was in the heart of Telangana and had no physical connection with the Andhra region. The idea of making Hyderabad an independent Central region was also rejected. A statement by the Union Home Secretary that Hyderabad would be the natural capital of Telangana aroused condemnation in the Andhra region.

Chief Minister Rosayya found himself in an unenviable position. He expressed his surprise over Chidambaram’s announcement since the CM had, in earlier consultations with the latter, opposed the proposal. And yet, as per the Home Minister’s announcement, he was expected to get a resolution passed in the State Assembly in favour of the formation of the new State of Telangana. Though the Legislative Assembly session was convened, there was absolutely no possibility of any such resolution being passed. Nearly 150 MLAs from the Andhra region, including those from the Congress party, and Ministers in Rosayya’s own Cabinet tendered their resignation opposing the Telangana proposal. A Congress MP, Rajgopal, from Vijayawada went on fast against the Telangana proposal as a counter to the earlier fast of Chandrashekhar Rao. Non-Congress parties like the TDP and PRP, after seeing the Andhra reaction, started changing their stand. Earlier they had supported Telangana, but now they expressed their opposition.

Chidambaram found himself between the devil and the deep sea. To help subside the anger in Andhra he made another announcement: that the political situation had changed and the proposal for forming the Telangana State would be put on hold pending further consultations. This second announcement led to the renewal of agitation in Telangana where the students of Osmania University were at the forefront with their slogan: ‘Telangana jago, Andhra bhago’. The State Government tried to stop the mass procession threatened by the students with the use of police force but the students went to the High Court which gave the permission to hold the procession so long as it was peaceful.

The Opposition parties found an opportunity to severely criticise the Union Government for its flip-flop and for mishandling the situation creating a mess in Andhra Pradesh. The BJP compared and contrasted the inept handling of the issue by the UPA Government with the deft handling by the NDA Government under the astute leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee which brought into existence the new States of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand despite opposition, particularly of Laloo Prasad Yadav, to the partition of Bihar. Chidambaram tried to argue that there was no flip-flop; all that the government wanted was that the proposal should have wider approval and goodwill of all concerned which in the present situation seems to be an impossibility.

There was more than a flip-flop. The government showed its weakness by succumbing to the blackmail of Chandrashekhar Rao. Earlier, it had betrayed him in the 2004 Lok Sabha election by first getting his support by promising Telangana and then forgetting the promise soon after its resounding victory. All that it did was to appoint a committee under Pranab Mukharjee which turned out to be simply an exercise for putting the proposal in cold storage.

Chidambaram called an eight-party meeting under his chairmanship in New Delhi on January 5. As expected, no consensus emerged as the parties stuck to their stated positions. The TRS insisted on the immediate formation of Telangana. The BJP supported it and asked for a motion to be moved in Parliament to form the Telangana State. The PRP stood for a united Andhra Pradesh. The Congress and TDP were divided—some supporting the Telangana State demand and others asking for the retention of Andhra Pradesh. While conceding the differences, Chidambaram emphasised the need for maintaining law and order and creating an atmosphere of peace and harmony so that students could attend schools and colleges and offices could function normally. Meanwhile, consultations should continue. An idea was mooted that a panel be constituted to enter into detailed discussion on all the pros and cons of the issue and formulate expert recommendations on the subject. The panel could be headed by a Supreme Court judge. Chidambaram warned all parties that the unstable situation could provide an opportunity to the extremist Maoist groups to raise their head and overthrow parliamentary democracy itself.

While Chidambaram held discussions in New Delhi and called for restraint, the situation in the field continued to be tense. The action groups on both sides stepped up their agitations. The railway time table broke down causing acute inconvenience to travelling passengers. The MP from Vijayawada, Rajgopal, has objected to the Central initiative saying that this is a matter between Telugus of two parts of Andhra Pradesh and there was no scope for a third party intervention on the analogy that third party intervention is not
acceptable in Kashmir! On the other hand Chandra-shekhar Rao has been arguing that this is a matter which under the Constitution is entirely within the purview of the Union Government and a resolution by the State Assembly is not required under the constitutional provisions.

II

Pandora’s Box

The idea of Telangana formation led immediately to the demands for other smaller States—particularly the Gorkhaland State to be carved out of West Bengal (opposed by both the incumbent Left Front Government and Opposition Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee). Another demand was for new states to be carved out of the behemoth Uttar Pradesh. Here the Chief Minister herself took the lead demanding trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh. Ajit Singh, the Jat leader, demanded Harit Pradesh (Western Uttar Pradesh) while Mayawati counterbalanced it by Poorva Pradesh. Then there was the third State of Bundelkhand with its capital at Jhansi. Vilas Muttemwar, now out of power, started demanding Statehood for Vidarbha though his own party (Congress) did not support him. The proposal was earlier made unsuccessfully by Vasant Sathe and N.K.P. Salve—both Congress MPs. Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, was able to convene a big all-party meeting demanding Vidarbha. Even Tamil Nadu could not escape the demand for its partition. Dr Ramadoss, rejected by voters in the last election for the Lok Sabha, raised the demand for a separate State for the North Tamil Nadu region (obviously favouring his Vaniyar caste).

Alarmed by these demands, many Indians have started fearing balkanisation of India which could pose a grave threat to the unity and integrity of the country. Others point out that creation of more States does not amount to balkanisation or partitioning of the country but is a legitimate response to the aspirations of the people (or disgruntled politicians?).

All this has created a climate of political instability which does not bode well for our future. Already new investment is fighting shy of Hyderabad which till now was a prized destination of IT and other enterprises. The projected CII Conference has been shifted to Chennai. The one-day cricket match between India and Shri Lanka had to be shifted from Vishakhapatnam to Nagpur.

A proposal has been mooted that the best way to get out of this piquant situation is to appoint another States Reorganisation Commission on the lines of the 1953 Fazal Ali Commission which had recommended both the States of Telangana and Vidarbha though the recommendation was not eventually accepted by the Union Government and lay dormant. Now the demand for both the States has resurfaced.

Some have demanded a permanent State Reorganisation Commission on the lines of the Finance Commission to which proposals for the formation of new States can be referred to from time to time for indepth examination.

Both these proposals have not been accepted by the Union Government so far. Senior Minister Pranab Mukherjee has rejected the proposals out of hand. The government seems to be fearing that the resultant political instability would have a damaging effect on the economic growth of the country.

The more basic point is that there are no well-known, well-accepted principles regarding the formation of States. Some want that the process of formation of States should have a finality and should stop while others argue that in a large diverse country like India with a vast and growing population exceeding 100 crores, there is scope for forming more States. But how many more and of what size—areawise, population-wise and/or economy-wise? There has been no logical thinking on the subject so far. Laying down basic ground rules or guidelines on the subject is thus necessary.

III

Constitutional Position

What is the constitutional position? The Constitution in Article 3 vests the power to form new States and alteration of areas, boundaries, or names of existing States in Parliament alone which may pass the law on the subject. The Bill for the purpose can be introduced in either House of Parliament on the recommendation of the President which in fact means recommendation of the Union Government as the President acts on the advice of the Union Government.

The Constitution, however, is silent on the subject of the criteria for forming States doing nothing more than giving the power of formation of States to Parliament. While giving power exclusively to Parliament may be conducive to the integrity and unity of India, it gives no guidance to Parliament or a body created by Parliament as to the principles for the formation of States.

This brings out the basic deficiencies in the Constitution of our Republic which is often lauded for having stood the test of time but which in fact leaves several important aspects untouched. The constitutional document is basically a framework of the Government of India Act of 1935 of the colonial regime, with the Preamble and Chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of the Constitution fastened on to it. The Constituent Assembly consisted of legal stalwarts who were concerned more with procedural and juridical aspects rather than substantive aspects apart from the Western concepts of parliamentary democracy and rights of a liberal state. There was never an attempt to relate the Constitution to the cultural development and values of our country and the genius of our people evolved through centuries. The Constituent Assembly never attempted to discover the ‘soul of India’ and enshrine it in the Constitution. The Constitution-makers gave more time and attention to the provisions of the constitutional documents of other democracies like the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia and some European countries rather than the cultural history of India making the Constitution a formal document—a lawyer’s paradise, but not a reflection of the deep yearnings of the people.

An opportunity to review the working of the Constitution in the light of experience was provided by the Constitutional Review Committee appointed under the chairmanship of Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, an ex-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But the opportunity was lost because Venkatachaliah announced at the beginning itself that it would not go into the fundamentals, and take the framework of parliamentary democracy and the federal system as given. This settled it and the Committee concentrated only on suggesting procedural and juridical improvements.

IV

Principles of State Formation

We have to go outside the Constitution and Constitutional Review Committee to discover the basic principles for the formation of States.

The only attempt in the pre-independence days to provide a logical basis for the formation of States was the Motilal Nehru Committee Report of 1928 which recommended the formation of States on a linguistic basis. Major languages provide the cultural base of the life of the Indian people and should be the appropriate base for State formation, it asserted.

This principle was accepted by the major party in the forefront of the fight of the Indian people for independence, namely, the Indian National Congress. Even in the pre-independence days, the regional committees of the Congress were formed on the basis of linguistic areas. Thus the four Kannad speaking districts in Bombay province went with the Congress Committee for Karnataka covering the rest of the Kannad region.

The British rulers, having no use of the culture of the Indian people, had constituted large provinces purely on the administrative criteria. There were the three major ‘regulated provinces’ of Bombay, Madras and Bengal with the major cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta as their headquarters. The Bombay province stretched from Sindh to Gujarat, Western Maharashtra and Northern Karnatak districts. In 1935 Sindh was separated to become an independent province. The Madras province covered the Tamil land, Rayalaseema and coastal Telugu areas and the Karnataka districts of South Canara. The Bengal province once covered the whole of Eastern India. Later Assam, Bihar and in 1935 Orissa became independent provinces. As British rule extended, new provinces were formed. The United Province covered the vast Ganga-Yamuna area stretching from the Himalayan regions of Garhwal and Kumaon to the planes of Brijbhoomi, Bundelkhand to Lucknow, Banaras and Allahabad. The Central Province consisted of both Marathi (Vidarbha) and Hindi (Mahakoshal) areas with the capital Nagpur and also included the largest Bastar district and other tribal areas. Punjab in the Northwest covered the whole of Punjab (Western now in Pakistan and Eastern in India) including the hill areas and Hindi speaking Haryana. Each province was headed by the Governor who was the Chief Executive (not a ceremonial head as now) who conducted administration with the help of District Collectors and Divisional Commissioners—posts held by the officers of the ICS. Maintenance of law and order and collection of land revenue was the main work of the administration.

India under British rule was dotted with 600 States which had rulers who ruled their subjects on the basis of allegiance to the paramount imperial power headed by the British monarch. After independence the States merged. The biggest State to merge in India was Hyderabad headed by the Nizam. His vast State included the Telugu region known as Telangana, the Marathi region of Marathwada and the Kannada region of Gulbarga, Raichur and Bidar districts. The Marathwada region eventually become a part of the newly formed Maharashtra and the Kannad region merged into newly formed Karnataka. Telangana remained for some time as an independent State and eventually was joined to the Telugu regions of the Madras province consisting of Rayalaseema and Sarkar.

After the attainment of independence, it was expected that the British-time provinces, suitable for a colonial regime, would no longer continue to exist but would be reorganised on linguistic basis as recommended by the Motilal Nehru Committee Report of 1928.

But this was not to be. Prime Minister Nehru himself started having second thoughts. He strongly felt that the maintenance of the unity and integrity of the new fledgling Republic of India should have the first priority. Security and development were the principal tasks. Concentration on them should not be diverted by the elaborate exercise of State reorganisation on linguistic basis.

Even a vastly popular leader like Nehru, however, misjudged the situation. The linguistic identities became more and more assertive and demands grew for State reorganisation on linguistic basis. The most prominent amongst the linguistic agitations was in Andhra where Potti Sriramalu, a Gandhian, went on fast for the formation of the Andhra State. His fast lasted 58 days at the end of which he breathed his last.

There were virulent reactions. The Bezwada (now Vijaywada) railway station was burnt. Nehru realised the gravity of the situation, bowed to the public demand and an independent Andhra State was formed into which the Telangana region of the Nizam State of Hyderabad was eventually merged.

Creation of Andhra as a separate State paved the way for a wider process for redrawing India’s map. The Fazal Ali Commission was constituted in 1953 to make recommendations for the recognisation of States. They toured all over the country, held wide consultations but did not always logically follow the principle of State reorganisation on linguistic basis. For example, they recommended Telangana and Vidarbha as independent States and not part of Telugu and Marathi States. They were reluctant to give Bombay, the financial centre and a cosmopolitan city, to Maharashtra. S.K. Patil, a Congress leader known as the ‘uncrowned King of Bombay’ though a Marathi person himself, was totally opposed to giving Bombay to Maharashtra. He preferred making it a Central territory. Ultimately, as a compromise a bilingual State of Gujarat and Maharashtra was created with headquarters at Bombay. The bilingual Bombay State was not acceptable to the leaders of the Marathi people who, though belonging to different parties, came together and joined hands with the popular literary figure and orator, P.K. Atre, to set up the Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad for the formation of Maharashtra.

Unpopular leaders like S.K. Patil were no match for them. For a while Morarji Desai, another unpopular leader who was the Chief Minister with Nehru’s tacit support, tried to suppress the popular movement with brutal use of police force. Many became victims of police bullets when a people’s procession thronged at Flora Fountain. They became martyrs—‘Hutatma’—for the cause of Maharashtra. The spot come to be known as Hutatma Chowk. Nehru saw the writing on the wall and conceded the formation of the new States of Maharashtra and Gujarat on linguistic basis.

Another language not given recognition was Punjabi which had been joined to the Hindi area of Haryana and the hilly region. Soon the linguistic identity got combined with the religious identity of the Sikhs whose leader, Sant Fateh Singh, led the agitation for Punjabi Suba. The strong Chief Minister, Pratap Singh Kairon, with Nehru’s support, tried to suppress the Sikh agitation but eventually Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, had to concede the demand and the new States of Punjab (mainly Sikh), Haryana (mainly Hindi) and Himachal Pradesh came into existence.

In the North-East, the insurgencies could be contained only by the formation of the small States of Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya with its capital Shillong (which was the capital of United Assam in British days).

After liberation from Portuguese rule, Goa, Daman and Diu, the Portuguese territories, became a Union Territory. Later Diu and Daman became part of Gujarat where they geographically and linguistically belonged. It was widely believed that Goa would join Maharashtra. This was the ardent desire of the popular Chief Minister of Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar. But in a referendum, the Goans refused to join Maharashtra and Goa became an independent State. Goa was too tiny to be qualified to become an independent State of the Indian Republic. An idea was mooted to make it a part of Sagar State (a coastal region including
portions of the Karwar and Konkan region in Maharashtra) or a Konkani State with the Konkani speaking peoples of Goa, Karwar, Malwan and Belgaum areas. But Goans with a 500-year existence as a separate entity under Portuguese rule were not interested and Goa remains a tiny State.

¨

This brief historical review of the formation of States in India shows that no single principle or logic was followed invariably and there was much ad hoc action to meet the exigencies of the political situation. That is why many issues remain unresolved.

One of them is the question of border areas. The prime example is Belgaum and surrounding Marathi areas. These were included in Karnataka even though the dream of the Marathi speaking people in Belgaum and Nipani areas was to be part of Maharashtra. The Marathi people under the banner of the Marathi Ekikaran Samiti have been agitating to join Maharashtra. The Mahajan Commission, which was appointed to look into this border dispute, did not accept the demand and the area continues to be in Karnataka. The Marathi people, at whose instance the Mahajan Commission was appointed, are not accepting the verdict given by the Commission and the agitation persists with periodic outbursts. Whatever be the decision, guidelines need to be laid down to look into the cultural, literary, educational and administrative aspects of life of the linguistic minorities to be followed all over the country so that there are no feelings of linguistic, cultural, educational and administrative deprivation.

The one-language one-State formula cannot obviously be universally accepted. Hindi is the largest linguistic group (albeit with regional variations and dialects) whose population is so large that even now several large States of Hindi speaking population exist like UP, MP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Yet scope exists for more Hindi States. UP is huge in terms of area and population; it could be subdivided into small manageable units. As CM Mayawati pointed out, people in far-off areas of UP have to travel 700 kilometres to reach the State capital as the administrative and judicial headquarters exist there. The remotness creates real problems for the people—the administered and the administrators alike. Uttarakhand has already become a separate State and smaller States like Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh and Poorva Pradesh may soon take shape.

From the point of view of the federal Republic of India, acute problems of imbalance amongst the constituent States exist. Goa with a small population of one million coexists as a State alongside the State of UP with a 170 million population—the 1:170 ratio obviously looks anomalous. Large States are administrationally unwieldy while very small States are often politically, economically and administrationally substandard and non-viable. A State like Goa does not have its own IAS cadre and has to draw on the Union Territory cadre for its senior administrative and police officials. All States should be within an acceptable band of variation in terms of size, area and population. Very small States tend to have political instability as was seen many times in the case of Goa and Jharkhand. A small number of MLAs can topple the government. A State to be viable must have a fair number of scientists, educationists, entrepreneurs, political leaders, literary figures etc. as well as a variety of institutions like banks, colleges and universities and economic enterprises and diverse resources. Smaller States develop small mentality, parochial outlook and even undesirable tendencies as is seen in Jharkhand. The late Jaipal Singh, MP, an ex-Army officer, a champion of Jharkhand on the floor of Parliament who won the admiration of even Prime Minister Nehru, would have been appalled by the antics and shameless corruption of the likes of Madhu Koda and ‘Guruji’ Shibu Soren. Time has come to look comprehensively at the band of variation among States—political, administrative, economic, educational etc.—and proper State reorganisation taken on hand so as to do away with too large a State as well as too small a State. The band of variation can be at the most one to ten.

Obviously a panel of politicians, administrators, industrialists and business people, political scientists, economists, management experts etc. need to be constituted to look at the present scenario and propose changes.

In this exercise shadows of the historical past should not be allowed to cloud proposals which should be made on the basis of futuristic thinking. Telangana is a remnant of the past kingdom of Nizam, and Goa of the Portuguese empire. How far can the memories of the Nizam and the Portuguese rulers be allowed to continue? Language is undoubtedly the most common acceptable base for State formation. But, as pointed out above, it cannot be an exclusive principle so that we follow the one-language one-State formula. Some modifications and compromises are inevitable. After the formation of States like Maharashtra and Karnataka, the issue of ‘emotional integration’ of the constituent parts came up. Thus in Karnataka the Gulbarga area was a part of the Nizam Kingdom, the Bombay area of the old regime of Bombay Province, South Canara of the old Madras Province while the rest of Karnataka belonged to the Princely State of Mysore. Similarly in AP, Telangana harks back to Nizam Kingdom with the influence of Urdu and Pharsee while Sarkar and Rayalaseema had attachment to old Madras. Similarly in Maharashtra, Vidarbha harked to back to the Hindi past, and Marathwada to the Nizam past. That no conscious attempts were made to create emotional integration and restore economic balance is a reflection on the political leaderships of the respective States. The Vidarbha people continue to have a feeling of deprivation as also the ‘Bombay’ and Hyderabad areas of Karanataka which remain comparatively backward. The V.M. Dandekar Committee drew attention to the economic deficit of Vidarbha and proposed compensatory measures. It is a pity that the political leaderships of the States were not able to eliminate the ‘emotional and economic deficits’. Rigid principles are no substitute to political astuteness and wise leadership.

Dr Dubhashi, IAS (retired), is a former Secretary to the Government of India and erstwhile Vice-Chancellor, Goa University; he is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. He can be contacted at dubhashi@giaspn01.vsnl.net.in

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