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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 20, May 8, 2010

Indian Polity—from Integration to Fragmentation

Monday 10 May 2010, by Ranbir Singh

The Indian Constitution, which came into force on January 26, 1950, had been designed by its makers to integrate the 562 princely states that had signed the Instrument of Accession into India after the strenuous and skilful efforts of the then Home Minister, Sardar Patel. Some of the larger among them, like Hyderabad and Mysore, were made Part-B States and their rulers, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Mysore, were designated as Rajpramukhs. Some small but contiguous princely states, such as Rajasthan, Pepsu and Saurastra, were integrated by forming Part-B States and the rulers of the largest among them were designated as Rajpramukhs. For illustration, PEPSU was created by integrating the princely states of Patiala, Nabha, Kapurthala, Malerkotla, Faridkot, Jind and Nalagarh and the Maharaja of Patiala was made its Rajpramukh. The remaining princely states, which were not large enough for according them the status of Part-B State or could not be given that status by integrating other princely states with them, were made Part-C States. The case of Bhopal may be cited by way of illustration. Likewise, some very small but contiguous princely states were constituted into Part-C States. For instance, this was done in the case of the hilly states of Punjab, like Sirmor, Rampur and Mandi etc., for making Himachal Pradesh. These Part-C States were headed by Lt. Governors, whereas some small princely states were integrated in the provinces that had been in existence since the colonial period. For instance, this was done in the case of Loharu and Pataudi which were merged in Punjab. The provinces of British India were given Part-A State status. These were to be headed by Governors. The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was, however, integrated in India by giving it a special status under Article 370.

The next step for the administrative, political and emotional integration of the erstwhile princely states in the Union of India was taken in 1956 on the recommendation of the States Re-organisation Commission when the areas falling in the erstwhile princely states were further integrated by making them parts of the linguistic States and by abolishing the Part-B and Part-C States. For example, Marthawada and Telengana areas of Hyderabad were merged into the States of Bombay and Andhra respectively and Kannad speaking areas of that State were included in Karnataka. Likewise Pepsu was merged into Punjab and Mysore became a part of Karnataka.

Another device that had been used for their further integration was that of the creation of the Union Territories. For illustration, Himachal Pradesh, comprising the former hill states of Punjab, was made a Union Territory. Even the linguistic reorganisation of Bombay in 1960 and of Punjab in 1966 and the consequent creation of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana States were integrative actions. While the formation of Maharashtra integrated the Marathwada region of Hyderabad into the Marathi speaking State of Maharashtra, Gujarati speaking areas of Saurashstra were integrated into the State of Gujarat. In the same way, the Punjabi speaking area of Pepsu was integrated into Punjab, and the Hindi speaking parts of the princely states of Jind, Patiala and Nabha into Haryana. This strengthened their Punjabi and Haryanvi identities and weakened the old identities of the princely states. Even the transfer of the hilly areas of Punjab was an integrative step as it aimed at strengthening the Pahari identity of the people of the former hilly princely state of Punjab and the hilly people of Punjab.

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But the process of fragmentation started from Assam in the 1970s when Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh had been carved out to accommodate the secessionist elements. It was this factor that led to the rise of the secessionist movement in Assam led by the United Liberation Front of Assam. The process of disintegration was further accelerated with the formation of Uttarakhand in UP, Jharkhand in Bihar and Chhattisgarh in Madhya Pradesh by the NDA Government (1998-2004). This gave impetus to the demands for Gorkhaland in West Bangal, Bodoland in Assam, Vidharbha in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Harit Pradesh in UP and Telangana in Andhra. Among these, the demand for Telangana was able to acquire legitimacy after the decision of the UPA to include Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) into its fold on the eve of the 2004 parliamentary elections. The UPA also promised to consider this demand in case of the formation of its government. But the opposition from the Left Front, on which the UPA was dependent for gaining and retaining power, on account of its likely spillover effect on the demand for Gorkhaland, made it to soft-pedal it. It was this reluctance that made the TRS leader, Chandrashekhar Rao, to quit the Union Ministry to revive the demand for Telangana. But, the demand, as is evident from the outcome of the 2009 parliamentary elections, could not get the people’s mandate for itself and lost its steam.

But the decision of the UPA Government to accept this demand on March 9, 2009 for saving the life of Chandrashekhar Rao accorded it a new legitimacy. But this not only created a strong reaction in the Rayalaseema region and coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh but also opened the floodgates of new demands in all parts of the country. Now the regions of Jammu and Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand in UP, Vidharbha in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Maru Pradesh in Rajasthan, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Coorg in Karnataka are demanding Statehood. The situation is worst in the North-East where the Dimasa organisations, Karbi bodies, National Democratic Front of Bodoland and Koch Rajbongshi organisations are demanding Statehood for their ethnic groups. Even in Meghalaya and Mizoram, the Garos and the Hmars are also pressing for Statehood. The danger of the emergence of new demands for Statehood by Ahoms, Chutias, Morans, Motoks cannot be ruled out altogether.

The above account enables us to generalise that Indian federalism has moved from the phase of integration to that of fragmentation. This leads us to the question: how to explain this retrograde development? This may be explained by the following factors: in the first instance, it may be ascribed to the impact of the process of modernisation which led to a wave of rising expectations among various regional formations of the existing linguistic States. Secondly, it has to be attributed to their politicisation due to the logic of the democratic process. Thirdly, it has to be ascribed to the uneven development of various regions within the existing States. Fourthly, it has to be explained by the rise of real or imaginary feelings of deprivation and discrimination and internal colonialisation in the people of the under-developed regions of various States. Lastly, it is the net result of the segmental political mobilisation of various regional groups by different political parties and their factions.

Now arises the question: what can be done to tackle this problem? It is often argued that a Second States Reorganisation Commission be appointed on account of the changes in the social, cultural, economic and political milieu of various States and the present unilingual States be divided on regional basis. But those who suggest this approach forget the harsh fact that it would lead to the balkanisation of India. Today, regions are demanding Statehood, tomorrow the sub-regions would raise the demand. And the day after such demands would be made by the districts. Therefore, some alternatives will have to be thought of. These include the creation of Regional Committees, special economic packages for the underdeveloped regions and democratic decentralisation of governance leading to the empowerment of the Panchayati Raj Institutions and urban local bodies.

The author is a Consultant, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri.

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