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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 35, August 17, 2013 - Independence Day Special

India’s Statehood Cauldron: From Simmer to Boil

Sunday 18 August 2013, by Ajay K. Mehra

When Dr Manmohan Singh ascends the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort on August 15, 2013 to unfurl the national flag on the 67th Independence Day of the country, he would be announcing the creation of the Telangana State, the twentyninth of the Indian Union in the 57 years of reorganising the internal map of India. The significance of the event does not merely lie in another bifurcation or creation of another State, its significance is in several emerging sub-texts of Indian politics since the Motilal Nehru Committee report (August 1928) that argued: ‘If a province has to educate itself and do its daily work through the medium of its own language, it must necessarily be a linguistic area. If it happens to be a polyglot area difficulties will continually arise and the media of instructions and work will be two or even more languages. Hence it becomes most desirable for provinces to be regrouped on a linguistic basis.’

The Nehru Committee had the map of pre-partition India spread out on its table in arriving at the linguistic formula. The political strands since then created three sovereignties in the region and having created a constitutional framework of sharing sovereignty, independent India reorganised two inherited political entities —‘provinces’ and ‘princely states’—into fourteen States and six Union Territories. Several more demands were made and recorded in the course of its proceedings, but the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) recommended sixteen States and two Union Territories and the Government of India settled for the above arrangement. Thus the political reorganisation of independent India somewhere brushed a number of political and socio-economic sub-texts under the carpet, and these began coming out even before the new arrangement was a decade old. We will return to theses sub-texts a little later in the essay. Importantly, creation of new States and redrawing India’s internal map has since then become a decadal event, every decade since then witnessing a change in boundaries within India and an increasing number of States. What deserves to be captured, however, is that in the processes that led fourteen to become twenty-nine and the rise of more than a dozen militant and violent clamourings for new States in the country, the bases for reorganisation have changed from linguism to ethnicity and regional imbalances, or a combination of the two.

Two decades from the Nehru Committee, working at the Indian map that was British Raj minus the then Pakistan, the Congress found the colonial administration’s boundaries artificial and logistically impractical. Also the Constituent Assembly that the Congress party dominated abandoned the idea of linguistic reorganisation. When the States Reorganisation Commission was constituted and entrusted with the task of reorganising the Indian States, it obviously had mixed signals on the basis of which to accomplish this onerous task with implications more for the future than the present. A clamour for linguistic States nonetheless began shortly and Telugu speakers were first to engage in violence in the Madras state and a Telugu State was promised by the government. Before it submitted its report, the SRC gathered over 150,000 petitions and than 9000 interviews. Introducing the SRC report in the Lok Sabha, Union Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant looked at the States’ reorganisation as a stability measure and wished that the people of India ‘may live together in friendliness and concen-trate on the real task of reconstruction’. However, Nehru expressed discomfort at reorganisation dismantling the Hyderabad state by merging the Telugu-speaking areas from the Madras state and creating Andhra Pradesh:

I would still like the State of Hyderabad not to be disintegrated, but circumstances have been too strong for me. I accept them. I cannot force the people of Hyderabad or the other people to come in a particular line because I think they should do so. I accept the decision and I adjust myself to the change that Hyderabad be disintegrated.1

Submissions to the SRC that went unattended, the optimism of Pant about people living in peace and brotherhood, Nehru’s own discomfort at various ways in which States could be and should be reorganised, that peaked when the question of bifurcation of the Bombay state came up, and continued simmerings of auto-nomy demands asking for separation from an existing State to a new one across the country that were not taken up systematically at any point of time even though new States were created in every passing decade, clearly indicate that there never was a serious engagement with the issue. It has been dealt mostly with political expediency. The question of smaller States too became politically fashionable only in the 1990s.
Experts, however, have kept on pleading for smaller States for better governance. It is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the largest Indian State, Rajasthan, is 342,239 sq kms, the smallest Goa is 3702 sq kms, and these do not include Union Territories, which vary between the largest Andman and Nicobar Islands (8249 sq kms), and the smallest, Lakshdweep (32 sq kms). In terms of population, the largest, Uttar Pradesh, governs 199,581,477 people and the smallest, Sikkim, governs 607,688 persons. Indeed, UP has become an example of a large State that has continued to remain ungovernable, while there are some examples of large well-governed States too. Similarly, even among smaller States examples of both well-governed and ill-governed States exist. Size indeed matters, but size alone does not matter. It is thus significant to look at the larger picture of Statehood demands and the autonomy question with the creation of Telangana as our point of departure.


The creation of Telangana has been contentious in its own way. We have seen Nehru’s dilemma on the Hyderabad state, which contains large parts of what would be Telangana. However, the Telugu-Andhra tussle dates back to the 1950s. A leader of the Communist Party of India pressed a motion for a Telugu-speaking State supported by several Congress members in July 1952 that went against Nehru’s wishes and was finally rejected because of party solidarities. Potti Sriramulu, the leader of the Vishal Andhra Movement, undertook a fast into death for a united Telangana State. He died on the fifty-sixth day, and that was the ultimate point which eventually led to violent riots, several deaths and the creation of Andhra Pradesh. The government decided in December 1952 to create the new State which came into existence in October 1953.

But the desire for Telangana State never died and movements kept cropping up again and again. The recent stirring that eventually led to its creation is associated with Telangana Rashtra Samithi and its leader, K. Chandrashekar Rao, who strategically aligned himself with the Con-gress in 2004, became part of the UPA and a Union Cabinet Minister, and resigned in 2006 when the ‘promise’ of the Telangana State was not fulfilled. He did not emerge as a factor in 2009 as Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy held over-whelming sway over Andhra Pradesh. When the politics of Andhra Pradesh went into a spin following the latter’s death in September 2009 in a helicopter crash, KCR and his TRS gradually emerged as a factor. It would be interesting to independently analyse the rise of KCR, who began his political career in the Telugu Desam Party, and his TRS and the political clout they gained. Weaknesses of the Congress and the State party system would be interesting factors to examine. This is beyond the merit or otherwise of Statehood for the Telangana region.

In April 2012 during my visit to Hyderabad I spoke to the driver of the taxi I was travelling in. Coming from the Telangana region he strongly argued for a separate State. I asked him what if the State was not granted; he smiled and shrugged, ‘Nothing. We would continue like this.’ This I was told by experts in the city was the normal feeling around. This was also reflected in the dilemma of the SRC. It felt that claims ‘in favour of a separate Telangana State are, however, not such as may be lightly brushed aside’. It pointed out with reference to the 1950s that Telangana had much higher incidence of land revenue in comparison to Andhra Rs 17 crore and an excise revenue of the order of Rs 5 crore per annum, which was argued in favour of its viability. However, the SRC visualised the advantages of Vishalandhra in the large water and power resources, adequate mineral wealth and valuable raw materials, utilisation of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad as the capital, a unified control for the development of the Krishna and Godavari rivers; it felt the economic affiliation of Telangana with the existing Andhra State would bridge its food deficit with the surplus of Andhra State. The lack of coal in Andhra would be fulfilled with supplies from Singareni. Telangana will also be able to save a great deal of expenditure on general administration in case it is not established as a separate unit. Obviously, the SRC rested its case for a united Telugu-speaking State on economic viability and inter-regional interdependence in resource-sharing that would also economise on the institutional cost, not a weak case by any standard. Nehru visualised a ‘tint of expansionist imperialism’ in merging Telangana with Andhra, but when the SRC recommended the merger despite a leaning for a separate Telangana, he described it as a matrimonial alliance having ‘provisions for divorce’ if the partners in the alliance cannot get on well.
Obviously, a significant sub-text of the States’ reorganisation was regional interdependence, which gets obfuscated with the imbalance argument. For example, C.H. Hanumantha Rao demonstrated in his book, Regional Disparities, Smaller States and Statehood for Telangana (New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 2010), how the expenditure of the region has been less than the receipts. On the other hand, Krishnamurthy Subramanian of the Indian School of Business (The Economic Times, January 3, 2011) demolished the claims of neglect and lack of development made by the Telangana protagonists with an analysis supported by detailed comparative statistics from the two regions in Andhra Pradesh.

As the heat mounted after the 2009 general elections with the Congress losing its charismatic Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, it appointed the B.N. Srikrishna Committee to look at this issue on February 3, 2010. In the report eleven months later, the Committee presented hexagram options, which appeared to confuse the discourse. The Committee itself found the first three available options—status quo, bifurcation with Hyderabad as UT and bifurcation into Rayal-Telangana with Hyderabad and coastal Andhra—unwork-able. Of the three workable options—bifurcation into Seemandhra and Telangana with enlarged Hyderabad as a UT, bifurcation into Telangana and Seemandhra as per existing boundaries with Hyderabad as the capital of Telangana, and unified Andhra with constitutional/statutory measures for empowerment of the Telangana region—the Committee found the last one as the most workable option. The Telanganites rooted for the last but one and got it. Politics prevailed over any kind of rational thinking.

Quo Vadis?

The Congress obviously does not even have a hazy idea of how to deal with these autonomy, or Statehood, demands. It has lost the text of scripting reorganisation of India’s internal boundaries in the politics of survival; forget about the sub-texts of accommodation, brotherhood, interdependence and power sharing. The party had no idea of the extent of revolt of its own members from the Andhra region in the State. Though several demands across the country, such as Gorkhaland, Karbi Anglong, Bodoland, Kukiland, Vidarbha, Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh, Coorg and so on—have been on board for decades, the party did not have the farsightedness to think as to what it would do in case these demands crop up in unison. Telangana had to be conceded in a State where the Congress is in power; in many States where these demands are appearing, the party is extremely weak. Obviously, Telangana has been conceded to protect its turf, it does not expect to regain the turf by creating any other State in other parts of the country.

It is no one’s case that new States should not be created if they are needed for efficacious governance. However, new States have costs and benefits. The first cost of new States would be elite-based expenditure. A new State would need to support an elaborate rigmarole and paraphernalia of politico-administrative structure that is based on the colonial structure. Adminis-trative units get smaller, but each needs to be supported by an army of support staff that is avoidable. Political elites first attempt to secure facilities for themselves, and then only look at policy initiatives. Let us not forget that in many of the smallest States this eats into their own revenue and budget. Indeed, benefits of small cohesive administration cannot be ignored, but in many cases these are not balanced out.

Two sets of demands for States are being pressed at present. One set of demands are from the North-East, which already has several small States. Rich in diversity of indigenous population, each group is seeking a new homogenous State. Should formation of States focus on homogeneity? Would it not increase intolerance which has already surfaced in several parts of the country? The second set of demands are in rest of the country. Breaking Uttar Pradesh in three or more States, where the demand for a Bundelkhand State, a region that straddles both UP and MP, for the backward region is alive for some time, has been argued on several occasions. Carving out Vidarbha from Maharashtra is another strong demand. Should each one of these be attended in partisan and ad hoc fashion, or should we have a considered approach with some national debate on attendant issues? We cannot allow such demands to lead to xenophobia, even exclusion, of any kind violating the fundamental right of movement of citizens within the country.


Lok Sabha Secretariat, Lok Sabha Debates on the Report of the States Reorganisation Commission (December 14 to December 23, 1955), Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1956, p. 876-77.

Prof Ajay K. Mehra is the Director (Honorary), Centre for Public Affairs, NOIDA (UP); he is also the editor, ICSSR Journal of Abstracts and Reviews in Political Science. He can be contacted by e-mail at:

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