The announcement of the creation of Telangana state, out of the existing Andhra Pradesh, has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Agitations have rocked parts of the country where there have been ongoing demands for new states -- Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Bodoland and Karbi Anlong in Assam.
Barring Uttar Pradesh, where there is a state assembly recommendation of the Mayawati era calling for a further split in the state to create four new states -- Harit Pradeshi in the western part of the state, Awadh in the centre, Poorvanchal in the east and Bundelkhand in the south-west, there has been no official support for the creation of new states.
Going just by demands placed before the Union Home Ministry by individuals and groups, there have been calls for new states across the country -- the Kuki people want their own in Manipur, in southern Tamil Nadu there is a demand for Kongu Nadu, in North Bengal, Kamtapur, in Maharashtra for Vidarbha, for a Kodagu state in Karnataka to name just a few. Most of the demands are based on a sense of an unfulfilled identity arising from ethnic, linguistic and historical perceptions.
One of the great achievements of independent India was the integration of more than 560 princely states and principalities into the country. The British came up with many plans through which they would leave India, including the suggestively termed Plan Balkan, under which India would be broken down into its constituent units and then left to reconstitute itself the best it could.
Eventually, Lord Mountbatten decided that Britain would create two Dominions out of the areas they had ruled directly, but the rulers of princely states were given the unfettered right to join either of the two entities -- India or Pakistan. In a speech to the rulers, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy told them that independence was not an option for them, and advised them to join either of the two dominions, based on economic and geographical compulsions.
Incidentally, religion was not an issue here. This was apparent from Jinnah’s acceptance of the accession of Junagadh, a principality in Gujarat surrounded by the dominion of India, and having a majority of Hindus. It is another matter that the Nawab’s government was overthrown by a popular revolt.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister and his State’s secretary VP Menon cut through the morass of ambiguity left by the British and by the time India became independent, August 15, 1947, most of the princely states and principalities had acceded to the Dominion of India. “Most” because two important ones had not done so--Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad, but how they did eventually become part of India is another story.
To provide for administrative efficiency, these entities were soon clubbed together in three classes of states and the decisions were taken on purely pragmatic grounds. Indeed, the Constituent Assembly set up a commission to look into the issue and that body recommended that states based purely on linguistic lines was not a good idea. It wanted states to be created on the basis of geographical contiguity, financial viability and administrative convenience.
However, the spectre of linguistic subnationalism soon reared its head and for which the ruling Congress party had few answers as it had itself long championed the idea of linguistic states.
Since then, states have come up in India largely for reasons of identity, based on language and culture and Telangana is no exception.
However, few have bothered to look into the other aspects of a state’s formation -- financial viability. Many of the small states that have come up are finding it difficult to function without central doles. One problem they have is that instead of cutting their coat according to the available cloth, the first thing that the politicians and bureaucrats want are the accoutrements of a full-fledged state -- ministries, assemblies, corporations, courts with houses and vehicles for all the netas and babus that come with a new state.
The result is that most of the revenues of these smaller states are consumed in their effort to show how they are states like others. Little or no effort is made to try and keep costs down by sharing facilities, or keeping government expenditures to modest level reflecting the size and resources of the state in question.
The bloated government of Uttarakhand is a case in point. Actually the people of the state are probably worse off by getting a state of their own. The movement for the state was led by people from the mountain areas, but the large areas of the terai that have been included means that the balance of power will be held by people from the plains. Where once the better educated people of Uttarakhand had access to jobs across the huge state of Uttar Pradesh, today they are confined to a small region where there are no jobs to be had. No wonder the aspiration of an average Uttarakhandi is to get a job as a government servant.
The drive for more states in India has not lost its momentum. As the Telangana issue shows, the principal driver now is politics. If it is electorally useful for a new state to come up, it does. However, this is not good for the country because there are no limits to the number of ways that the country can be further divided and subdivided.
Maybe, in the end, Plan Balkan may come to fruition -- India will break up into many more units and then only understand the need
to reconstitute itself into states based on geography and financial and administrative viability.
The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.