The Congress is advised to reflect before plunging into action without doing adequate groundwork that could invite chaos. The challenge is to create Telangana without hurting Andhra pride. It can be done. The same can be done for all large states that require bifurcation ~ RAJINDER PURI
Congress General Secretary Mr Digvijay Singh raised media expectations to fever pitch by asserting that the Congress Core Committee meeting on Friday would take its final decision on granting separate statehood to Telangana. But the meeting ended with a whimper. He lamely announced that the Working Committee will later discuss the issue. The Congress dilemma is understandable. The party&’s supreme leader, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, in the pursuit of narrow intrigue against Mr Jaganmohan Reddy recklessly committed her party to a separate Telangana in order to counter him. Now that promise is sticking like a bone in the throat. The Congress cannot swallow the commitment nor spit it out. Congress leaders have a talent for doing the right thing for the wrong reason and in the wrong way. A decision on the issue is urgent in order to defuse the Telangana agitation and improve the party&’s plummeting electoral prospects in Andhra Pradesh. By a hasty announcement of separate Telangana, the Congress could blunder into a situation in which it will alienate its support in the rest of Andhra Pradesh without significantly increasing it within Telangana. Worse, it could provoke a spate of similar demands for smaller states all over the nation which the UPA administration is ill equipped to address. The result could be nationwide chaos and confusion.
Telangana of course deserves separate statehood. It should have been granted long ago. The entire reorganization of states on a linguistic basis began only after a fasting protester died as a martyr for demanding a separate state for Telugu-speaking people who were till then submerged in the Tamil population. That death rudely awakened Pandit Nehru&’s government to the powerful reality of identity in determining stable and democratic administrative units. Apart from language, shared history is also a strong criterion for creating collective identity. For example, the Nizam&’s rule in Hyderabad has given the people of Telangana a distinct identity as had Portuguese rule given it to Goa to set it apart from other Marathi-speaking areas.
Sadly, the recommendations of the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), which submitted its report in 1955, were cavalierly ignored by the government. For instance the government ignored the SRC recommendation that Bombay , now Mumbai, should be made a city state. With regard to Telangana, the SRC report in 1955 stated: “We have come to the conclusion that it will be in the interests of Andhra as well as Telangana area to constitute a separate State, which may be known as the Hyderabad State.” The government ignored this recommendation too and established present-day Andhra Pradesh in 1956. Since then the Telangana agitation has from time to time spluttered and exploded.
Similar demands for new states have arisen all over the nation. There have been demands for separate Vidharbha in Maharashtra, Harit Pradesh in western UP, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Mithalanchal Pradesh in Bihar, Bodoland in Assam and Bundelkhand in UP among several agitations. The government&’s policy has been to stall decision until hundreds die in agitation and then piecemeal concede statehood. This results in perpetual instability, allegations of favouritism, or of discrimination among states. Recently Jharkhand and Chattisgarh states were conceded. A popular argument against the success of small states may be rubbished by the examples of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh that were carved out of Punjab decades ago.
What is required to address the present Telangana demand, therefore, is a rational calibrated approach that takes care of the legitimate concerns of all parties. This is what the government could do. The government could announce the formation of a separate Telangana State which would be implemented only after a specified period of a year or so during which a new SRC may be entrusted with restructuring states across the nation. Administrative feasibility and cultural identity would be the criteria to determine new states. All demands for statehood that have erupted over the years would of course be taken into account. In addition to creating smaller states, the new SRC might also designate the leading metropolitan cities of India such as Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad , Bangalore, Lucknow , Guwahati and Patna to be converted into city-states. Consider what would happen if this were done.
Opponents of Telangana state in Andhra argue that the voters rejected Telangana in the last assembly elections. The voters of Andhra did that because they opposed bifurcation of their state in isolation which hurt Andhra pride. But if other large states like UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and the rest were also divided into smaller states the opposition in Andhra might have evaporated. Voters of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra might then have reacted very differently. The conversion of Hyderabad into a full-fledged city-state that offers optional space to the new small states carved out of Andhra to set up their government offices and even legislatures would conceivably satisfy the residents of Hyderabad and of all Andhra. This pattern could be replicated in all other large states.
The Congress would be well advised, therefore, not to blunder into immediately granting a separate Telangana state but to make an irrevocable formal announcement part of an overall solution that would reorganize the entire nation. Rationally there is scope for 50 small states in India . Many small states would be like sub-states of larger cultural and linguistic entities. These would remain bound together by a city-state that caters to the common needs of all the sub-states within such entities. Existing regional political parties would not suffer. These would have the scope to extend their influence to all the new states carved out of the existing large states. This arrangement would end periodic agitations to create stability.
Therefore, the Congress is advised to reflect before plunging into action without doing adequate groundwork that could invite chaos. The challenge is to create Telangana without hurting Andhra pride. It can be done. The same can be done for all large states that require bifurcation.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com