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Small Is Beautiful: STOKING SEPARATIST TENDENCIES, By Poonam I Kaushish; NEW DELHI, 27 July 2007 Print E-mail


NEW DELHI, 27 July 2007


Small Is Beautiful


By Poonam I Kaushish


How big is big? When does big become small? Does beautiful small make big ugly? Will small fetch better dividends than big? Or vice-versa? Confused? Don’t be. At least not when we are talking about our polity and their vote-bank shenanigans. The latest brainwave to emerge from the political stable is to once again carve big States into small. Obviously, the bigness and smallness of a State has everything to do with massaging the polity’s vote-banks and improving their winability quotient!


Trust the Congress, hurting after its electoral massacre in the UP Assembly poll last May, to reignite the flames of ‘separatist tendencies’ by talking of redrawing the contours of the sprawling State. In the hope that UP carved into smaller units will fetch the Party big political dividends. Camouflaged as imperative for “political stability” in the country (read Party), it has mooted the idea of setting up another States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to explore the formation of new States. No matter that till its electoral rout in UP, the Party opposed tooth and nail the creation of small States. It even let the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti quit the UPA alliance.


Needless to say, this out-of-the-blue decision to appoint another SRC has opened a Pandora’s Box on the demand for statehood from every nook and cranny of the country. Already, over 10 new entrants are rearing to go. It remains to be seen whether the Congress-led UPA Government will come out smelling of roses or reek of rotten eggs. That the task is tough can be gauged from the fact the issue is both emotive and politically sensitive, against the backdrop of many regions and sub-regions aspiring to be full-fledged States.


Besides Telengana in Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha in Maharashtra, there is demand for Harit Pradesh out of Western UP, Bundelkhand and Purvanchal out of south-eastern UP, Gondwana from portions of Chhattisgarh, Andhra and Madhya Pradesh, Kodagu in Karnataka’s coffee belt, Bodoland from Assam, Ladakh from Kashmir, Garoland from Meghalaya, Mithilanchal from North Bihar and Gorkhaland in West Bengal. With the state party units divided in Telengana and Vidarbha it would be politically wise to push for reorganisation of the two States. This would force smaller parties align with it.


Nobody can deny that a few States in India are much too large and unwieldy for efficient governance. It takes nearly two days to get to Jhansi from Lucknow by road! Obviously, administrative efficiency is the first casualty. Recent experience shows that smaller States are able to meet the rising expectations and aspirations of their people for speedy development and a responsive and effective administration. Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and, earlier, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh are cases in point. Haryana, a barren backyard of united Punjab largely comprising illiterate jats, was carved out of a prosperous Punjab after a long and patient struggle. So also Himachal. Ditto Uttarakhand from UP, Jharkhand from Bihar and Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. Today, all are shining examples of “small is beautiful”.


However, protagonists of bigger States disagree. What guarantee, they ask, is there that this will end internal fissures. Make the rivers flow smoothly from one State to another. (Look at the ugly riparian fight between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.) Bring about a synthesis between the haves and the have-nots. A linguistic and cultural affinity. Clinching their arguments by asserting that India is not ready yet for a fresh redrawing of its political and economic map. Further reinforcing that if smaller incisions have to be made as in the USA, then the body politic of India would need to be wholly restructured on that pattern. s


In addition, it could well encourage fissiparous tendencies, ultimately leading to India’s balkanization and stoke the sub-terranean smouldering fires of disputes over borders--- and cities. Both Haryana and Punjab still want Chandigarh. Orissa demands the return of Saraikala and Kharsuan. Nagaland still wants to cut into large chunks of Manipur and certain forest areas of Assam. Bihar yearns desperately for the mineral-rich districts of Jharkhand.


Will not a further partition of the existing States result in an India that would fit Jinnah’s classical description of Pakistan as being “truncated and moth-eaten”? The only purpose it will serve will be to whet regional and separatist appetites, as it happened at the time of the first SRC in the mid-fifties? The very “blackhole” that our past leaders were ever eager to avoid.


The Congress manifesto of 1945-46, no doubt, stridently assured the people that provinces would be restructured on a linguistic and cultural basis. However, the priorities underwent a perceptible change following India’s partition. Speaking before the Constituent Assembly on 27 November 1947, Prime Minister Nehru pleaded: “First things must come first, and the first thing is the security and stability of India.” And, India’s ‘Iron Man’, Sardar Patel, embarked upon his mighty effort to integrate and unite India. More than 560 princely States were merged with the rest of India peacefully without any loss of time---lest India should be broken up into hundreds of smaller States. This was followed by the appointment of the Dar Commission to enquire into and report on the desirability or otherwise of creating any more provinces.


Interestingly, the Dar Commission recommended that no new provinces should be created. India, it said, was burdened with problems more urgent than the problem of redistribution of provinces. Such as defence, food, refugees, inflation and production. Grounds which more than hold true today. Secondly, the country could not afford to add to its anxieties---the heat, controversy and bitterness which the demarcation of boundaries would involve. Lastly, the economic consequences of splitting up existing provinces into several new provinces.


This led to the Congress appointing another Committee, the JVP—Jawaharlal (Nehru), Vallabhbhai (Patel) and Pattabhi (Sitaramayya). The JVP concurred with Dar’s views that reorganisation would divert attention from more vital matters and retard the process of consolidation of the nation’s gains. However, to appease their political supporters, a significant rider was added: “If public sentiment was insistent and overwhelming, the practicability of satisfying public demands with its implications and consequences must be examined.” An innocuously-worded political corollary for which we are having to continue paying a heavy price.


In turn, this resulted in the setting up of the States Reorganisation Commission in December 1953, headed by Justice Fazl Ali, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It made its recommendation in September 1955. Whereby the component units of the Indian Union would consist of two categories---“States forming primary federation units of the Indian Union and territories which are centrally administered.”


It recommended the continuance of Hyderabad as a composite State comprising Urdu, Telugu, Marathi and Oriya speaking areas. However, Nehru developed cold feet against the backdrop of a violent agitation for Andhra Pradesh (as “Telugu Desam”) and the self immolation of Potti Sriramulu. He went over All India Radio and, to the shock and surprise of his senior Congress colleagues, expressed “surprise” over the recommendation.


Regional leaders like Charan Singh promptly took advantage of Nehru’s statement and started demanding the liberation of smaller colonies from the ruling classes. Union Home Minister Pant, eager to ensure the clout his State of undivided UP wielded in national affairs, countered the demand for smaller States by talking of zonal States. In fact, he went on shrewdly to turn the tables on those loudly demanding smaller States by cautioning against India’s break-up into hundreds of smaller States. Did the country want to reverse the historic integration brought about by the Sardar?


Typical of India’s political culture, the first SRC and the creation of new States left in its wake more controversies than it sorted out. Assam got carved out into four units, beginning with the promotion of a solitary Naga district into a full-fledged State of Nagaland without much thought to its consequences. Logically, if one district could initially be made Nagaland and another Mizoram, what was the logic to hold back Telengana or Vidarbha? The tragic irony of history is that successive Prime Ministers bought peace at the cost of strong integrated India by carving out new jagirs for acquiring “new chelas” and assured vote banks. Lest history books omitted their “contribution” in the building of a new India.


The controversies and demands generated then continue till date. Unfortunately for the Centre, its policy of going populist time and again and opting for quick-fix remedies has boomeranged. What, one might ask, is the alternative? Statesmanship and sagacity lie in adopting the middle path. The UPA Government should not set up another SRC just to win votes. It needs to learn from the mistakes of the recently carved small States, diagnose the disease afresh and hammer out solutions for better governance. Much can be achieved through meaningful decentralization of administration in these days of computerization, without adding to the cost of governance through top-heavy ministerial baggage.


Let us not allow politicians of all hues to create new pocket boroughs motivated by petty personal interests, undermining national unity. India has just entered its 60th year of Independence with 27 States, a testimony to a free and vibrant democracy. Are we now going to roll back history to pre-Independence days and create 562 States? Let not history record what Conrad Egbert once brilliantly stated: We learn nothing from history except that we learn nothing from history! ---- INFA

(Copyright India News and Feature Alliance)


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