Vol – XLIX No. 9, March 01, 2014
The troubled formation of India’s 29th state suggests the need for a new States’ Reorganisation Commission.
It has taken more than four years of a raucous and very ill-tempered process since the first formal announcement on the creation of the new state of Telangana for Parliament to approve the division of Andhra Pradesh (AP). Ever since the then minister of home affairs, P Chidambaram, made a statement on 9 December 2009 that the Government of India would initiate the process for bifurcation of AP, the government has faced determined opposition from political leaders of coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema, which are together now termed Seemandhra. The shrillness of the opposition from some political leaders of Seemandhra to the formation of Telangana contrasts sharply with the calm response in 2004 when the Congress came to power both in Hyderabad and New Delhi in alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) on an agreement to form the new state. What changed in the intervening decade to cause so much anger in Seemandhra to Telangana?
One clear answer is that for most of the politicians of Seemandhra, the Congress Party’s alliance with the TRS and declaration of support for Telangana was seen to be part of “normal” politics, i e, not to be taken seriously and never to be implemented. It was following this script that various committees were formed and the issue was sought to be driven into legal and political quicksand so that it would eventually disappear into irrelevance. In this the Congress (and other political parties) were playing out the script written by Indira Gandhi who in the late 1960s and early 1970s used a dependable mixture of repression, electoral dealmaking and concessions to bury the demand for Telangana. By the time of the last general elections in the summer of 2009, it appeared that this strategy had again paid dividends as the TRS was politically discredited and electorally marginalised while most political parties paid lip service to the formation of Telangana, much like they do to poverty eradication.
Two things changed the script. The first was the Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) formal support for Telangana statehood and its alliance with the TRS, as its leader N Chandrababu Naidu tried to unseat his rival and Congress leader Y S Rajasekhara Reddy from chief ministership. He failed to do so but the latter’s death created the troubled conditions in which the demand for Telangana was revived. By December 2009, there was simmering anger in the Telangana region against the back-room parleys and political opportunism which was again derailing the demand for a separate state. The Congress, the TDP, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (and later the YSR Congress) had all formally declared their support for a separate Telangana, but were working to scuttle it. That is when the demand spilled over to the streets of Telangana and it became clear that the human and political costs of denying separate statehood were going to be impossible to bear. In one sense, the success of Telangana is a defeat of the amoral politics which has so blighted this country, a politics which says one thing in public and does the opposite inside ministerial chambers, a politics which demeans political activism by making it a synonym for power-broking, a politics which considers the citizens to be a mindless herd swayed by glib words and crumbs from the table of power and privilege.
But other than a defeat of such cynical and opportunist politics, the demand for Telangana also indicates a larger process in the political economy of India. The gross domestic product (GDP) of some of the larger and economically more prosperous states of India is now more than the entire country’s GDP at the time of the reorganisation of the states in the mid-1950s. The processes unleashed by the various agricultural and rural economy initiatives over the last five decades have had a profound impact on landholdings, agricultural patterns, commodification and market penetration, and most importantly, in the class and social relations of rural India. Similar is the story with the growth and transformation of the manufacturing and service sectors, the emergence and consolidation of new classes and the processes of urbanisation. New and deeper forms of political activism and democratisation, the growth in literacy, communications and mobility, all have profoundly transformed over the past five decades since when the states were reorganised on linguistic lines. In short, the body has outgrown the clothes it had worn five decades ago; India’s federal framework is becoming increasingly out of sync with its new political economy, India’s politics is becoming increasingly out of sync with the framework of political parties it has, and so on and so forth.
In other words, the demand for Telangana may have a lineage which goes back to the formation of the linguistic states, but today it represents social classes and political aspirations which are largely new – the number of voters in AP has grown four times, the size of the economy by many multiples, and the literacy rate has increased from the low 20s to the high 60s, etc. It makes sense for smaller political units, not just in AP but in many other states of the Indian union. It is time for a renewed national conversation about our federalism and the structures which underpin our polity and administration. The churn one witnesses in electoral politics is perhaps an expression of the same transformations which have fuelled the demand for Telangana. A second States’ Reorganisation Commission will also help smaller nationalities like Gorkhaland, which do not have the electoral muscle to force their demand through. More states of the union neither lead to a weaker country nor weaker provinces. Rather, it may well help strengthen the union by democratising it further.