Eleven days of fasting seems to have done what eight years of bargaining could not achieve for Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao: the assurance of a separate state of Telangana from a reluctant Centre. While Rao’s supporters are celebrating, the path to Telangana will be a rocky one beginning with the issue of Hyderabad. The Centre rules out Union Territory status for the city, once the abode of the fabled Nizams, and the TRS will not do without Hyderabad. In all these theatrics, a telling remark by the Centre seems to have been overlooked: it will not consider setting up a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC). The first in the 50s that divided the southern states along linguistic lines may have created its own problems, but to rule out a new one is shortsighted at this juncture. Had such a commission been instituted as the UPA had promised in its manifesto and reinforced by senior Congress leaders, perhaps the TRS would not have resorted to this sort of coercion.
There is definitely a case to be made for smaller, more viable states. However, take the case of Jharkhand. That state, carved out of southern Bihar in 2000, demonstrates that small isn’t always beautiful. A new SRC could have rationally examined the validity of a separate Jharkhand. The UPA’s delaying tactics on this issue will give a handle to vested political interests to make dubious claims for statehood. Hiving off new states should not come to mean a panacea to development, resource allocation and governance. The delimitation process, if conducted systematically and logically, could address the issues of adequate representation too. Alongside, there is merit in an SRC debating the issue of smaller states. This would have been the democratic way — unlike the TRS method in which at least 17 people have lost their lives and the tactic used was political blackmail.
The Congress can still move the Telangana issue from the deep-freeze to the backburner. But will the TRS’s ‘success’ open a Pandora’s Box? The way to pre-empt this would to act on the issue instead of making conciliatory noises until the next crisis pops up. There is still time to bolt the barn door on this. Politics willing.