As the nation once again grapples with the issue of reorganisation of states, BR Ambedkar’s book Thoughts on Linguistic States, written in December 1955, might need an urgent revisit.
His ideas were proved right and his assessment of the creation of new states in the federal polity is relevant in post-Independent India.
One of the most interesting proposals by Ambedkar in the 1955 book was to split Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. He wanted Madhya Pradesh divided into northern and southern states.
Bihar also was to be split into two, with Patna and Ranchi as the capitals. After a good 45 years, the split came with the formation of Chhattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand out of Bihar in the year 2000.
Ambedkar, fresh after working on the Constitution of India (he was head of the drafting committee of the Constitution), came out with a vision for a reorganised India. He felt that a state should have a people of one language to have uniformity and to retain linguistic culture. At the same time, there could be two states where people spoke the same language. He proposed splitting single-language states. For instance, he wondered at Uttar Pradesh’s huge size (still it is the fourth-largest in India) and wanted to split it into three states.
Ambedkar had a special formula for Bombay, then a mixed-language province (including the present-day Maharashtra and Gujarat). He proposed ‘city state’ status for Bombay. He acknowledged the presence of people of multiple linguistic groups and their role in establishing Bombay. He proposed to split Maharashtra (he conceptualised it before the state came into existence) into three states. At that time, Maharashtra comprised several districts of the erstwhile Nizam’s Hyderabad. Ambedkar was responding to the report of the first State Reorganisation Commission (SRC) in 1955, through his book.
Gandhian Potti Sriramulu died on December 16, 1952, after a 58-day fast demanding a separate Andhra state for Telugu-speaking people (to be carved out of Madras Presidency). This prompted the central government to go for the SRC and triggered the formation of linguistic states. Ambedkar ridiculed Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister: “The creation of a new Andhra province now being thought of is only a pindadan to the departed soul of Mr Sriramulu, by the Prime Minister.”
One of Ambedkar’s major proposals was to make Hyderabad the second capital of India because of the centrality of location, as a junction of North and South, and on defence considerations.
The Andhra state issue never died down. The 1955 SRC recognised Andhra and Hyderaba (Telangana) as separate entities. By then Hyderabad as a separate state had elections in 1952 and a state government was in place. The clamour for a single-language state for the Telugus led to the merger of Andhra and Hyderabad states in 1956 with assurances to Hyderabad in a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the cabinet will have 40 per cent representation from Hyderabad. There would be the post of deputy chief minister so that either the chief minister or deputy chief minister was from Hyderabad.
The failure of the agreement led to the 1969 Telangana agitation, which too got settled by a six-point formula (between the leaders of the Andhra and Telangana regions), with equitable opportunities in education and employment.
In November 1996, a hugely successful meeting called Vidroha Sabha demanding Telangana was held. Later Telangana ideologues Jai Shankar (former vice-chancellor of Osmania University) and Mallepalli Laxmiah (a journalist) released book in 1997 a book called Telangana lo Emi Jaruguthundi (The Present Conditions in Telangana), which tried to cite injustice and discrimination as causes of its backwardness even today. The differences in the conditions of the Andhra and Telangana regions seem to have accentuated in the post-liberalisation Andhra Pradesh. This emerged into a fresh movement demanding Telangana and got a political face in 2001 and the electoral politics around it followed.
Ambedkar seemed to have solutions to all such problems — all written down 55 years ago. On splitting one-language states, he said: “Into how many States a people speaking one language should be cut up, should depend upon (1) the requirements of efficient administration, (2) the needs of the different areas, (3) the sentiments of the different areas, and (4) the proportion between the majority and minority.”
The size of the state for him had a special connotation. Ambedkar wrote: “As the area of the State increases the proportion of the minority to the majority (communities/castes) decreases and the position of the minority (castes) becomes precarious and the opportunities for the majority to practise tyranny over the minority become greater. The States must therefore be small.”
Ambedkar’s appropriate advice for our times: “The formation of Linguistic States, although essential, cannot be decided by any sort of hooliganism. Nor must it be solved in a manner that will serve party interest. It must be solved by cold blooded reasoning.”
The author is an IAS officer.
The views expressed are personal