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Balancing politics with economics

india Updated: Dec 13, 2009 00:32 IST
Ashok Malik

Should a new state be formed simply because a man goes on the world’s first telegenic hunger-strike? Admittedly, the demand for Telangana is more widespread than K. Chandrashekhara Rao’s political appeal, but that doesn’t make the gimmicky manner of the birth of India’s 29th state any less disquieting.

‘KCR’, as he is known, in a state where every politician has a caste as well as an abbreviation, led his party to victory in just 10 of the region’s 119 assembly seats in May 2009. Till some weeks ago, he was on the ropes. As chief minister and Andhra strongman, YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) had smothered the voices for Telangana and was luring KCR’s MLAs into the Congress. YSR’s death gave KCR his chance. An inept Congress leadership in the state and panicky UPA ministers did the rest.

In the resultant crisis, the key question is: what happens to Hyderabad? It lies in the heart of Telangana. If Hyderabad stays with the rump Andhra, its airport will be in Telangana. With Hyderabad, Telangana is a potential superstar state. Without it, it could a Maoist-infested backwater.

Of the state’s three regions, Coastal Andhra is the most prosperous. Powerful politicians-cum-businessmen from the coast have invested heavily in Hyderabad’s property markets. The Congress revolt is led by two MPs with massive land banks in Hyderabad. They want compensation — perhaps a huge Central package to build a new capital in Guntur or Vijayawada.

There is the third region, Rayalaseema. Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, YSR’s son, is encouraging a call for trifurcation because it could propel him to be the chief minister of Rayalaseema. Even otherwise, it could enhance his bargaining power in a post-Telangana Congress.

That is the politics, what of the principle? Telangana’s claim opens opportunities for Harit Pradesh, Coorg, Saurashtra and, most piquantly, for the MP from Darjeeling to go on a fast in quest of Gorkhaland.

If a new wave of state formation is upon us, can identity be rationalised with economics? Should economic viability be a necessary benchmark?

Take an example. The eight states of the Northeast comprise one of the planet’s most sociologically complex regions and home to numerous movements for new states. Having said that, no one constituent of the Northeast is a likely heavyweight. The price of identity is atomisation, and loss of collective economic and political heft.

Is there a way out? Why can't mother and daughter states form a common market, en route that great Indian dream, a national common market? Can political exclusiveness co-exist with economic integration? With enlightened leadership, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana can yet be two states but one economic entity, with free trade and a common tax regime. Think about it.

Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator.

The views expressed are personal