Since India is a federation of states, many of which have come up after the Constitution came into force, we will not trot out a knee-jerking response to the demand for a separate state in Telengana. But we do need to point out that the record of federalism has been rather mixed in the 20th century. Fully, 46 per cent federations have failed, often in the face of even older forces of ethno-nationalism and regionalism. But more often than not, these failures can be attributed to a failed model of federalism and a resultant failure of governance, rather than to the concept of federalism itself. It is clear that it is not the concept that has failed, but our governments, which have not been able to ensure all-round economic growth, despite adopting central planning.
The defining feature of Indian politics and society is its heterogeneity, be it the case of religion, language, ethnicity or culture. Previous state reorganisation demands have emerged from linguistic factors (the south in 1956, the west in 1960 and the Punjab in 1966) or ethnic/cultural factors (the North-east in 1971 and central India in 2000). Reorganisation on religious basis, which has indeed been demanded, has been avoided. The present regionalist demands - in Telengana, Vidarbha, Gorkhaland, Harit Pradesh, Poorvanchal and so on - are based primarily on the contention that these regions have lagged behind in basic parameters of development. However, there is always an attempt to link these movements to factors that enjoy populist appeal, such as a shared history or culture.
Given India's diversity, there is no telling where regionalist demands will stop. Smaller states may enhance governance, but often lack the resources to provide for development. Further, in replicating the same model of governance - with separate assemblies, secretariats, babus and peons - most of the recently created states have doomed themselves to becoming basket cases. There has, unfortunately, been no attempt to test alternative patterns of governance - for instance, a greater devolution of powers to local bodies in order to ensure greater administrative efficiency, democratisation and inclusion. And this failure is precisely what fuels further regionalist demands. If India is to be saved from this scourge of divisive politics, this is the area that needs reform most urgently.