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Not the best state of affairs

New states may be created but it should not be inspired by politics. Sudhanshu Ranjan examines...

india Updated: Feb 18, 2008 21:43 IST

It’s not every day that the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress agree on things. So if the two parties speak in unison on the issue of the trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh, we should sit up and listen. On her 52nd birthday, UP Chief Minister Mayawati reiterated her demand for the division of UP into Harit Pradesh (western UP ), Poorvanchal (eastern UP) and Bundelkhand, Agra and Awadh. On October 10, 2007, addressing a rally at Lucknow, she proposed it for the first time. Now the Congress is also supporting it. The Centre has almost decided to set up a second State Reorganisation Commission as the demands for carving out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha from Maharashtra are still hanging fire. On the whole, however, there are demands for the creation of about 50 states.

The most oft-quoted argument in favour of smaller states is that it is good for governance and economic prosperity. That everything is not hunky-dory in the seven North-Eastern states flies in the face of this argument. Development, language and other similar factors have always been perceived to be compelling reasons for the creation of ‘separate’ states. But invariably, it is politics that comes in the way. The British partitioned Bengal in 1905 to blunt the emerging spirit of Indian nationalism, but backtracked in the face of fierce opposition. However, the acceptance of federalism by the Indian National Congress in 1916 at the Lucknow Congress inspired the demand of several states. This was reinforced when on April 8, 1917, the AICC proposed to carve out a Telugu-speaking state from the Madras Presidency on the basis of the recommendation of the Lucknow Congress. Presiding over the 1917 Calcutta Congress, Annie Beasant protested. But nobody paid any attention. Subsequently, the Congress in its 1920 Nagpur Session accepted in principle the creation of linguistic states. It was thought that administration should be conducted in the native language to bring it closer to the people. Demands started pouring in for the creation of other states on linguistic lines and memoranda were submitted to the British India government. The Dravid Kazgham demanded a sovereign state of Dravidistan, and the CPI went to the extent of demanding “17 sovereign National Constituent Assemblies based on national homelands of various Indain peoples”. The Indian Statutory Commission headed by John Simon rejected these demands.

However, the Motilal Nehru Committee was all for the creation of ‘language states’. But the Linguistic Provinces Commission recommended to check fractious tendencies. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was also against creating states on the basis of language as such states would have a population speaking other languages discriminated against. When Potti Sriramullu sat on a fast-unto-death for the creation of Andhra Pradesh, Nehru told his cabinet colleagues that he would not be cowed down by such pressure tactics. But Sriramullu ’s death left him defenceless. With the creation of Andhra Pradesh, Kannada-speaking people raised the demand for a new state. So Nehru set up a State Reorganisation Commission (SRC). The Commission recommended the creation of linguistic states but it did not solve the problem. People of the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra laid stress on making ‘backwardness’ a major criterion besides language. It united leaders of various hues of the state to oppose Maharashtra’s division. Govind Vallabh Pant openly declared that Uttar Pradesh would be divided “over his dead body”.

When the movement for a separate Uttarakhand was started in 1993, the then state government rejected the demand terming it as a conspiracy against UP. The BSP was then a partner in the state government. Some people leading the movement stated that they would demonstrate with arms in favour of their demand. The Union Government then directed the state government to sort things out. Agitators and the police clashed at Muzaffarnagar. Three new states were created in November 2000 — Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — throwing constitutional provisions to the wind. And now, Chief Minister Mayawati, changing her earlier tune, quotes Ambedkar’s support for small states in principle. When Uttaranchal was carved out, it had only 23 members of legislative assembly (MLAs), far short of the number required for a state. So eight members of legislative council (MLCs) were converted into MLAs despite no law allowing such a conversion. Subsequently, it was divided into 70 Assembly constituencies, and the election of MLAs became something like that of gram pradhan. The state became a burden on the Centre.

Jharkhand was also created by flouting the Constitution. It is true that Parliament is empowered to create new states under Article 3. But the Supreme Court laid down that it does not apply to scheduled areas. A total of 112 blocks in Jharkhand fall under the scheduled areas. The principle is that scheduled areas not be given statehood unless they are sufficiently developed. No wonder, the first SRC rejected the demand of Jharkhand. The Bihar Reorganisation Act 2000 was challenged for attracting various constitutional provisions in the Patna High Court and the hearing had also begun. But the Supreme Court recalled it and the case was never listed.

The creation of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh also debunk the myth that small states facilitate development. Naxalism has spread its tentacles over most of the districts of both states. The first budget of Jharkhand was a surplus budget of Rs. 230 crore, but the very next budget was a deficit budget. Revenue mobilisation has gone down while it is looking up in Bihar. New states may be created but it should not be inspired by politics. And lessons of the past should not be glossed over.

Sudhanshu Ranjan is a senior journalist based in Patna.