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New states bring Power to the People : Dorab Sopariwala ఫిబ్రవరి 22, 2010

Posted by Telangana Utsav in Andhra, Articles, Fazal Ali Commission, Identity, Parliament, politics, Rayalaseema, regionalism, SRC, Telangana.
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Power to the people
Dorab R Sopariwala / Business Standard, February 20, 2010

We need more states but such creations need to have the people’s backing

After many years of silence on the reorganisation of states, the Telangana issue has blown up in our face. There are arguments pro and anti and there are agitations pro and anti. The various governments at the Centre and in the states continue to lurch from one extreme to the other, and demands for creation of new states have come to the surface. If we are to escape such cataclysms in future, we need to be able to work on a system that allows new states to be formed without fasts and fights

Do we have too many states? Not by a long shot. The US, with around 300 million inhabitants, has 50 states; Germany (Its population is just over 80 million — less than half that of Uttar Pradesh) has 16 Länder. So, we certainly do not have too many states.

But what should be the criteria for forming new states — now that we have almost exhausted language as the criterion. Some say that the new states should be viable. That is correct, but what is viable? Are large states viable? Can anyone really say that UP is viable, with a current population of around 180 million, making it the fifth-largest country in the world? Or, how viable a state is Maharashtra, with a population of around 100 million and a debt of around Rs 180,000 crore? After the next Census, we shall find that there are five states with population exceeding 80 million each. What kind of governance can one expect in such huge states? But are small states viable? Well, there is enough data in terms of state domestic product (SDP), education levels and alleviation of poverty to show that several states are viable when compared to the states from which they were carved out. It is not only a matter of size, though very small states could be unviable and be a burden on the Union government.

But how do we ensure that the process of creating new viable states is democratic and does not tear the nation asunder? I suggest a three-stage procedure. In this procedure, there are various “number-based” criteria. These numbers are not sacrosanct. What we need is a debate on the principles involved in the procedure.

Stage I: A States Reorganisation Commission (SRC)

An SRC should be appointed every 50 years — with the next one being in 2010. This second SRC should set out the possible new states — based on the old linguistic principle (e.g. Gorkhaland and Vidharbha) or on the new regional principle (e.g. Poorvanchal and Telangana) or on some other defined principle. The SRC should also take into account the principle of viability (in whatever manner defined). The findings of the SRC would lay out the new states that could be created over the next 50 years with their likely borders. This, however, does not mean that these states would be created automatically — they need to move through stages II and III.

Stage II: The political process

Once an area is identified as a potential new state, one would have to see whether there is political support for that state. Currently, politicians — particularly regional ones — look to break up a state merely because they wish to get power, which they cannot do in a larger composite state. The politician, like K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), goes on a fast and then there is an agitation by a relatively small number of persons. But these are profoundly anti-democratic methods. Then there are the politicians who wish to break up a state so that the resultant smaller states benefit them politically in terms of dominance of caste, etc. It is believed that S Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) wants a state for the Vanniyars to be carved out of Tamil Nadu, where he would be the chief minister for life — succeeded, no doubt, by his son!

Thus, in order to form a new state (from the ones recommended by the SRC), there should not be just a “family” demand (after all, KCR’s chief lieutenant is his son) but a “political” demand from that very area/region. This could be in one of two forms. First, the demand could be raised by a party that has secured at least 20 per cent of the votes in the area/region in the preceding Assembly election. This would ensure that a person who goes on a fast with a “rent-a-crowd” backing cannot blackmail the Indian state. Or, second, the demand would have to be backed by more than 50 per cent of the strength of the state’s Assembly as well as by more than 50 per cent of the MLAs representing that region. Once stage II has been passed, we would move to Stage III.

Stage III: The people’s verdict

In India, we have a representative democracy, where voters elect legislators who then govern. The concept of referendum or plebiscite or proposition is alien to the Indian Constitution. These concepts do exist in countries like Switzerland and in several US states, particularly California.

Since creating a new state is a major decision, one could consider a referendum in the area/region that would constitute the proposed state. We also need a referendum to be convinced that the people of the region do actually want a new state and that it is not a demand just to satisfy the ego of a regional satrap or part of the political machinations of a chief minister.

The Election Commission would call for a referendum within one year of the demand to ensure that tempers cool down after the demand has been raised. The referendum would have a choice only between a “Yes” or a “No”. In the referendum, at least two-thirds of the total electorate would have to participate and at least 50 per cent of the total electorate would have to vote in favour of the new state. Stipulating a 67 per cent turnout, as against a normal turnout of around 60 per cent, is not too strict a criterion. That 50 per cent of the total electorate should back the new state is a strict criterion but then it is a very important decision and at least half the voters should be willing to back it.

If a referendum is won, the new state should be formed within two years, In case the referendum is defeated, no new referendum should be sought for the next five years and the phases of the political process and the people’s verdict should be revisited.

We do need more states but they need to have some logic to their creation and they need the people’s backing. Or, we shall be at the mercy of those who seek to aggrandise themselves and encourage fissiparous tendencies at the cost of the nation. It is apt to remember what Jawaharlal Nehru said in the 1950s: “Who lives if India dies?”

The author is a political analyst

source: http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/dorab-r-sopariwala-power-topeople/386255/

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