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Politics of smaller states in India – Kunal Majumder ఫిబ్రవరి 24, 2012

Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in BJP, Congress, Culture, Economy, GHMC, heritage, Hyderabad, Identity, MIM, Mulki, Muslim, Nizam, politics, regionalism, Settler, Telangana, TRS.
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Support for and opposition to the creation of new states in India is often politically motivated

New provinces?
The politics of smaller states in India

In the last reorganization of states in 2000, three new states were created – Jharkhand from Bihar, Uttarakhand from UP and Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. But did that solve any problems? Kunal Majumder

Two months before state elections were due in India’s largest province Uttar Pradesh (UP), Chief Minister Mayawati surprised her opponents with the announcement that she wanted to divide the state into four parts – a Poorvanchal in eastern UP, Paschhimanchal in the west, Bundelkhand in the south and Awadh in central UP.

With the elections approaching and allegations of corruption against her mounting, Mayawati’s critics say she had only tried to divert people’s attention. But that did not work. In a country where there are already more than a dozen movements for separate states, she failed to start another four.

Many of the demands for new states in India are based on ethnicity. The most recent of them was the demand for Telangana in Andhra Pradesh. For months the state saw bloodless agitations. The capital Hyderabad was brought to a standstill. Home minister P Chidambaram had initially accepted the proposal, but backed out later. The government set up a committee that came up with seven options. The new point of contention was, who will get Hyderabad? The capital of the Nizam’s princely state, the city has seen a lot of development in the last few years and generates a large revenue for the state government. It falls in Telengana region but also has an identity of its own. Home to Urdu-speaking Muslims, the elite and representatives of Hyderabad simply refuse to become part of the economically backward Telangana. They demanded a separate union territory status.

But like in UP, there were political motives behind the move. Congress is power in the current Andhra Pradesh, and it would lose control of the new state to Telengana Rastriya Samiti, which is leading the agitation. Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi is believed to be opposing it because he thinks the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will gain from the new state. The BJP, which is opposing the division of UP because it would lose control in Muslim-dominated areas, is supporting the creation of Telangana.

Further west, the people of eastern Maharashtra have for years been demanding a separate state Vidharba with Nagpur as its capital. Famous for its oranges and cotton, the area has been neglected by the Maharashtra government for years. While the rest of the state prospered, cotton farmers in Vidharba committed suicide. By some accounts, more than 30,000 farmers in the area killed themselves after not being able to pay back loans after failed crops. Both the ruling Congress and opposition Shiv Sena oppose the new state. The BJP supports the demand.

Vidharba had become part of Maharashtra in 1960, on the recommendation of the Fazal Ali commission for reorganization of states. Andhra Pradesh, home to people who speak Telegu, was itself separated from the Tamil speaking Tamil Nadu. The demand for Andhra Pradesh had led to the first reorganization of states in India, on basis of language.

In the cases of Vidharba and Telengana, the demand for separate states is based on ethnicity and regional identity rather than on language.

In the last reorganization of states in 2000, three new states were created – Jharkhand from Bihar, Uttarakhand from UP and Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were created as home states for the tribes of the region, and Uttarakhand for the Pahari community living on the Himalayas.

But did that solve any problems? Jharkhand, which was part of Bihar, descended into chaos with unstable governments, threat of Maoist rebels and rampant corruption. The state even had an independent as its chief minister, accused of buying his way into office. He is now behind bars on corruption charges.

Chhattisgarh has become the frontline state in the battle against Maoists. The state created for the tribes has not had a chief minister from the tribes since its creation. Even the official language of the state government is Chhattisgarhi – a dialect of Hindi. The BJP, whose government at the centre facilitated the creation of the new states, gained immensely. It has been in power in the three new states since their creation.

In the east, there are a number of demands for separate states based on ethnicity as well as language. The Gorkhas in the hilly region of West Bengal have long been demanding a separate state. Bengalis refused to let go of their prized summer holiday spot of Darjeeling. The BJP, which calls itself the champion smaller states, got its senior leader Jaswant Singh – who is not even a Gorkha – elected as an MP from Darjeeling with a promise to push for a separate state. But nothing came out of it. Instead, Singh was thrown out of the party for writing a book praising Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

After Mamata Banerjee came to power in West Bengal, she made a deal with the representatives of the region promising greater autonomy in governance and large funds for development. The region has been calm since. Mamata has made similar moves to enter the politics of Northeast India where there are several such movements.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Buddhist population of Laddakh has been asking for a union territory status while the Kahsmiri Pandits, many of them living in exile, want a separate homeland. The Jammu region has long wanted to separate. They complain about the dominance of Kashmiris in political affairs and say their community has been neglected.

A recent article in Outlook news magazine called for the increasing the number of states from 28 to 50. It said: “Language-based units have had their course. It’s time to factor in economic, social and cultural realities.” The author of the piece, Suhata Srinivasaraju, suggested breaking down large states like Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh solely for better governance. The argument is perhaps true, but such a move will face severe resistance from those whose political and economic agendas it will undermine.

Kunal Majumder is senior correspondent with Tehelka newsmagazine. His twitter handle is @kunalmajumder

Source: The Friday Times, February 24 – March 01, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 02


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