Divided States of India
On October 19, 1952, Potti Sriramulu commenced a fast-unto-death on behalf of tens of millions of Telugu speakers, who wanted to carve out their own state within India. After 58 days of fast, Sriramulu died. His death triggered riots, pressurising New Delhi to acquiesce to the formation of the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh in 1953. In fact, his death also led to the linguistic re-organisation of Indian states.
After 60 years, K Chandrashekar Rao brought into play the tactics of Sriramulu and went on a hunger strike demanding the division of the state the latter died for. This time, New Delhi has been more cautious. As Rao's health started deteriorating, the Central government okayed the carving out of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.
A number of debates have followed the government’s announcement; many criticising New Delhi for setting a wrong example for other regional movements calling for separate statehood. Some of the regional movements are: Bodoland (Assam), Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh), Bhojpur (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Coorg (Karnataka), Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Marathwada (Maharashtra), Mahakaushal (Orissa), Harit Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh), Mithilanchal (Bihar), Muru Pradesh (Rajasthan), Poorvanchal (Uttar Pradesh), and Vidarbha (Maharashtra).
I do not disagree with those who side with the formation of Telangana, arguing fragmentation will help strengthen governance and hence ensure development. After all, more focus on remote and impoverished regions will pave the way for their development.
The people demanding separate statehood for Telangana cite reasons such as inadequate industrial infrastructure, lack of educational and employment opportunities, inter-regional inequalities, among others. But do we really need to carve out another state in a bid to focus more on poor regions? Or shall I say there will be no disparity left in Telangana once it is out of Andhra Pradesh? Is fragmentation truly an alternative of good governance and development? I wonder if dividing a state is a solution to the problems that provoke separatist sentiments.
In 1953, Andhra Pradesh was carved out of Madras Presidency, and three years later the Telangana part of Hyderabad was merged with the state. In 2009, Telangana is on its way out of Andhra Pradesh. Can the torchbearers of fragmentation ensure that Telangana will stay intact in the future?
India is famous for its multi-cultural and multi-lingual society, and I feel that dividing states will aggravate already-high regionalistic discrimination. I fear that the concept of regional identity may soon overshadow the one of national identity.
It is significant to pay attention to the specific needs of the backward regions across the country, to allot ample funds, and to share resources with them. Better administration and governance should not come only after states are divided into smaller fragments. The policies should be devised to ensure better and equitable economic distribution of resources within states and better protection of the marginalised sections of the population for a more plural and participative developmental politics in India.
At a time when the international community is trying to wipe out borders and come closer to ensure better development, India is drawing new borders within itself. It is high time that India should ensure better political representation of different communities within one state, rather than caving in to the demands of political fiefdom by them. I fear such divisions will turn diversity into India’s weakness, not strength.