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Looking beyond Telengana!

The 30th July 2013 would remain an important day in the lives of the people of Andhra Pradesh either way. Now, questions are being asked if the creation of Telangana was guided by the simple logic of political expediency and electoral math or for the exigency of self-preservation. Or is it because of the apprehension that if Telangana had not been announced, Congress would have been wiped out in both the Andhra and Telangana regions in 2014.

A lot has happened since December 9, 2009 by no less a person than P Chidambaram, then Home Minister and his U turn within two weeks followed by three-and-a-half years and a full-fledged people’s agitation for the Congress to make yet another announcement on the creation of Telangana.

On the face of it, Telangana announcement is a good decision even though it has been arrived at through a process of self-serving logic. Good intentions can sometimes lead to bad results (as BJP’s India Shining campaign did in 2004) and dubious intentions sometimes result in good decisions.

What the Congress party has not been able to gauge is the chain reaction that would follow now.Once you accept the logic of smaller states, you have carry it through. we need smaller states and India could conceivably have at least 50 states, including city-states.

The demand for smaller states is not new, and similar cries have been heard from time-to-time, sometime on basis of ethnicity, and increasingly on basis of a demand for better governance and rapid development. The country has witnessed people’s agitation based on this demand. According to estimates, a rational re-organisation of the federal country into smaller states will give India around 50 states. In mid 1970s, Prof. Rasheeduddin Khan had argued for 56 states, on the basis of social and cultural factors.

Secondly, it raises a bigger question of governance. India does not just need smaller states, but more empowered states. Smaller states without greater economic and constitutional empowerment can amount to nothing. It’s like giving. The ultimate reasoning behind smaller states is empowerment. India needs to become an Empowered States of India and not just a Union of States, as the Constitution says without giving states enough powers. There are still more than 45 districts in this country which are spread across a radius of 90 to 100 kms and governance becomes a joke.

The creation of Telangana could be seen in that context as well.  The most important part is that smaller states mean key decisions will be taken closer to the ground. Just as Delhi should not take decisions on food security for Chhattisgarh, Mumbai should not decide what is good even for Vidarbha, where farmer suicides have blotted the landscape endlessly. The simple logic is that solutions to Vidarbha lie closer in Nagpur.

Secondly, administering large and diverse states is more complex and probably inefficient as well, though there can be economies of scale in some ways. Size cuts both ways. But it stands to reason that politics can be much more focused when the administrative area and population are of manageable proportions.

The fact remains that even today, many Indian states are simply too big for their own good. Even after the creation of Telangana as the 29th state, the average Indian state will have 42 million people – though actual sizes vary widely from the 200-and-odd million of Uttar Pradesh to states such as Arunachal, with just a few thousand people scattered all over.

A case in the point is the European Union, with as many states as India currently (28) has and with average per-country population of 18 million.  Similarly, the 50-state USA has an average state population of just 6.25 million. It has been driven by the belief that those smaller states bring the rulers and the ruled closer to one another physically and emotionally – and in a democracy that is a very good thing.

Moreover, a key reason why smaller states are better is that smaller states reduce diversity. High diversity makes for complex political and administrative calculations. The whole point of creating linguistic states in the 1950s was that they would improve administrative efficiency. Consider how difficult it would have been to administer the Bombay Presidency with at least two major languages (Marathi and Gujarati), or the Madras presidency (with four major linguistic groups to manage – Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam).

According to a veteran political commentator “The logic now needs to extend downwards. Diversity is not only about language but economic and cultural diversity too. Coastal Andhra has a different economic culture compared to Telangana. Vidarbha is different from Marathawada and western Maharashtra or coastal Maharashtra or Mumbai. Resources cannot be efficiently allocated when there is so much diversity since the power structures so created will hijack them for their own ends.”

He argues that smaller states will not eliminate political or policy paralysis, but they will ensure that excess diversity is not the reason for such paralysis. The story of India’s current political logjam – where regional powers try to block or hijack central resources for their own ends – does not bear repetition in the larger states.

Another reason that would have impelled the Congress High command about Telangana would relate to empowerment of small State. Hyderabad may be right in the middle of the State and Telangana’s problem may not have been the distance from the power centre at the State capital but a complete disconnect with the power structure that paid obeisance to politicians from the richer coastal districts of Andhra. That is how the development needs of Telangana as of one of the poorest regions of Andhra got ignored despite having the power centre right there.

More than that, it has been the capture of the power centre by Andhra elites with little commitment to Telangana. It is an open secret that many Andhra politicians and business families own huge amounts of vast land in Hyderabad.The YSR, who was opposed to Telangana, and his son Jagan Mohan Reddy, are both linked to covert land grabs.

One of the reasons why Telangana has been so delayed is that Andhra politicians with benami land holdings had to seek ways to reduce their exposure to Telangana and invest it in the remaining parts of Andhra which will now see a land price boom..

The two main objections that many politicians, especially of Congress and TDP, posed to the creation of Telangana was Hyderabad and investments in the capital. Regarding Hyderabad, politicians linked to the commercial interests were afraid of losing the city, even if they did not explicitly say so. They believed they have invested heavily in its development; for example the ten best hospitals in Hyderabad are in the hands of personalities related to Andhra and 12 of the 50 leading companies across India are owned by entrepreneurs of the state. The companies have taken many benefits from the economic boom of Hyderabad and surrounding suburbs, and it is precisely because of these interests that they are not ready to let go the city.

Another important point to consider was the actual effectiveness of a new state in solving problems relating to disadvantaged groups such as the water-starved farmers in rural areas.

The question remains as dominant as it was yesterday if  a separate Telengana state would  solve the region’s water problems? Many supporters of Telangana argue in favor of management of their own resources without having to convey water towards the coastal areas of Andhra. Why is a united Andhra Pradesh not able to solve these problems?

The region would require a strengthening of infrastructure and an equal redistribution of water resources and jobs between different areas because it is an historical fact that the people of Telangana were disadvantaged by the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956.

In this sense, permanent political, social and economic inequalities between regions for historical reasons play a fundamental role. The lower educational, economic and social conditions in Telangana allowed privileged access in public, administrative and governmental sectors to personalities linked to Andhra who naturally favored their region. In this sense, however, this has another failure of political leadership coming from Telangana.

However, there are bigger challenges before the Congress party as well as the UPA government now. While the majority of Congress leaders in Delhi have hailed this move as a master stroke, others are see it as a huge danger signal

1 . A few Congress leaders admit in private that the decision on Telangana could lead to unrest and prolonged agitations in parts of Uttar Pradesh , Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra and other parts of the country where people have been demanding the formation of new states.

2. Creation of Telengana is likely to lead to heartburn in several regions and that could lead to a spurt in protest and violence in several areas. Bodoand Gorakha leaders have already given a bundh call in support of their cause – Bodoland in Assam and Gorkhaland in West Bengal while leaders advocating the creation of Harit Pradesh or Paschim Pradesh out fof Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand from Uttar Pradesh  and Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha from Maharashtra are also gearing up for launching fresh agitation.

3. The Union Home Ministry had already received resolutions passed by Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 2001 for the division of Uttar pradesh into four parts- Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand, Avadh Pradesh  and Paschim Pradesh. The other state demands in raised in the recent past include Saurashtra in Gujarat, Coorg in Karnataka, Koshalanchal on Western Odisha and Mithilanchal in Northern Bihar.

4. The centre would find it extremely difficult to settle complex issues between Telengana and Andhra Pradesh with regard to water distribution, cadre, finance and pensions.

5. Apart from the danger of new kind of law and order problem because of a possible clash between pro and anti-telangana supporters, this decision could give a new lease of life to the naxal movement in Andhra pradesh that has been on a decline during the past few years.

6. The centre has already dispatched 2000 para-military troops to Hyderabad to tackle the law and order situation arising out of spontaneous protest in various parts of Andhra Pradesh. This  is likely to stretch them a bit too far since the Centre has already deployed a huge amount of para-military forces in naxal –prone areas like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.

7.  Instead of taking a decision on the creation of Telangana state with pure political considerations in mind, both the Congress party could have asked the UPA Government to form a second States reorganization Commission which is long over due. The commission could have come out with some realistic answers to many complex problems.

8. It appears that in the name of Telangana, the Congress party appears to have opened up a Pandora’s box which is going to make its own poll prospects miserable in 2014.

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