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Telengana sparks fresh debate on reorganization of Indian states

The recent executive decision to divide Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Seemandhra has brought forth mixed reactions.

Although the decision still needs to be passed by the Parliament before it becomes a reality, it has opened up a Pandora's Box reigniting the demands from other parts of India who have been vociferously demanding separate state status since decades.

The demands range from Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Coorg in Karnantaka, Bodoland in Assam, Gorkhaland in West Bengal and Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh to name a few.

Many of the regions demanded overlap across different present day states, such as Bundelkhand spread over Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and overlap in demanded territories itself, such as Bodoland and Gorkhaland.

There have been demands for a Second State Reorganization Commission to look collectively into these demands. The call for new states needs to be analyzed in an objective manner by looking into the reasons for such demands. Asymmetrical development over the decades has been the primary reason.

The states have often concentrated on growth of specific regions within a state while other regions have been deprived of the most basic facilities such as clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, transport infrastructure and electricity. Employment has been generated in specific regions which have led to migration from underdeveloped regions. Infrastructure has been created with a regional bias.

Another major reason for a separate state demand is that traditionally separate regions were grouped under common state post independence.

These regions had existed as separate kingdoms with different languages and cultural practices. This has led to tensions in the state with clashes not uncommon.

Undivided Assam was a classic case of such a state. Even Nagaland today comprises of different ethnic tribes - Kukis, Metei and the Nagas, who have been demanding a separate state status even if it means a few hillocks in terms of geographical territory. Amidst such circumstances, it has become necessary to revisit the organization of states.

However the same needs to be done on the basis of rational and objective grounds.

It is pertinent to observe the recommendations of the prior committees that were setup for this purpose. None of the committees - Dhar Committee (1948), JVP Committee (1948) and the Fazl Ali Committee (1953) had recommended the creation of new states on a purely linguistic and ethnic basis.

They had opined that such creation was the first step towards the birth of sub national identities which may culminate into secession. Although such fears have been laid to rest in North East India with relative calm prevailing after the creation of autonomous tribes, sub national tendencies have not completely sub sided.

The reorganization then was recommended on the basis of administrative convenience, strengthening national unity and integrity, and cultural homogeneity. The same holds true even today. The reorganization also needs to look into various aspects

such as economic viability of the new states. Assigning them a special status right from the onset of statehood as in the case of Uttarakhand will only lead to excessive financial burden on the government.

The issues of water sharing and redistribution of finances by the Finance Commission would need to be resolved which have traditionally been a bone of contention between the already existing states, or the reorganization would leave to deepening of the discontent.

The call for a Second States Reorganization Commission has gained impetus. Reorganization should essentially be restricted to as a last resort when all other internal measures of reducing regional disparities have been employed.

The criteria for reorganization need to be objectively defined and should not merely act as a veil for vested political interests especially with elections around the corner. The interests of national unity, integrity and progress should remain paramount and adhered to without fail.

- Sumeet Garg