There should not be any tension that the creation of new states may weaken the India’s federal structure. Instead, there is a good chance of strengthening the federal structure of the Indian state due to the reorganisation of states.
BY HEIGRUJAM PREMKUMAR
The central questions considered in this article:
Is the demand for new and smaller states in India at present a result of the new economic reforms and the market-oriented political economy of development in the era of globalization and liberalization?
How can we account for it within the larger context of the policies, programs and the power of cultural pluralism and political centralism followed by the Indian state in the past two decades?
How does this demand affect the federal institutions and their governance in the country? Give sufficient examples to substantiate your argument.
The question of whether the demand for new and smaller states in India at present is a result of the new economic reforms and the market-oriented political economy of development in the era of globalization and liberalization requires deeper consideration and examination. Also, accounting for such a development within the larger context of the policies, programs and power of cultural pluralism and political centralism followed by the Indian state in the past two decades, and, at the same time, the effect of this demand on the federal institutions and their governance in the country attract critical analysis.
This paper tries to argue that the demand for the new and smaller states in India at present is mostly driven by the economic consideration (among other factors), and that it can be accounted within the larger context of the Indian state’s policies, programs and the power of cultural pluralism and political centralism during the past two decades. This paper also tries to examine various debates on how the demand for new and smaller states affects the federal institutions and their governance in the country, but agrees with the fact that such demands affect the federal structure of the Indian state.
Demand for New and Smaller States as a Result of the New Economic Reforms and the Market-Oriented Political Economy of Development in the Era of Globalization and Liberalization
Asha Sarangi and Sudha Pai clearly states that “globalization and liberalization have led to the establishment of a global-national market economy which has opened up the floodgates for private capital leading to increasing regional inequalities among states, and contributing to the rising demands for smaller states”.1 Indeed, “economic backwardness of sub-regions within large states has emerged as an important ground on which demands for smaller states are being made”.2 This is evident from the various demands for the formation of new states such as Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, Vidharbha in Maharashtra, and Bodoland in Assam among others.
It is noted that the region-wise discriminatory economic policies of the colonial state contributed to the uneven and unequal development of different regions of the country after independence. Today, we have witnessed “a pattern of capitalist development in enclaves in the large states, surrounded by poorer regions which have remained backward and underdeveloped on various levels”. What was hoped at the time of independence was that “the capital would move from the developed to the underdeveloped areas and labor from underdeveloped to developed areas, thus creating” an overall and balanced development of different states and regions within them. However, Asha Sarangi and Sudha Pai points out that today “the demands of these backward regions such as Telangana, Bundelkhand, Baghelkhand, Marathwada, Mahakoshal, and Poorvanchal for separate statehood is for reasons of equitable distribution of resources for their people who have been left out of the circuit of state-led development”.3 Such a development is exactly the opposite of what was hoped and cherished.
Thus, at present, it is generally agreed that language and culture – which shaped the earlier process of reorganisation of states in India – are no longer the dominant factors/grounds for demanding new states in India. Instead, today, demands for new states are driven by the sub- regions’ specific needs of the political economy of development and social-cultural inclusion.4 In fact, the issues of “better governance and greater participation, administrative convenience, economic viability and similarity in the developmental needs of sub-regions” are the grounds on which the new and smaller states are demanded.5 Those who demand for new states often give their justification pointing at these issues as well as the unequal and uneven developments, ‘cultural distinctiveness and economic neglect’ or economic discrimination that they experience in their sub-region.
Pradeep Kumar argues “(t)hat there has been an acute sense of relative deprivation in some of these relatively underdeveloped regions…. The sentiment for separate statehood in these regions today emanates from a perception of a centre-periphery relationship with the politically more powerful dominant regions, which have allegedly exploited the rich mineral and other natural resources of their periphery in a colonial mode of development.”6 For instance, the demand for a separate state of Bodoland in Assam is grounded in the “twin issues of making Bodo as the language of education within the growing hegemonic control of the Assamese language, and the recognition of economically backward position of the Bodo community in the state of Assam. The movement for a separate state of Coorg in Karnataka was also grounded on the “cultural distinctiveness and economic neglect” of the region”. Similarly, the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland is also “due to the reasons of cultural distinctiveness and economic marginalization of the community within the existing state of West Bengal”.7
On the other hand, there is a general perception that smaller political units are capable of speedier economic growth as compared to large states.8 It can be argued that such a perception emerges due to the failure of large states to make equitable, balanced and overall development of their regions particularly in the wake of the new privatization and liberalization of economic policies in the country. The new market-oriented and corporate- driven economic reforms could be benefited only by those regions which are already developed. Therefore, a sense of deprivation and marginalization among the relatively backward regions which have been deprived during the colonial period and still deprived under the new economic policies is not a surprise. This is certainly the main reason for their demand of new and smaller states.
Accounting the Demand for New and Smaller States within the Larger Context of the Policies, Programs and the Power of Cultural Pluralism and Political Centralism Followed by the Indian State in the Past Two Decades
India is a multicultural nation-state, one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. In a multicultural state like India where there is ethnic and cultural plurality, various groups or regions contend for limited government resources in the ‘politics of scarcity’. When these groups/regions do not meet their expectations, when they think that they do not get what they think is their due within the larger state, discontents arise and asserts a ‘politics of identity’. In the case of India, this discontent and ‘identity politics’ is rooted not only in marginalisation of certain religious, linguistic or cultural groups, but also in the unequal and uneven development among different regions of the country. In fact, there is a presence of ‘diversity of development’ in different regions of the country.
Keeping in view of the ethnic diversity and cultural plurality of the country, the policies and programs of the Indian state have always shown a tendency towards “policies of pluralism in relation to the rights of linguistic and religious minorities in India in the face of the assimilationist and discriminatory policies of several states in relation to their minorities.”9 Besides, the Central Government also shows concern towards regional imbalances and inequality among different regions in the country. “The manner of redistribution of financial resources among the states by the national level institutions such as the Planning Commission and the Union Finance Commission, are diversity-sensitive, and designed to redress regional imbalances in development.”10
However, it is pointed out that post-reform policies and programs of the Indian state which aim at development of the country are confined to the already developed regions. What many sub-regions feel is that even if they have rich minerals and natural resources they do not get what they think they should get. These sub-regions think they are marginalised, neglected, deprived, and discriminated. And, in most cases they are not wrong. Also, the main justification they give for their demand for separate states are grounded on this premise- they are economically, socially, politically, and culturally marginalised. In fact, cultural distinctiveness and economic backwardness are the main reasons for the demand of new and small states by these relatively backward regions within different states of India.
Ashutosh Kumar argues that such perceptions of marginalization and deprivation by the Centre is heightened “with the introduction of the economic reforms as the marginal groups as well as the peripheral regions increasingly feel left out with the Central state gradually withdrawing from the social and economic and market economy privileging the privileged, be it the social groups or regions. Coastal states along with the high income states have benefited more from the flow of foreign direct investment as compared to the states having peripheral locations, disturbed law and order situations, and poor economic and social infrastructure.”11
It is continued to argue that in the post-reform era regional inequalities in income and consumption have been widening. Interstate as well as intra-state disparities in terms of per capita income have grown faster in this period. Underlining Prabhat Patnaik’s statement on the phenomena of what Ashutosh calls the “secession of the rich”, he says that “even the rich states, attracting huge private investments and registering impressive growth, have started resenting the continued dependence of relatively underdeveloped states on the central revenues transferred to them. Similarly, the relatively developed regions within the states also have been complaining of reverse discrimination as in the case of Harit Pradesh”, which comprises the more prosperous western districts of Uttar Pradesh which have been the bastion of the Green Revolution.12
Thus, Ashutosh Kumar, quoting T. V. Sathyamurthy, argues that “cultural heterogeneity of the regions within the states over the years has been sharpened as a result of the unevenness of development and unequal access to political power in a centralised federal political economy in the country. Thus, the past two decades have been witness to well-defined geographically, culturally and historically constituted distinct regions that have emerged within the states, showing sharpened ethnic, communal or caste as well as other social- political cleavages like the regional and rural-urban one.13 The same is the reason for the demand for new and smaller states in India particularly in the past two decades since privatization and liberalization of economy under political centralism.
However, the Indian state employs cultural plurality in the country and the policies and programs directed towards it as a mechanism to extend political centralism. The existence of various interests among the regional groups within the same state is often made an excuse for not conceding to the demands for new states. This is evident in the case of the demand for the formation of the Telangana. The formation of Telangana has been abandoned because of the opposition from the political leaders in Andhra Pradesh, particularly those from the coastal Andhra.14
Therefore, the demand for new and smaller states at a time when the policies and programs of the Government are directed towards political centralism is seen as ‘low-key state demands’ without having a well-defined political design and even economic outlay for these states.15 However, it is in this act of creating a sense of deprivation and marginalization among the sub-regions that the demand for new states are made. Their identity is subsumed in the larger state. Their ‘cultural distinctiveness and economic neglect’ are not seen. They feel an acute sense of relative deprivation, ‘development of underdevelopment’, or retarded development. And, these are the grounds on which they seek a separate statehood and for more economic viability, administrative convenience, better governance, and greater political participation as well as the preservation of their distinct cultural identities.
The Demand for New and Smaller States in India and the Manner in which It may Affect the Federal Institutions and Their Governance in the Country
As many as around thirty demands for the creation of new states are pending for consideration before the Government at present.16 It creates a debate whether the creation of new and small states is necessary, and the manner in which these demands may affect the federal institutions and their governance in the country.
The political map of India at the time of independence was far from complete. A lot of territorial adjustment and re-adjustment was to be done to right-size the state, keeping in view the country’s manifold diversity and multiple identities. Thus the number of states in India has remained changing.17
Many scholars who deal with the subject support the creation of new and smaller states in India. As V. G. Verghese argues, smaller units could make planning more easier; could ensure better political participation, governmental transparency and accountability to address more specific needs of people.18 In fact, one of the objects put forward by the advocates of the creation of new and smaller states in the country is ‘better governance and better socio- economic development’.19
According to Sudha Pai, “the move towards smaller states appears to be inevitable and would lead to more democratisation”. She continues to argue that “fears of the Centre weakening due to the creation of the large number of states are unfounded. Many small states were created after 1956- Punjab, Haryana, and some in the North-East- which strengthened rather than weakened the Union.”20 It is also opined that there is a need to redraw the political map of India in keeping with the new social, economic and political order.
On the other hand, there are other scholars who argue that the poor performance of states are not necessarily linked to their size, instead it is ‘state capacity’- “the quality of governance and administration, the diverse talent available within the state’s population, and the leadership’s drive and vision that determine whether a particular state performs better than others”21. “Hence, the focus should be on the conditions under which different states are likely to acquire the requisite state capacity.”22 Asha Sarangi also pointed out the possibility of strengthening more autonomy at district levels to solve sub-regional disparity in development, administrative inefficiency, and lack of greater political participation of people within the state.23
Louise Tillin has also pointed out that the three new states created in 2000 do not perform well in terms of economic development, political stability, greater political participation, good governance and so on. He cites the example of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh being among the most unstable new states in India (contrasting Sudha Pai’s argument that smaller states perform well, giving examples of Haryana and Punjab).24
Hence, Rakesh Hooja, pointing out various limitations and questioning the social, economic, political and administrative viability of the creation of new states, argues that “smaller states are not a panacea for India’s myriad problems. Neither can they resolve issues faced by various regions and sections of society. Larger states may be, in fact, more economically- and financially- viable and better capable of serving people and achieving planned development.”25 A similar argument is made by Sidharth Sharma. According to Sharma, “it is immaterial whether the state is small or big; what is required is a strong political will to govern with full honesty and sincerity. Development requires a conducive atmosphere to be created by both; leaders and citizens.”26
Regarding the federal question, the demand for the creation of new states can be explained in terms of what Yogendra Yadav calls ‘the second stage of evolution in Indian federalism’-the first being the creation of states on linguistic grounds.
“The Indian federation, constitutionally speaking, is an indestructible union of destructible states.”27 The Indian Constitution, under Articles 3 and 4, empowers the Union Parliament to form or create new states by altering the boundaries of the existing states. As a consequence, Sharma points out, demand for and formation of new states has become a regular phenomenon in our democratic polity.28
With the emergence of coalition politics at the national stage particularly since the past two decades, the states and various sub-regions have been able to assert their demands more forcefully. Today, the roles of regional parties are also becoming more significant in the national politics. In such a scenario, it is opined that the creation of new and smaller states “is likely to accelerate the fragmentation of Indian politics, making coalition governments at the Centre making an inescapable reality”. And, this will certainly affect the working of Indian federalism. Whether this will strengthen centralisation or decentralisation is hugely debatable. However, keeping in mind the present scenario of coalition politics at the national level, it is tempted to argue that creation of new and smaller states will strengthen decentralisation in India. This implies that federalism will be strengthened as well.
By Way of Conclusion
The demand for new and smaller states in India at present is mostly a result of the regional inequalities and imbalances brought by the new economic reforms and the market-oriented political economy of development in the era of globalization and liberalisation. Many sub- regions within different states of India are demanding separate states for reasons of equitable distribution of resources for their people who have been left out of the circuit of state-led development.29
However, as Asha Sarangi and Sudha Pai has pointed out, it is doubtful as to how the regional inequalities and imbalances, which have increased manifold over the past few years, will be addressed by the privatised and corporatized economic institutions of the Indian state.30 “With a vigorous and growing private sector shaping the economy and controlling the investment of the scarce resources, limited funds have been made available for public investment on the part of the state.” All the benefits of the new economic reforms are gained by the already developed regions, making a case of ‘development of underdevelopment’ on the part of the already marginalised and deprived regions and people.
On the other hand, even if the regional parties are playing significant roles and are able assert their demands at the national level, it is only the parties or party leaders from the already developed regions who make their presence significant and visible (the case of adivasis or Dalits is different). Even when the voices for separate state are heard, a strong opposition is there from those belonging to the majority (the case of Telangana). Thus, political centralism empowered by the power of cultural pluralism in one sense restricts the movement for separate statehood, and in another sense heightens it. It is when the sense of deprivation and marginalisation is increased that the demand for new states is vociferously made.
Further, there should not be any tension that the creation of new states may weaken the India’s federal structure. Instead, there is a good chance of strengthening the federal structure of the Indian state due to the reorganisation of states. It is argued that “the regional identities in India have not always defined themselves in opposition to and at the expense of the national identity”.31 The demand for more autonomy for states is not necessarily in contradiction to the notion of a strong centre, once their respective spheres of authority are clearly marked out.32
To conclude, however, we should keep in mind that reorganisation of states or the creation of smaller states is not the only solution to the problems India has been and is currently facing. As many scholars are also arguing, it is not the question of size, but ‘state capacity’. And, if there has to be any reorganisation or creation of new states, there should be certain strict criteria such as the presence of a strong popular support at the mass level, economic viability, etc.33 In the line of Sidharth Sharma’s argument, it can also be suggested that the formation of a ‘state reorganisation commission’ as a kind of statutory or constitutional authority having quasi-judicial character is necessary to look into the demands for separate statehood so that it may decide upon whether such a demand is acceptable or not.34 India cannot be divided into indefinite states, but only the necessary.
Notes and References
1 Sarangi and Pai, p. 13.
2 Sarangi and Pai, p. 15; Pai, Sudha, p. 1.
3 Sarangi and Pai, p. 17.
4 Ibid., p. 12.
5 Pai, Sudha, p.1.
6 Kumar, Pradeep, p. 3078-3079.
7 Sarangi and Pai, p. 12.
8 Kumar, Pradeep, p. 3079.
9 Bhattacharya, Harihar, p. 21.
10 Ibid., 22.
11 Kumar, Ashutosh, p. 14.
12 Ibid., p. 14.
13 Ibid., p. 17.
14 Sarangi and Pai, p. 18.
15 Ibid., p. 18 [citing Kumar 1998: 130-140].
16 Ibid., p. 12 [citing Majeed 2003; Sarangi: 2010].
17 Bhattacharya, Harihar, p. 9.
18 Sarangi and Pai, p. 19.
19 Sharma, Sidharth, p. 3074.
20 Pai, Sudha, p. 1.
21 Hooja, Rakesh, p. 1.
22 Sarangi and Pai, p. 13.
23 Sarangi, Asha, [Pointed out in classroom discussion: 22 Oct., 2012]. 24 Tillin, Louise, p. 85.
25 Hooja, Rakesh, p. 1.
26 Sharma, Sidharth, p. 3974.
27 Bhattacharya, Harihar, p. 9.
28 Sharma, Sidharth, p. 3973.
29 Sarangi and Pai, p. 17
30 Ibid., p. 17.
31 Bhattacharya, Harihar, p. 23.
32 Ibid., p. 20 [citing Kurian and Varughese eds. 1981: 204-14].
33 Existence of a strong popular support and economic viability are certain criteria which many scholars are suggesting. See Sharma, Sidharth and Kumar, Pradeep.
34 Sharma, Sidharth, p. 3974.
Bhattacharya, Harihar, “Federalism and Regionalism in India: Institutional Strategies and Political Accommodation of Identity”, Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, Working Paper No. 27, (Heidelberg: South Asia Institute, Department of Political Science, University of Heidelberg, May, 2005), pp. 1-28.
Kumar, Ashutosh, “Rethinking State Politics in India: Region within Regions”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV, No.19, (May 09, 2009), pp. 14-19.
Kumar, Pradeep, “Demand for New States: Cultural Identity Loses Ground to Urge for Development”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 35/36, (Aug. 26-Sep. 8, 2000), pp. 3078-3079 and 3081-3082.
Pai, Sudha, and Hooja, Rakesh, “Does India need Smaller States?” Opinion & Analysis, Business Standard, (New Delhi: Nov., 23, 2012, accessed on Sunday, Nov., 11, 2012).
Sarangi, Asha and Pai, Sudha, Introduction: Contextualizing Reorganisation in Interrogating Reorganisation of States: Culture, Identity and Politics in India (Routledge, 2011).
Sharma, Sidharth, “Creation of New States: Need for Constitutional Parameters”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 38 (Sep. 20-26, 2003), pp. 3973-3975.
Tillin, Louise, “Questioning Borders: Social Movements, Political Parties and the Creation of New States in India”, Pacific Affairs, Volume 84, No. 1, March, 2011.
*Wrote as part of my Masters term-paper for the paper State in India in Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.