After dithering for more than a decade the Congress Party finally bit the bullet and cajoled coalition partners into endorsing the division of the almost 90 million strong state of Andhra Pradesh into two new states: Telangana and Seemandhara. But even after the ruling alliance partners and the highest decision making body of the Congress formally announced the endorsement of the demand for a separate Telangana, questions remained regarding the timeline that is to be followed. It remains to be seen if the new state will become a political reality before the next parliamentary elections, due in less than nine months.

Indian students of Osmania University celebrate with a cake after India's ruling coalition endorsed the creation of a new state - Telangana. Pic: AP.

For a long time it was obvious that the Congress party was unable to make up its mind on announcing the decision to split the existing state because it was unsure about the political consequences. It was evident that the party was in decline in those parts that would remain in the larger portion that is now going to be called Seemandhara. However the reason behind holding back the decision on the provincial split was that party leaders hoped that the decline in the region could be reversed.

Because of this, the Congress steadily lost ground in Telangana region as it had previously committed to a separate state and was seen to be backtracking like previous governments in office. Finally, it seems that the Congress leadership decided that it could do little to stem the tide in the non-Telegana region. As a consequence, it opted to announce the split of Andhra Pradesh in the hope that it would do creditably in the 17 parliamentary seats that will be voted by the people of Telengana while the majority of the remaining 25 seats will largely be split up between the YSR Congress and the Telegu Desam Party.

But there is little doubt that the entire exercise has been conducted in a ham-handed manner. The constitutional process of forming a new state out of an existing one is complex. To begin with, after a political decision has been taken, the existing state assembly has to pass a resolution supporting the geographical division. Once this resolution has been passed by the state legislature, both Houses of Parliament have to pass the law and only thereafter does it go to the President of India for final ratification. The new state can be inaugurated only thereafter. With such a long timeline in sight before the formation of the two new states, it is anyone’s guess how soon this will happen.

The issue of redrawing India has vexed the leaders of the country since independence. When India became independent, large parts of what constitutes India now were not part of British territory but only had suzerainty rights over large parts that were ruled by almost 550 rulers of small and medium Princely States. British territories during the colonial period were mainly divided in arbitrary manner into various Presidencies – Bombay, Bengal and Madras besides provinces like Central Provinces and United Provinces.

From the 1920s, the anti-colonial movement led by the Congress party endorsed the idea of provinces formed on a linguistic basis. But by the time India became independent its leaders also became aware of the divisive nature of linguistic identities. In November 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru conceded the linguistic principle, but said security and stability of India was important and could not be jeopardised by diving the country on linguistic lines. Various committees and commission were set up by Nehru’s government but before the first organised bid at redrawing internal maps was made in 1956, Andhra Pradesh was formed on a linguistic basis after an agitation turned violent when an activist on a fast died.

For more than six decades India has constantly been redrawn time and again in an arbitrary manner because political pressure groups became unmanageable. India was last time recast in 2001 when the states of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were carved out of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. By conceding the demand of Telangana, the Centre has opened the Pandora’s Box for many more states for which nascent agitations have been going on for several years.

A couple of years ago when the Telagana agitation was heading for the political quagmire, it had been suggested that the occasion could been used to form the second States Reorganisation Commission. But by not doing so and instead dividing Andhra Pradesh as a single case, the Congress party has lost a chance to take a long term view. The decision shows that the ruling coalition is not looking at anything beyond its present tenure.