State of play: India’s Telangana headacheBy Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Oct 11, 2013 1:34PM UTC
Although this week’s crisis has been averted, India faces major issues in the creation of a new state
Since India became independent in 1947 its leaders have repeatedly tried to find a perfect and rational methodology and process of reorganising its internal boundaries. Though most efforts generated conflict among people and governments, no process has been as treacherous as the current attempt to form India’s 29th State – Telangana.
Had it not been for a sudden change of heart of the leadership of striking power workers who, called off their protest on October 10 in 13 affected districts, the misery of the people could have been much greater this week on account of the likely devastation from Cyclone Phailin. But such relief notwithstanding, the ham-handed manner in which the government has handled the issue has become a butt of jokes. Celebrity author, Chetan Bhagat, tweeted: “Can RG (Rahul Gandhi) roll up his sleeves and give a 10 second statement to end the AP-Telangana-Seemandhra mess please?” He was referring to Gandhi’s dramatic public chiding of the government when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was away in the United States for pushing through a law obstructing a court order for immediately disqualifying convicted law makers.
(READ MORE: Life paralyzed in south India due to protests)
Part of the reason is that the Congress-led government dithered for too long in taking a decision regarding carving out Telangana from the existing linguistic state of Andhra Pradesh, the first state in India formed on the basis of common language way back in 1953. Though the demand for a new state of Telangana has been waged by various organisations from the 1950s to correct an alleged regional imbalance, the agitation really got off the ground in the past decade or so with its advocacy by Telangana Rashtra Samithi and its leader K Chandrashekar Rao who quit the Andhra-domnated Telugu Desam Party in 2001. Though it is more than two months since the Congress Party convinced coalition partners to endorse the division of the almost 90 million strong state of Andhra Pradesh, signals have been aplenty that the party is in no hurry. This has complicated the process.
The impending election in India that is due to be held before next summer has further mired the political stage. This is a result of rather strange spectacles: On the one hand the Centre has passed a cabinet resolution and appointed a cabinet sub-committee to determine boundaries of Telangana and residuary Andhra Pradesh; examine legal and administrative measures required for smooth functioning of Hyderabad as common capital for 10 years; and consider legal, financial and administrative measures needed for transition to a new capital for the residuary state which is being referred to as Seemandhra; besides suggest means on how to address special needs of backward regions for both states.
But on the other hand, the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh has been in the throes of dissension with several central ministers quitting to protest the decision and the chief minister also openly aiding rebellion in the state. In contrast to this, leaders of the Congress party in the Telanagna region of the existing state have not just supported the move for splitting the state but also joined the exasperated brigade at the slow pace of developments.
It is not that the Congress is alone in sending conflicting political messages. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a long standing advocate of the new state has been wooing both pro-T and anti-T parties. Even among the parties opposing Telangana, the BJP has been playing ball with both TDP and Jagan Reddy and his party, YSR Congress. The multiple lines of communication opened by various political parties have further vitiated the atmosphere and the moot point is which faction of which party would eventually be able to outwit the others.
For the moment, the ruling Congress party has got caught in a bind. Facing an electoral challenge in the Telangana region, it agreed to accept the division of the state in principle. This was done in opposition to the sentiments of the people of the residual state who see the loss of Telangana as a major political affront and which causes economic losses to the people who have entrenched business interest in parts which will now become Telangana.
Part of the reason why Indian political parties have repeatedly grappled with the issue of new states is that there has been no uniform principle that has been used to reorganise India. In the aftermath of Independence, there was pressure to redraw India’s internal map on the basis of linguistic identities of people. But the recommendations of the first such attempt by a centrally appointed high-power Commission in the 1950s were followed by piecemeal implementation.
In the six decades, new states have been carved out on several occasions – at times due to linguistic reasons and at times because of regional imbalances. A few years ago when the agitation for a separate Telangana was gaining ground, the time was opportune for another States’ Reorganisation Commission. But this was not done and now the nation is committed to Telangana. The only hope is that peace will return and the events will roll slowly so the division of the state does not become an electoral issue.