Does India need smaller states? By: Ashutosh Kumar Ashutosh Kumar is a professor of political science at Panjab University, Chandigarh, India
The Indian ‘model’ of federalism has several marked differences from the classical federal models one finds in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia. One notable difference has been the unilateral power of the union parliament to reorganize the political structure of the country by forming new states and to alter the areas, boundaries or names of existing sates. Despite having the constitutional power, overwhelming concern for nationbuilding and economic reconstruction based on the development planning model, initially dissuaded the national leadership from conceding to demands for the creation of smaller regional states. Even states formed based on language, an accepted basis of the formation of independent nation-states in 19th century Europe. Only after India witnessed popular unrest, were linguistic states created in the late fifties and sixties, and this process remained incomplete. During the next three decades, only some of the centrally administered Union Territories were upgraded to fullfledged states while longstanding demands for the smaller states like Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Telangana, and Jharkhand remained in limbo.
DEMANDS FOR SMALLER STATES The advent of new millennium saw the creation of three new states -- Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand (originally named Uttarakhand) and Jharkhand, carved out from the parent states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. More recently, India has witnessed a renewed assertion from
historically constituted regions for the creation of smaller states. A discernable shift in terms of federal thinking has accompanied this
Significantly, some of these regions have enormous populations comparable to countries of the global north in terms of territory and population. The regions include Telangana in Andhra Pradesh; Gorkhaland and Kamtapur in West Bengal; Coorg in Karnataka; Mithilanchal in Bihar; Saurashtra in Gujarat; Vidarbha in Maharashtra; Harit Pradesh, Purvanchal, Braj Pradesh and Awadh Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh; Maru Pradesh in Rajasthan; Bhojpur comprising areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh; Bundelkhand comprising areas of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, a greater Cooch Behar state out of the parts of Assam and West Bengal.
MAKING SENSE OF THE ASSERTION OF REGIONS This renewed demand for smaller states can be attribute to three factors. First, electoral politics in the ‘post-Congress polity’ has been marked by the politicization and mobilization of social cleavages along territorially confined lines of caste, religion and region by state-level ‘ethnic’ parties. Symptomatic of the federalization of the party system, even the ‘national’ parties with distinct regional characters increasingly adhere to region specific electoral campaigns and policies.
Second, centralized federalism under the shadow of the development-planning model failed to achieve its avowed aim of bringing about equitable development across and within the regional states. The subsequent transition to a neo-liberal market economy model based on competitive federalism (replacing cooperative federalism) has further accentuated regional inequalities in
terms of income and consumption begetting the perception of neglect and discrimination in the peripheral regions. Relatively developed regions within the larger states have invariably benefited more from the flow of private investment as compared to the regions on the periphery with disturbed law and order situations and poor economic and social infrastructure (Telangana in Andhra Pradesh or Vidarbha and Marathwada in Maharashtra).
Third, India has also been witness to what may be called the ‘secession of the rich’ as regions attracting huge private investments and registering impressive growth, have started resenting the dependence of relatively...
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