Telangana opens Pandora's box
A LIBERAL democracy in a diverse subcontinent cannot easily implement an idea. The decision to form Telangana as India's 29th state, after much...
Elites question India's reorganisation on the basis of language
Telugu will remain a common language to both AP and the proposed Telangana. This raises questions whether the country's reorganisation on the basis of language was a wise idea
A LIBERAL democracy in a diverse subcontinent cannot easily implement an idea. The decision to form Telangana as India's 29th state, after much turmoil, delay and debate, is the latest example. The debate continues even after the decision. To be carved out of Andhra Pradesh (AP) on the eastern flank of the peninsula, likely next year, it is the culmination of promises made and broken, of arousing and dousing of sentiments that often took a violent turn, of political and economic jugglery and finally, the ruling Congress Party's pre-polls gamble. It hopes to win some parliamentary seats.
Invited to deliver a special address last year on an issue agitating 100 million people, I knew my limitations. The hosts wanted not a supporter, not an expert, but an outsider who would take a dispassionate view of the issue. That was a close encounter with a very spirited people held together by the Telugu language, but separated by a strong perception of being discriminated. To claim that I could predict a separate Telangana would, however, be totally wrong.
Ironically, AP was the first state to be formed on the basis of language. The death of Potti Sriramulu, on the 58th day of his fast in 1952, was the event that forced first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's hand and set the linguistic state juggernaut in motion. The process was meant basically for peninsular India. The Hindi-speaking population has always been dispersed in several states. And yet they have been further divided. Indeed, more states have come up to assuage popular sentiments of language, religion, region and in the case of north-eastern India, the need for better security and governance.
The decision on Telangana has opened the proverbial Pandora's box with groups in many parts reviving their demands for separate statehood, much to the chagrin of governments at the state level that are having to deal with strikes and agitations. Telugu will remain a common language to both AP and the proposed Telangana. This raises questions whether the country's reorganisation on the basis of language was a wise idea. There is a near-consensus that this was inevitable for socio-cultural reasons and has done well. The apprehensions of the Nehru era have been belied.
But the elites -- political, social and economic -- do not accept this. Their number and strength are growing as India gets urbanised and industrialised. Rightly or otherwise, they point to the rise of fissiparous tendencies, of chauvinism, of "outsiders go home" sentiment and of political parties with narrow agendas and platforms. While many of these tendencies are to be deprecated and curbed, there is no way a vast country of 1.2 billion can be governed in a strait jacket of any kind.
Demands for separate political identity and autonomy are driven by local and historical contexts that are hard to generalise into axiomatic wisdom. And more or less, this is universal. AP is a major state that sends a significant 42 members to the LokSabha. Its division is bound to curb its clout as a kingmaker that it was in the 1990s.
Congress is in a shambles, what with Chief Minister Kiran Reddy himself being opposed to Telangana. No one can predict who will be the gainers and losers. It is an economic and agricultural powerhouse. When they have their own state, the Telangana people have a challenge to do better than they are in the undivided state. Hyderabad, the capital city, now called "Cyberabad," has been a major information technology hub. It can repair the damage done to it by political turmoil once Telangana moves on. Dominated by the Andhras, including fair-complexioned comely actresses, AP has the annual US$140 million (Rs 460 million) Telugu language film industry. It is next to Bollywood in number of films produced and earnings and together, have a global market.
Only the future can say how the two economies would fare, but the experience so far had been that smaller states get better attention from authorities and can grow, amoeba-like, if governed well. Having separated, the Telugus will have to learn to live amicably. This is especially true for Telengana that will need the coastal neighbour for a sea outlet that is essential for economic growth.
Some worry about possible damage to the Indian polity. It is too far-fetched to assume any danger to the union even if statehood demands elsewhere across the country are acceded to. In a union of multiple states, smaller states bring governments closer to the people and are more representative. If the United States can accommodate 50 states, surely the Indian federal system can run efficiently with 40.
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