Diversity unites us no more
Slogans with nationalistic overtones, derided by liberals, perhaps do have a role. If nothing else, they help in the building of a fledgling nation of...
The Telangana demand is half a century old. Telangana was promised also in the Congress manifesto five years ago; so the decision on it doesn’t appear to be ‘hasty’.
Slogans with nationalistic overtones, derided by liberals, perhaps do have a role. If nothing else, they help in the building of a fledgling nation of low literacy but immense diversity by instilling a sense of pride in the kaleidoscopic population. That is what one would like to think was the effect of the catch phrase ‘unity in diversity’ that was de rigueur in the speeches of our leaders for the first 25 or 30 years after Independence; that is to say till the time regional and sub-regional identities, based on a variety of factors, had not surfaced so vigorously as to challenge the concept of a monolithic identity.
A States Reorganisation Commission was set up to reconstruct the provincial map of the nascent republic and its verdict was not universally welcomed. The provincial contours suggested were far from perfect. In fact, there were many violent protests, leading to loss of many lives.
By and by, things appeared to be settling down. Sub-regionalism had not exactly evaporated, but barring parts of the North-east, its expression was subdued. India’s unity was not under strain because of its bewildering diversity.
But the can of worms opened after the announcement that the government has accepted the separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh has now shaken the whole country and brought the issue of sub-regionalism into sharp focus. Where or when it will end cannot be said. Parts of Assam and West Bengal are already in ‘flames’; demands for many more States that were no more audible than a murmur are resurfacing with renewed vigour.
The heated debate that is raging over the rights and wrongs of accepting the division of Andhra Pradesh does not help solve certain puzzles. The government of the day has come under fire from many quarters for the ‘hasty’ decision it took on Telangana, allegedly with an eye on the polls due next year. The very first question is: Was it a ‘hasty’ decision? The Telangana demand is half a century old. Telangana was promised also in the Congress manifesto five years ago; so the decision on it doesn’t appear to be ‘hasty’.
Or, was it one of those poll promises never intended to be honoured? That would be construed as deceit. But if the ruling party did discuss the issue internally during the years between 2009 and 2013, how come it now finds itself unable to deal with the fire that has followed the Telangana announcement? Did the internal discussions in the Congress not indicate that the decision would create tensions in the rest of Andhra Pradesh?
During the last four or five years the voices from the votaries of a separate Telangana have been very loud but only in one region of the composite Andhra Pradesh. It must have been clear to the ruling party that the rest of Andhra would not quietly accept the division of the State. This problem could not have been left entirely to the party ‘high command’ for resolution since the grassroots sentiments on such sensitive matters are better understood by local politicians. Since the ‘hasty’ decision on Telangana has thrown some other political parties off balance they are now trying to retrieve the ground by backing the demand for division of some other States. Do they want the ‘small is beautiful’ rule to be blindly applied to all the demands for further division of States?
The proponents of micro-States might be sowing the seeds for trouble for themselves in the future. The BJP, for instance, supports the division of Andhra Pradesh. It is quite likely that in the not too distant future, a demand may arise for dividing Gujarat, the ‘number one’ BJP State. There are people in Gujarat who demand the Kutch and Saurashtra regions to be separated from Gujarat. The demand may not be backed by the majority of people today, but what prevents desperate politicians from exploiting the sentiments for separation?
If the act of division of the other States gathers speed, it is difficult to imagine how Assam and West Bengal can be stopped from further divisions when the demands from their ethnic minorities appear to have some merit. The odd thing is that some of the smaller States in the North-east may have to be further divided if the sentiments of the tribal population are to be respected.
The BJP had started the process of creating new States out of existing ones and won some applause for it. But, oddly enough, the new States like Uttarakhand and Jharkhand did not remain the BJP stronghold for long. A party that creates a new State does not necessarily benefit from it politically. There are several obvious reasons why the Jammu and Ladakh regions should be de-linked from the rest of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. But as long as the Kashmir dispute exists no government in New Delhi will seriously consider the division of the State. So, should the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions continue to ‘suffer’?
Despite the carving of Uttarakhand out of it, Uttar Pradesh remains one of the largest States in India and most inefficiently run. Many believe that it needs to be divided into four or more States. Would that help the people? Going by the record and performance of politicians of all hues in UP, it can be said with near certainty that the smaller States carved out of UP will provide a happy hunting ground for venal politicians.
Those not familiar with States like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha would think that there is no scope for slicing these States. They are wrong. One of the political parties in Tamil Nadu is working for the creation of a separate State for the Vanniyar community. Karnataka may soon have to cope with the demand for a separate Tulu land. In Odisha, there is a demand for a separate State of Koshal, which will revive an 11th century princely State. And so it goes on. It is a worrying thought that while the political leadership is happy to fuel the fire of divisions and sub-divisions of the States, it has shown a lack of willingness to strengthen the unity of the country.