Thursday, January 24, 2008

The rationale and politics of small states

An English language newspaper recently carried an article demanding breaking up of Uttar Pradesh on the ground that it is able to command undue influence in national politics because of its size. In the normal course the State leadership’s reaction to such a demand will be negative. Especially so when the proclaimed intention is to reduce the State’s influence at the national level. But Chief Minister Mayawati did not oppose the suggestion. On the contrary, she said the State could be trifurcated.

Ordinarily the Chief Minister of a big State would not like to become the Chief Minister of a small State. After all, every ruler will want to maintain his or her empire in tact. Mayawati is not keen to retain UP in its present form probably because she is thinking not as the State’s Chief Minister but as a future Prime Minister of the country.

Free India began its career with the States that the British had created. Gandhi who reorganized the Congress units on linguistic basis and made it a powerful mass organization wanted the States also to be reorganized on the same basis. But the Central government was not ready for it. The martyrdom of Potti Sriramulu, who went on an indefinite fast to press the demand for a Telugu state, compelled it to change its stand.

Most of the provinces that the British created had no historical or cultural justification. Same was the case of the princely states that were carved out with their help. Jammu and Kashmir is a good example. Until the middle of the 19th century there was no state by that time. The region was part of the empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. The British, who defeated Ranjit Singh, demanded from him Rs.7.5 million by way of war reparations. He did not have the money. Gulab Singh, his commander in charge of the Jammu-Kashmir region, told the British, he was ready to pay the money if he was made the Maharaja. The British agreed. Gulab Singh became Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.
When the British left, the state had a history of only 90 years. But if anyone suggests splitting it into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh states, there would be opposition in the name of history and tradition.

Although the States Reorganization Commission, headed by Justice Fazl Ali, recommended extensive reorganization, the Centre refused to break up several States. Its attempts to evade the formation of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab states on one pretext or another resulted in the creation of more martyrs. Eventually all those states had to be conceded. The Centre had argued that the separation of Gujarat would ruin Bombay, the nation’s financial capital, and that if Punjab was removed Haryana would not survive. Time has disproved these arguments.

Nehru was infuriated by the suggestion for division of Uttar Pradesh made by K. M. Panikkar, a member of the Fazl Ali Commission, in a dissenting note. The State had about 80 districts in those days. It was said that the Chief Minister could not even know all the district collectors. But Nehru, who believed in gigantism, could not think of dividing the State. While there were demands from all over for small linguistic states, the Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Bihar jointly proposed the integration of the two States to form a bigger, multilingual state. Nehru hailed it as a good suggestion. But it was not acceptable to the people of the States. Within a month the Chief Ministers withdrew the proposal.

Having had to live with big States we in Kerala have a feeling that ours is a small State. We often talk of “little Kerala”. Actually, it is not all that small. In the list of 28 States and seven Union Territories we rank as the 12th. If there are 11 States that are bigger than ours, there are 23 States and UTs that are smaller than ours. If all the units had roughly the same population, they will all more or less be of Kerala’s size. Looked at this way, Kerala is not small, but a state of ‘average’ size.

Quite recently small parts of UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh were separated to create the States of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgrah. However UP (Population 166 million, Area 240,000 square kilometres), Bihar (Pop. 83 million, Area 90,000 and MP (Pop. 60 million, Area 310,000 are still large States. If UP were an independent country, it would be the world’s sixth most populous nation after China, India (minus UP), USA, Indonesia and Brazil. Russia and Pakistan will come below it.

There is not much substance in the argument that UP must be divided to reduce its influence in national politics. Although it remains the State with the largest contingent in the Lok Sabha, it has lost its prominence as a result of the fragmentation of the polity. So long as no single party is in a position to grab most of the State’s seats, its size need pose no problem nationally. But there are other factors which make small states desirable. In the light of the experience of Gujarat and Haryana, it is reasonable to assume that Vidarbha and Telengana may be able to develop faster if they are separated from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. We have to acquire the capacity to take decisions on such issues on a rational basis.
Based on column “Nerkkazhcha” appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated January 24, 2008

1 comment:

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