TELANGANA is a territory of 35m people who make up about two-fifths of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Many of them hope one day to have a state of their own. They claim a distinct history, and complain that they miss out on resources, such as supplies of water, that go to the rest of the state.
A split should have happened long ago. For five decades protesters have sought one, with Hyderabad, one of southern India’s largest cities, as their capital. Activists say that in the past three years over 300 young people have killed themselves over Telangana, demanding political control that would benefit locals. Many set themselves on fire in public.
Politicians promise support for a new state, but then, with cynical regularity, turn away. India’s ruling Congress party talks up Telangana, at times even offering a commission on reorganising state borders. In December the home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said the government would announce its position on statehood for Telangana (presumably supporting it) within a month. Nothing happened.
Expect more such unfulfilled pledges before general elections due next year. Backing Telangana makes local sense: Congress won a valuable 12 of the 17 parliamentary seats there in the last general election, in 2009. Yet the party also got 21 MPs in the rest of Andhra Pradesh, where opposition to Telangana is firm. Thus Congress tries the impossible, both backing the new state and preventing its birth. Telangana “has been cheated. No promises have been kept”, says Satish Misra of the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi think-tank. He still expects statehood eventually.
Similar pressures grow elsewhere. Vast Uttar Pradesh (UP) should decades ago have been diced into more manageable parts. On the eve of last year’s election for the state assembly, the then chief minister, Mayawati, put forward a resolution to divide the 200m-plus population into four new states. Many locals like the idea. But Ms Mayawati’s last-minute plan was opportunistic. She lost the election.
Others propose new states. The Bodo tribal group wants a chunk of Assam, in the north-east, to keep out Muslim settlers. A part of inland West Bengal is disputed. Groups in the wealthy western state of Maharashtra want to form Vidarbha. Previous rounds of unravelling encourage them. Modern India was made from colonial territory and 500-odd princely realms. Every decade or two, notably in 1956, state borders are repatched, usually according to language or demands for cultural unity. Recent arguments are made for economic development and better governance.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, then in power, oversaw the last round, in 2000, when three states in its northern Hindi-speaking heartland were each cut in two. That proved successful, on the whole. Uttarakhand, a hilly corner chopped from UP, recorded rapid economic growth and social gains, easily outperforming UP. New tax breaks and a surge in tourism helped.
Chhattisgarh, backward but resource-rich and once a part of Madhya Pradesh, is doing much better economically than before. Its chief minister, Raman Singh, boasts of consistently high growth. He expects to win re-election this year thanks to better delivery of public food rations.
Jharkhand in eastern India has faltered after separating from Bihar. But the rump of Bihar itself has thrived, with double-digit economic growth and striking social progress since the divorce. Once a byword for backwardness, the state is doing well under a local leader.
The new states were lucky in part, because India grew fast overall. But improved administration also helped: the governments of smaller states have a stake in local success. Elsewhere, too, many of India’s 35 states and union territories are at demographic extremes. They are either monsters like UP and Maharashtra (their combined population of 320m is greater than that of the United States), or minnows with barely 1m people.
Ideally, India needs a new commission to decide how to reorganise states, for it would be a mistake to leave it to politicians always thinking about the next election. Already the states, with an average of 35m people each, look unmanageably large, on the whole. By mid-century India’s overall population is expected to be 1.6 billion. If they are to fit into better-run smaller states, then someone has to get around to forming another 20 or 30 of them.
Source: The Economist