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Why is everyone scared of small states?

December 14, 2009 14:36 IST
The flames engulfing Andhra Pradesh today -- now threatening to scorch even distant Assam and Bengal -- were lit by the Congress as far back as 1920, notes T V R Shenoy.

"There is a spectre haunting the Congress -- the spectre of Potti Sriramulu."

I wrote that in April 2004 when the Congress struck its devil's bargain with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, agreeing to create Telangana. All that Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and K Chandrashekhar Rao had in common was a mutual dislike of N Chandrababu Naidu.

Back then I thought the Telugu Desam could play on the desire for a united Andhra Pradesh. That was obviously wrong in 2004 but I was right in saying that "it might have been better (for the Congress) had there been more time to consider the repercussions, and to prepare for them."

Actually, it has had plenty of time to think it through. The flames engulfing Andhra Pradesh today -- now threatening to scorch even distant Assam and Bengal -- were lit as far back as 1920.

At its Nagpur session, in December 1920, the Congress rewrote its charter under Mahatma Gandhi's guidance. One of the changes was that the Pradesh Congress Committees would henceforth be constituted on a linguistic basis. This made no difference to the administration of the country because the British refused to redraw the map to the Congress' whims. But it meant that delegates found themselves sitting for Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Karnataka, and Malabar rather than Madras. That was the first step.

Sardar Patel, unlike the Mahatma, was no fan of linguistic provinces. When he completed his great work of unifying India he pointedly left intact the multi-lingual states of Madras, Bombay, Madhya Pradesh, and Assam. Another notable addition to that list was Hyderabad, which covered several districts now in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

After the Sardar's death, Potti Sriramulu made himself the flag-bearer of the Telugu cause. He went on a fast to ask that an Andhra state be carved out of Madras. Jawaharlal Nehru offered vague words of support but no action. On October 19, 1952, Sriramulu began a second fast. He died on December 16 while New Delhi dithered.

(Sounds familiar, does it not? Especially with the Congress again milling around in confusion following K Chandrashekhar Rao's first fast.)

The news of Sriramulu's death sparked riots in the Telugu-speaking districts. On December 19, 1952, Nehru hurriedly announced that a new state would be created.

The question of a capital for the new state caused more heat. Madras (as it then was) was claimed by both Tamilians and Telugus. There was talk of both states sharing the city, with Madras becoming a Union territory. This ignored the fact that Andhra would never actually touch Madras. (Once again, doesn't that sound familiar?)

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, then chief minister of Madras state, scotched the proposal. When asked, Rajaji said he was warding off future trouble. When some spoke of Telugu cultural links to Madras he pointed out the ancient northern limit of Tamil culture lay in Tirupati. Kurnool became the capital of the new state.

(Again, Maharashtra refused to cede Bombay city as its capital or share it with Gujarat when the state of Bombay was divided in 1960. Sadly, common sense was found wanting when Chandigarh was allotted as the common capital of Punjab and Haryana -- a major issue during the time of terrorist troubles and a minor irritant both before and since.)

In 1953, Nehru's ministry thought it could better Sardar Patel's work. Saiyid Fazal Ali, K M Panikker, and H N Kunzru were brought together as the States Reorganisation Commission. Their recommendations regarding the merger of Andhra and Hyderabad (Telangana) make interesting reading today.

Paragraph 386 of the report says: '...we have come to the conclusions that it will be in the interests of Andhra as well as Telangana, if for the present, the Telangana area is to be constituted into a separate state, which may be known as the Hyderabad state with provision for its unification with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in or about 1961 if by a two thirds majority the legislature of the residency Hyderabad state expresses itself in favour of such unification.'

Let me simplify the above government-speak. First, Telangana and Andhra would not be merged. Second, unification was to be postponed, for all practical purposes, until the third general election. Third, unification required a two-thirds approval by the Hyderabad (Telangana) assembly.

The Nehru Cabinet ignored the recommendation. A unified Andhra Pradesh was established on November 1, 1956 after Parliament passed the States Reorganisation Act.

By 1969 riots were breaking out to create a separate Telangana. The Congress solution was to replace Brahmananda Reddy with a Telangana man, P V Narasimha Rao, in 1971. This in turn incited Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema. Indira Gandhi was forced to impose President's Rule on the state -- and you know the situation is bad when a Congress prime minister does that to a Congress-ruled state.

Let us sum it up. The Congress sowed the seeds of linguistic states in 1920. Three days of unrest in 1952 led Jawaharlal Nehru to concede Andhra without consulting the government of Madras in any depth; the same prime minister then overruled the State Reorganisation Commission and forced the merger of Andhra and Telangana in 1956.

Telangana began agitating against the forcible union as far back as 1969. Finally, in 2004 the Congress joined the TRS to defeat the Telugu Desam, conceding Telangana as the price of the alliance.

(And the Telugu Desam did the same in 2009. Neither the Congress nor the Telugu Desam has the moral authority to oppose the creation of Telangana.)

I am neither a proponent nor an opponent of small states. What depresses me is the prospect that the Congress will make the situation worse through procrastination.

Nehru accepted Andhra on December 19, 1952; it was established on October 1, 1953. The Shah Commission was set up on April 23, 1966 to demarcate the Hindi speaking areas of Punjab; Haryana was created on November 1, 1966. Why is the Congress talking wildly of taking five years to create Telangana?

Again, what is this talk of Hyderabad being a joint capital? Take a look at the map; the city is surrounded by Telangana. The impracticality of joint capitals was understood by Rajaji over Madras (Chennai) in 1953 and by Y B Chavan over Bombay (Mumbai) in 1960. On the other hand, there is a history of bad feeling over Chandigarh. Why should anyone follow the worse example and ignore the better ones?

One final point: There is much moaning and groaning over the Telangana leading to the creation of more states. Why is everyone scared of small states?

Madhya Bharat (not to be confused with Madhya Pradesh), Bhopal, Patiala and East Punjab States Union (distinct from Punjab), Saurashtra, Kutch, Ajmer, Coorg, and Vindhya Pradesh were viable states up to 1956. Nehru forcibly merged them into larger states, creating much bad blood.

Andhra Pradesh is essentially an unworkable proposition today. (Even lawyers in the high court descended to fisticuffs over Telangana!) Why not summon a second States Reorganisation Commission to see which proposed states are viable? Or would the Congress prefer to wait until Telangana is replicated elsewhere in India?

T V R Shenoy