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It is time for a rational reorganisation of states

December 19, 2009 12:18 IST

History is repeating itself. We are stumbling towards creating another States Reorganisation Commission after the one in 1955. That one was formed after the death of a Telugu speaker, Potti Sriramalu, who fasted for the creation of Andhra Pradesh like Chandrasekhar Rao who went on a fast unto death demanding the formation of Telangana state out of Andhra Pradesh. Inevitably, the present denials notwithstanding, we will get a new SRC and, hopefully, it will have a better set of criteria than mere common local language to break existing large states into smaller ones.

That first Commission wanted Bombay to be a separate state. It thought that Bombay was a very cosmopolitan city and a major commercial centre. It deserved separate treatment. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti agitated and won Bombay for Maharashtra.

In retrospect, Bombay in Maharashtra has made little difference to the welfare of the rest of the state. The Economic survey shows poverty at 30.7 per cent of the population in Maharashtra versus 27.5 per cent all-India. According to the Tendulkar committee's calculations, Maharashtra is home to the largest number of urban poor in the country. While it is ranked second or third in the human development index, it has the maximum number of urban poor. Without Bombay, Maharashtra is an underdeveloped state. Most of its poor are outside Bombay.

Has Bombay benefited by being part of Maharashtra? No objective assessment can find benefit to Bombay; indeed, being in Maharashtra has been a disadvantage. It attracts much less investment than it did. Other cities have outstripped it. Language politics is deeply embedded in the city as Marathi speakers envy that it is the prosperous home to many non-Marathi speakers.

Demands for job reservation for the Marathi manoos, the dominance of politicians from outside Bombay who see Bombay as a cash cow for funding the rest of the state, and more often to make their personal fortunes, the lack of investment to improve the city's infrastructure, its corrupt administration, have all combined to erode its advantage as the pre-eminent commercial centre of India. Its infrastructure has deteriorated as has law and order. The police are horribly politicised and parochial. Other cities have attracted more bright people from around the country.

In 1955, the SRC was also worried about Bangalore. Bangalore was not a majority Kannada-speaking city but it was surrounded by Kannada-speaking districts. Bangalore was not given to Andhra by the SRC but became the capital of Karnataka. It is today what Bombay was in 1955, a cosmopolitan city with the best brains from all over India flocking to Bangalore to study and work in its knowledge-based companies, research and educational institutions. Unlike Bombay, which became a Maharashtrian city, Bangalore did not change its status as a city which even today does not have a Kannada-speaking majority. There is no agitation for only Kannadigas getting jobs in Bangalore. People from other states are not made to feel unwelcome and fear for their lives.

Bombay in 1955 was very marginally a majority Marathi-speaking city. Being an island, it was not surrounded by Marathi-speaking districts. Bombay is now Mumbai on pain of violent repercussions, the legislature erupts into violence if a language other than Marathi is used, and nasty comments are made about speakers of other languagesĀ -- first it was about Malayalam and Kannada speakers and now about Hindi speakers from north Indian states. Bombay has lost its Indian nature.

Punjab and Haryana were also given a solution that prevented the parochialism that has developed in Bombay. Chandigarh as a common capital for both states has worked well and the city has prospered.

A bigger question than the fate of Hyderabad (which hopefully will become a Union Territory and capital of Telangana) is about the future of the present disparate sized Indian states. Reorganisation is overdue. It must be based on some rational principles. It must have a minimum and maximum population and administrative units (districts). There must be common bonds over the state. These could be many. The state could be a common hinterland to its major cities. It could have common water linkages that do not cross into other states. It must have adequate present or potential tax revenues so that it is not for long dependent on central handouts. Ideally, its state domestic product must be similar in composition to all-India. Principles for reorganisation need careful thought before being applied.

As states become more equal in size, we can expect major changes in the way our political system works. The dominance of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will weaken. Smaller states have performed better for their people than have large ones. They have also fomented large-scale corruption, but perhaps not more than their larger counterparts. Jharkhand is probably no worse than Andhra. Political parties may find it more difficult to gang up on the basis of community and religion. Today, regional parties are in statesĀ -- Telugu Desam Party in Andhra, Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, etc. They may represent groups of smaller states. Central control would be stronger. The time has come for a rational and well thought out reorganisation of states.

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