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An avoidable mess over Telangana

By Seema Mustafa
December 18, 2009 16:53 IST
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A new state cannot be created in the ad hoc manner like the demand for Telangana was conceded, writes Seema Mustafa.

A Chinese analyst in an article hinted just a few weeks ago that with a 'little action' India could be broken into little pieces. As expected the article had elicited strong response from the establishment and the media, but after watching the political shenanigans over a separate state for Telangana, an army general said with a sad laugh, "the Chinese can relax, we are already doing what they had only expressed a desire to do in an article."

The sordid Telangana episode that has made a hero of a retiring politician K Chandrasekhar Rao, who took advantage of the leadership crisis in Andhra Pradesh to go on indefinite hunger strike. His deteriorating health rang panic bells in New Delhi that suddenly decided to accept the demand for a separate state, and initiate the proceedings therein. Interestingly, the same government had co-opted Rao and his party (Telangana Rahstra Samiti) in 2004 to form the government at the Centre, but had shown little hesitation in driving him out by refusing to accept his one point agenda for a Telangana statehood.

The resulting chaos, with MPs and MLAs from different parties in Andhra Pradesh submitting their resignations, was to be expected. The announcement was sudden and unexpected. The Congress had treated Chandrasekhar Rao very shabbily with several senior leaders heard gloating in New Delhi of their ability to marginalise the TRS and its demands.

His hunger strike too was not taken seriously with little time and thought spent on the possibilities, with the result that when the doctors announced that his life was in serious danger, the party as always went into overdrive and conceded the demand. It had left itself no space to manoeuvre in, and driven Rao to a point where for political survival he was left with no other option but the hunger strike.

In the end he won, although the country has plunged into chaos with protests flooding the streets and the real possibility of every little group now coming out to demand a separate state based on ethnic and linguistic divisions that defy the very concept of integration.

The list includes Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Harit Pradesh, Poorvanchal and Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh),Mithilanchal (Bihar), Coorg (Karnataka), Saurashtra (Gujarat), Bodoland , Dimarji state, Karbi homeland (Assam), and Vidarbha (Maharahstra).

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has already come out with a statement that she has sent the request for the trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh to the central government and will initiate proceedings as soon as she gets clearance. Of course, she is intent on scoring political points but the fact remains that Telangana has fuelled passions all over the country with various linguistic and ethnic organisations expected to make their presence over the next few weeks. In many cases, if not all, the demand will resort to violence and hunger fasts as the capitulation by New Delhi has shown that these work.

It is obvious from the knee jerk responses that despite the Telangana issue being at the forefront of the political landscape in Andhra Pradesh -- after all, all the political parties in the state have flirted with TRS at some point or the other to win votes -- no one even bothered to seriously consider the pros and cons of the demand.

The Congress virtually used the TRS to get in power, and discarded it without even examining the legitimacy of the demand. A sound government would have ensured a full examination of the proposal, as of the other pending separate state demands, and seen how this would feed into the larger vision of a united, secular and democratic India. After all new states cannot emerge out of violence, and stand isolated from the national consensus without impacting adversely on the unity of the country.

There is sufficient scope in the Indian Constitution for forming new states, in fact the process has been made fairly easy and uncomplicated in what constitutional experts see as an indication that the founding fathers had visualised exactly such circumstances as the young country matured.

But it is for the governments of the day to examine the demands and to determine through necessary commissions and committees of experts whether the separate state demanded will go a long way in redressing grievances of the affected people, alleviating poverty and in the long run bringing the country closer together.

The Congress cave in has actually legitimised political blackmail, sending out the signal that this could work if taken to extreme limits. Chandrashekhar Rao could have been wooed out of the hunger strike by a special visit from a top Congress functionary. But in what is characteristic Congress style, the party decided to ignore him leaving itself with no option in the final reckoning.

A hero was made of a faltering political leader, who had been marginalised because of his own compromises. Congress leader Vasant Sathe is already raising the demand for Vidarbha, even as his party goes into silence mode trying to deal with the chaos in Andhra Pradesh.

It cannot be done in this ad hoc fashion where the Union home secretary one day announces that Hyderabad would be the capital of Telangana and the next day is sharply contradicted by his own home minister who in response to questions on the issue retorts, "ask the home secretary." It cannot be done with MPs and MLAs resigning and the demand turning into a bitter confrontation. It cannot be done by a central government that does not know which way to turn, and is not sure what is really its policy on even state-centre relations with the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission gathering dust with every passing year.

There is need for a considered calibrated response as Telangana is not just a petty political issue, but one that will impact on the future of India.

Those in authority must realise that the carving out of states has to fulfil the demands of integration, and actually help in the development of the neglected regions. Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh and Uttarakhand are relatively new states, carved out of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to empower linguistic and ethnic groups through development. Nothing of the kind has happened and the poverty in Jharkhand for instance continues unabated. Instead the political class is reaping the benefits of power, with the Khoda scam where the former chief minister amassed thousands of crores is a case in point. Maoism has grown in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, with the development funds now being diverted to tackle the insurgency.

Before more states are created, a commission has to go into all this and more. Apart from answers to questions of micro concerns, the commission should also examine whether the smaller state will actually address the issue of development, as well as that of integration.

A new state cannot be created on political whims and fancies and the demand has to prove that it will further the interests of India and the people directly affected. Clearly there is no consensus over Telangana as the storm of protest has shown, and the Congress led United Progressive Alliance government will be following an extremely foolhardy path if it goes ahead without seeking a national consensus on what is a ticklish and yet a very serious issue.

Seema Mustafa is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

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