Mainstream, VOL LIV No 18, New Delhi, April 23, 2016
Democratic Disorder in India
Monday 25 April 2016, by
For many of us from North-East India, it is a shocking phenomenon that while eight States of the region are represented by only 25 members in the Lok Sabha, Uttar Pradesh alone is done so by 80 members. It is not realised usually that this arrangement leads to a North Indian hegemony automatically. The political party winning a majority of the seats in UP and may-be some more seats in a few other States easily forms the Union Government. This is exactly what the BJP has managed to do in the last general elections (2014). By winning just around 31 per cent of the votes polled, mainly in the Northern States, it is ruling over almost 70 per cent population dwelling in the littoral and North-East Indian States. This is due to a colonial legacy when States were basically formed on the principle of the population logic and administrative efficacy. This principle continues to this day. While Arunachal Pradesh, the largest State of the North-East, is represented by two seats, a tiny State like Delhi has seven representatives in the Lok Sabha. Manipur is represented by two seats and Nagaland, Mizoram and Sikkim face the ignominy of having one seat each in a House of 545 Members.
In one of the books on the North-East, recently published by the CRRID (a renowned research institute that facilitated the accord between Rajiv Gandhi and the AGP leaders) and edited by Prof S.S. Gill, it has been mentioned that the tribes of that region are adequately represented in the Lok Sabha with 25 seats. This is factually incorrect as Assam itself with 12.4 per cent tribes has 14 seats, Manipur has one non-tribal seat in the Valley and Tripura with 70 per cent non-tribals has no tribesman to represent. Even if there were 25 seats, the representation in the House would be nominal.
Many argue with me whether I give precedence to territory over people and I have to respond to them by reminding that the territories they refer to are not empty spaces as they are inhabited by peoples residing for thousands of years and enjoying territorial rights not only over their habitats but also over the commons inherited from their forefathers. They are privileged with cultural rights over them as well. The commons are not plundered for resources but possessed by them as stewards not only for their self-interest but for the sake of entire mankind. Mount Kanchen Djonga is not only a supreme deity for the Lepchas of Sikkim and Darjeeling but mountaineers from all over the world do not tread a foot on the top pinnacle out of respect to the Lepcha ethos. Likewise Lake Khezuperi located in West Sikkim is considered extremely holy by the Bhutia-Lepcha peoples. The sacred forests of Demozong surrounding the lake become a natural watershed and are managed through a native sense. The area has been declared as a World Heritage Site some years ago.
The population logic thus denies their very existence and heritage. This is linked to the colonial concept of terra nullius leading to outright conquest. This is precisely what happened when the Manipur State tried to take over the hill territories on the issue of population but the indigenous peoples responded by declaring their chiefs to be the legal owners of the land and not as custodians and defeated the State when the High Court was moved in 1962. Also, it must be realised that not long back in history, a tribal person from Arunachal Pradesh did not share the common identity with that of a Malayali from Kerala or a Tamilian from Tamilnadu. Imposing the legacy of the population logic shared by other parts during British rule onto others is unjust and inhuman. It is the arbitrary formation of the Union of India – a historical accident—that has brought them together. Such a situation has been taken advantage of and a North Indian hegemony has been established unscrupulously without the consent of the people–neither from the South nor from the North-East. In fact, even the people from the North did not willingly form a part of the decision—the Constitution was not produced by an elected body. There should have been a referendum held, covering the entire country, on the kind of governance they desire at the beginning of the formation of the Republic under the supervision of the interim Governor-General.
Many scholars, including Subrata Mitra from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, mistakenly argue that the States in India were constituted on the linguistic principle. Only a few States like Tamilnadu, Gujarat and Odisha may have this antecedence but the majority of the others do not. Most of the States of the North-East are multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural and were formed due to political exigencies. Several States of North India, like Bihar, UP, MP, Haryana, HP, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, share Hindi as the official language though the different regional dialects of various communities inhabiting them are un-compreh-ended by others. Seemaandhra and Telengana States were dissected even though they share Telugu as the common lingua franca. Some States like Manipur and Sikkim even witnessed forced merger as did the Dangs district of Gujarat, inhabited by 93 per cent indigenous peoples—the land under the tutelage of nine Rajas and 15 Bhaubandhs (a kin-based confede-ration of States) was appropriated by the state in 1962 without any formal treaty of accession. Till that time, the revenue generated for local peoples collected by the State Government used to be handed over to the ruling constellation on the Durbar day.
In India though the population logic has been the main factor of the Constitution-formation, that has not always been the case. In the small island of Lakshwadeep, inhabited by a tiny population of Mappillas—a Muslim matrilineal community—a parliamentary constituency has been formed, respecting their hereditary association with the territory. In the Andaman Islands, a Lok Sabha constituency is available in-spite of the population, taking into consideration the administrative exigencies and retaining territorial control over a property inherited from the British.
FOR the moment, I see only a confederation of States to be the best bet for the future stability of India. This will result in political-economic interdependence instead of a dubious game-plan of the Niti Ayog blackmailing the States to submission. It needs to be realised that there exist many forms of informal anarchic confede-rations based on history, culture and politico-ethnic traditions within the existing State structures which had evolved artificially during the British rule. We, for example, have seen the confederation of seven Meitei exogamous principalities of the Valley in Manipur which hugely affects the local governance. Nagas have constellations like Tenemia, comprising the tribal areas of Angami, Chakhesang and Sumi. Uttar Pradesh has the notional principalities of Awadh, Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh and Purbanchal. In West Bengal we have the notional Kamtapur and Gorkhaland in Uttar Banga, Gour Bangla and Rarh Bhumi in the south-west. In Maharashtra we have the provinces of Vidarbha, Khandesh, Paschim Maharashtra and Konkan. All the political parties of the State draw out their electoral strategies and Ministry formations largely based on these localities. In the case of Andhra Pradesh, the notional folk provinces of Telengana and Seemandhra finally got statutorily bifurcated into separate States.
To compare the federal structures of India with the United States of America is simply criminal. The entire USA has been founded on the legacy of genocide—butchering the Red Indians like bison and ethnocide—debasing the Black Americans. None of the constituent states of the USA was formed with any rhyme and or reason—neither on the principle of geography nor on the population logic. They were formed artificially and arbitrarily. Ironically, many of the states along with physical terrain and human beings without their knowledge or consent were purchased by the federal government from the colonial states like Spain and France. Even Russia was complicit in this when it sold Alaska wholesale, the beasts and humans together, for a price to the USA. The story of Hawai was nothing but an absolute conquest. The Independence Day celebrated by that nation is nothing but a cruel joke.
Ambedkar’s inclination towards the American presidential form of governance and federal state structure grossly misread the ground realities. The USA comprises history-less peoples, many of whom are descendants of jail birds from European colonisers involved in loot and plunder on reaching the shores of the New World. India is a multi-ethnic pluralistic state with a civilisational background. It can boast of luminaries like Ashoka, Akbar, Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru. I do not, of course, discount the contributions to humanism made by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.
We need not be unnecessarily be worried too much about the suggested confederation of States and the political stability of India. You will possibly be startled by the fact I gathered from a text authored by a Naga gentleman that at the time of the Chinese invasion in 1962, Phizo, the militant Naga supremo, offered the services of 50,000 Naga militia to combat the Chinese along with the Indian troops. The author does not mention any further, but we are aware of the fact that Phizo had for some time worked for the Indian National Army founded by Subhash Bose to fight the British. Even during the Kargil war, a young Tangkhul officer of the Indian Army sacrificed his life to save the lives of his Indian subordinates. His body was received at Ukhrul (bastion of the NSCN-IM) with extreme décor and respect. At Kargil itself many of the Muslim tribesmen, who had migrated to Gilgit in Pakistan, are now found flocking back to their native villages. Many are caught up at the border as they do not carry the Indian passport. With a confederation arrangement even the Kashmir imbroglio could be easily resolved. After all, Hari Singh had Muslim soldiers too in his retinue. As of now, the largest political domain of the State comprising Ladakh and Kargil is under the ambit of the Autonomous Hills District Council. Srinagar Valley is just a minuscule part of Kashmir. The PDP-BJP alliance virtually resembles a political confederation. If an India-Pakistan-Bangladesh confederation becomes a reality, as suggested by many intellectuals and the polity (a matter that was pronounced to me by my father, late Prof. B.K. Roy Burman, several years before his demise), which was even articulated in the media by a BJP spokesperson some time back, the future of the region and the subcontinent will brighten up. After all, Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, viewed the nation-state as an anathema for the human race and spoke about the formation of a minimal state. Perhaps the confederation of multi-ethnic States in India will be an answer to his framework. We are also reminded of the perception of Gandhi that self-denial too is empowerment. Ashoka adopted the principle of renunciation through Buddhism to establish a mighty empire that embraced more than half of Asia. The fame of the moral order in India attracted scholars and humanists from different corners of the world. Fa Hien and Huentsang were some of them in the ancient past and a scholar as profound as J.B.S. Haldane embraced Indian citizenship not very long ago.
To conclude, I am compelled to place the brazen fact that the resource-less BIMARU States of North India hegemonise the country on the basis of a parliamentary democracy formed on an anachronistic population logic. It siphons off resources from the hinterland States. The large automobile industries, based in Haryana, import the needed steel and other accessories from mostly the tribal areas of Jharkhand and adjoining States. The Mathura refinery survives on the crude supplied to it through pipelines drawn from the seacoast. The refinery in Barauni in Bihar still draws crude from oilfields located in distant Assam. The petrol price in Delhi happens to be the cheapest among all the Metros. How long will the democratic disorder prevail in India is anybody’s guess. Article 258 that encourages States to assert decentralisation, as recommended by the Sarkaria Commission, stands emasculated within the present political dispensation.
At this hour of crisis, I pin great hopes on Thuiangaleng Muivah, the supreme leader of the Nagas, who has shown keen interest in a federal formation with India. Mamata Banerjee, the TMC leader and CM of West Bengal, has importantly succeeded in ethicising the entire State vis-a-vis the roguish overtures of the Central Government and created a common front of Bengali Hindu and Muslim in view of the coming Assembly elections. She is expected to sweep the polls. Petty Hindu-Muslim skirmishes in Malda prompted by the BJP will unlikely make a difference. Similar drives are anticipated in the near future in many of the southern littoral States. In Kerala, the God’s own land, there already exists a confederation of three districts predominated largely by Hindus, Muslims and Christians in each of them respectively. The hero warriors of Karnataka, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, are still revered in the South. Tamil Nadu defiantly sticks to the Tamil language keeping Hindi at bay.
The author belongs to the Faculty of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.