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Volume XLIV, No.51

Small is Not Always Beautiful

by Ranbir Singh

Tuesday 24 April 2007

The recent decision of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) supremo and Union Minister for Labour and Employment, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, to quit the UPA Government at the Centre for its failure to form a separate State of Telangana merits an analytical consideration.

As a matter of fact, the UPA Government has shown statesmanship in taking a firm decision on the demand of the TRS which has once again brought the issue of the creation of small States into sharp focus. It may be recalled that the demand for the creation of the small States of Telangana in Andha Pradesh, Vidarbha in Maharashtra in Gujarat, and Jharkhand in Bihar had emerged in the 1970s. This had made some social scientists, like Rashiduddin Khan, Rajni Kothari and M.N. Srinivas, to plead for the bifurcation or trifurcation of the existing large sized States. (Seminar, 164, April 1973) They had argued that federal reorganisation of India into smaller States would not only fulfil the political aspirations of the people of the backward regions but also ensure their rapid economic development. It would accelerate the pace of modernisation (in those States) by increasing administrative efficiency and bringing the administration closer to the people there. Perhaps, they were fascinated by the rapid progress made by Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in a short span of time after their creation on November 1, 1966. It has been further argued that according Statehood to various regions would also resolve the problem of identity crisis in them. This would enable them to develop their language and culture. It would help them in getting rid of the fellings of internal colonialism. As a result of attainment of Statehood, the people of the backward regions would be able to free themselves from the dominance of the political elite of the developed regions. The reorganisation of the country into small States would also make the federation more balanced by making the representation of the present-day large-sized States, like UP, MP and Maharashtra, and the small States, like Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, more proportionate. Apparently, the NDA Government was influenced by a similar consideration while deciding to carve out the States of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. This decision was seen as a prelude to a full-fledged exercise for the federal reorganisation of the country in the near future or creation of other small States in a gradual manner.

However, the firm stand of the UPA Government on the issue of creation of Telangana, has put a stop to those speculations. The UPA Government did not even mind the withdrawal of support by the TRS. The acceptance of the demand for the formation of Telangana would have opened a Pandora’s box. It would have led to a forceful reassertion of the demand for Bodoland in Assam, Harit Pradesh in UP, Coorg in Karnataka, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Jammu and Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir.

Those who favour a reorganisation of India into small States, seem to overlook the negative repercussions of such an exercise. Statehood cannot guarantee rapid economic development of those backward regions which do not have the required material and human resources for accelerating the pace of economic growth. Besides, some of the small States may not be having the potential for economic viability. A few of them may also be lacking in dynamic political leadership, development-oriented bureaucracy and competent technocrats. The people of some of the small States could also be deficient in the spirit of enterprise, zeal for hard work and other qualities needed for ensuring adequate development.

Small States could also lead to the hegemony of the dominant community/caste/tribe over their power structures. There could develop aggressive regionalism too in such States leading to the growth of the sons-of-the-soil phenomenon and the consequent intimidation of the migrants. The attainment of Statehood could result in the emergence of intra-regional rivalries among the sub-regions as has happened in Himachal Pradesh, religions as has been in the case of Pujab, communities and castes/tribes as has happened in Haryana and Manipur if the regional identity of the new States remains weak due to demographic factors and historical reasons or owing to their cultural backwardness.

The creation of small States may also lead to certain negative political consequences. Since the strength of the State Legislature would be rather small in such States, the majority of the ruling party or ruling coalition would remain fragile. In such a situation, a small group of legislators could make or break governments at will. The political opportunists, power-brokers and power-hungry politicians could hold the Chief Minister of a small State to ransom. They might extract too heavy a price for extending support to his government and cause political uncertainty by frequent threats of withdrawal of support. In this way, they could keep on blackmailing the Chief Minister. Almost every former Chief Minister and every present and former chief of a party organisation of the major political parties in the State as also most of the Ministers would nurse the ambition of becoming the Chief Minister in such a State. Attempts to topple the government would be quite frequent, often necessitating mid-term elections. The case of Jharkhand where even an Independent MLA has manipulated to become the Chief Minister may be cited by way of illustration.

Alternatively, in such States the risk of centralisation of powers in the hands of the Chief Minister, the members of his family and the Chief Minister’s Secretariat would be greater. And so would be the possibility of the Chief Minister turning the State into a political machine and becoming its boss merely by purchasing the support of MLAs. He could do so by inducting most of them in his Ministry and accommodating the others as Chairmen of various Boards and Corporations. The support could also be obained or retained by using money power or exercising coercion. The administration of such States would tend to be highly personalised and politicised. The State would become a fiefdom of the Chief Minister. This type of regime has really been in existence in Haryana since its formation on November 1, 1996 except for a brief interlude, owing to the small size of the State both in terms of area and population.

And last but not the least, the creation of small States would lead to increase in inter-State-water-power-and-boundary disputes. Apart from the strain on their limited financial resources, these would require huge funds for building new capitals and maintaining the growing number of Governors, Chief Ministers, Ministers and administrators—if the existing States are reorganised into smaller States. So, in that event, small would not be beautiful.

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