The idea of difference or strangeness dominates the human psyche. We, as a species, believe that we are ‘different’ from animals. Even as individuals, we believe that we are different from the ‘others’. Such a belief, which is the outcome of social, cultural and religious moorings shapes our identity. It also develops our perspective, shapes our attitude and defines our understanding of the world around us.
In a multi-cultural and multi-religious country like India, the interests of various groups tend to diverge. A society fears its identity and culture being swapped whether within the state or the country; smaller groups within a state or province have legitimate fears of being overridden by larger or more powerful groups. This happens when we adopt a solitarist approach to human identity, which sees human beings as members of only one group. The idea of a distinct identity is not about being good or bad. It is simply an idea. However, this idea of exclusivity which is emerging in India is worrisome.
The last few years have seen a constant tug of war between the champions of smaller states and larger states. Today, there are demands in many parts of the country for creation of new states. There have been persistent demands for the creation of separate states of Telangana in Andhra Pradesh and Vidharba out of eastern Maharashtra.
In 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru had appointed a Commission for the preparation of creation of states on linguistic lines. The first and the only State Reorganisation Commission gave its recommendations to the Jawaharlal Nehru government in 1955. The SRC recommended that states be organised along linguistic lines. Hence, the first states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were created with language as the prime organising factor. Being united by language and a common linguistic culture was considered to be a good basis for creating states to help development. When Punjab was partitioned, not only a separate Punjabi-speaking region was formed, but even the Hindi-speaking region was split into Haryana and Himachal Pradesh because it was believed that hill people have little in common with people living in the plains. However, the linguistic scheme failed in the Northeastern regions, where states have been created on the basis of ethnicity. The creation of Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand means that a state can be created for being a distinct territory within a large province.
The advocates of smaller states point out that large states breed deep alienation among vast sections of people. For instance, in Maharashtra, a relatively prosperous state, development has been limited to the areas in and around the Mumbai-Pune industrial belt. On the other hand, the status quo proponents point out that regional imbalance is a short term phenomena and that in the long term, development spreads evenly across all parts of the state. The supporters of the smaller states often voice their fears that large states tend to dominate economically and politically over smaller ones. This calls for the creation of smaller states. However, the proponents of larger states argue that such fears could be taken care of by greater devolution of political power to the masses and by creation of economic opportunities. Conversely, the supporters of smaller states feel that such states are easier to administer. They argue that small states make it easier for people to reach their governments. Grants and development funds are easier to distribute and development is more even in various regions. Also due to smaller size and population, governments are more responsive to people’s needs. Rebutting this, status quo champions point out that in such case the states should have seen greater economic development. They argue that smaller states, apart from being economically unviable, are often wracked by deep fractures between various social and ethnic groups. They cite the example of Manipur, where a simmering ethnic conflict between the Kukis and Nagas has spawned a culture of mass killings and ethnic cleansing.
The creation of a state is the prerogative of only the central government. Under our constitution, it is possible for the Parliament to reorganise the states or to alter their boundaries. The makers of the constitution have, through articles 3-4, empowered the parliament to reorganise the states by a simple procedure, a process about which the affected states, although being free to express their views, cannot stop. This is to say that the affected states cannot resist the will of the parliament if it embarks on the creation of a new state. The boundaries of state may be altered or redistributed if the union executive and the legislature so desire. A few examples are the Assam Act which altered the boundaries of Assam by ceding a strip of territory from India to Bhutan, the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Act which transferred certain territories from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh and the Bombay Reorganisation Act which partitioned the state to form Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The edifice of political democracy is built on the foundation of social democracy. Equality in social, economic and political spheres lies at the core of social democracy. It is equally important that political democracy obtains economic contentment and even more so that it gives a sense of involvement and belonging as well as empowerment to all Indians. Appropriate management of the aspirations of distinct groups is critical to ensure stability, good governance and maintenance of law and order in the country. The major challenge that we face is how to absorb and resolve the clashes that may arise between contending interests while ensuring freedom, security and prosperity of all Indians. We need to ensure that inner political movements do not affect the territorial integrity of our country. We must accommodate the aspirations of all different groups in the national dream.