ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Reorganisation of States in India

Through an analytical study of the process of federalisation of India, the author provides a picture of story of state formation in the country. It is argued that any further reorganisation of states should be based on a "cosmopolitan model of democracy" and should be anchored in theories of constitutionalism, consociationalism and multiculturalism.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 15, 200871individuality. But it is not the only test – race, religion, economic interest, geographical contiguity, a due balance between country and town and between coastline and interior may all be relevant factors. Most im-portant of all, perhaps for practical purposes is the largest possible measure of general agreement on changes proposed, both on the side of the area gaining, and on the side of the area that is losing territory...1The 1942 “Quit India” Resolution of the Congress pledged “the largest measure of autonomy for the federating units”. Politics moved into different gears in 1946 with the British government sending the Cabinet Mission to explore the political future of India. Memoranda were submitted to the mission by the Dravida Kazagham for a sovereign state of Dravidastan and by the Communist Party of India for “17 sovereign National Constituent Assemblies based on national homelands of various Indian peoples” and advocated “a voluntary union of national states” [Ghosh 1996: 18]. Reorganisation of States since 1947The British transferred power under the Government of India Act1947 to the constituent assembly of India dominated by the Indian National Congress. The paramountcy of the British Crown over native Indian states lapsed in the same year. The govern-ment of India combined consensual diplomacy and “police action” (Hyderabad) and defensive military assistance/intervention-on-invitation (Jammu and Kashmir) to effectuate the integration of these states with the Indian union in the process of being crafted by the constituent assembly doubling as the provisional Parliament. In due course three categories of states out of the British Indian provinces and the native states were created by the constituent assembly of independent India. These categories were called Part I states (formerly British Indian provinces), PartII states (formerly smaller native Indian states that did not pose much problem in joining the Indian union), and PartIII states (formerly native Indian states whose integration with India proved to be problematic either due to the desire of the rulers to exercise the option of independence (Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad)) or due to smaller size and numerically and geographically scattered and fragmented history [Menon 1969]. The creation of some new provinces by dividing the Bengal presidency by the British rulers around the first decade of the 20th century in response to popular demands was just the begin-ning of the long drawn-out process of territorial reorganisation in modern India. Such popular demands and movements multiplied following the commencement of the Constitution in 1950. The holding of the first general elections in 1952 on universal adult suffrage accelerated what the new nationalist elites, including Nehru, decried as the “fissiparous tendencies”. The nationalist leaders during the freedom struggle, on the other hand, had adopted a variety of strategies to deepen the sociological founda-tions of Indian nationalism by appealing to linguistic identities. In addition to using territorial patriotism as the bedrock of civic nationalism by Congress moderates, Congress extremists had also leaned on Hinduism, and Gandhi on Indian languages and a composite religious pluralism in search of “cultural” nationalism with ethnic undercurrents. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries the rise of proto-nationalism had begun to gather religious and regional linguistic underpinnings. Gandhi had tried to co-opt them into a pan-Indian force by advocating the reorganisation of the Indian National Congress along linguistic lines rather than on the British administrative provincial boundaries, which was the case earlier. Although Gandhi’s proposal was adopted by the Congress at its Nagpur session in 1920, his penchant for popular sovereignty reflected in his demand of 1922 for a directly elected constituent assembly for future and independent India was never accepted by the British rulers.The constituent assembly of India, under constant pressure to redraw India’s internal borders, formed a linguistic provinces commission (chaired by S K Dar) to study the problem and write a report. In its report submitted in December 1948 the Dar Commis-sion recommended:Till nationalism has acquired sufficient strength to permit the forma-tion of autonomous provinces, the true nature and function of a prov-ince under our Constitution should be that of an administrative unit functioning under delegated authority from the centre and subject to centre’s overriding powers in regard to its territory, its existence, and its functions. These powers are required to form new provinces and to mitigate the rigour of government by linguistic majorities, to prevent a breakdown of the administration on account of disputes amongst lin-guistic groups, to check fissiparous tendencies and strengthen nation-al feelings, and above all to build up an Indian nation.2After IndependenceShortly after independence, movements for linguistic reorganisa-tion of states gained momentum in several states. The central Congress leadership as well as the States Reorganisation Commis-sion (SRC) report (1956) largely accepted the linguistic principle in a few cases but wished to maintain multilingual states for cultural homogenisation. The SRC report stressed “obvious limita-tions to the realisation of unilingualism at the state level” due to the following “limiting factors”: “(i) not all the language groups are so placed that they can be grouped into separate states; (ii) there are a large number of bilingual belts between different linguistic zones; and (iii) there exist areas with a mixed popula-tion even within unilingual areas.”3The seventh amendment to the Constitu-tion supplemented by the States Reorgani-sation Act (both enacted in 1956) created the following states effective November 1, 1956 (Table 1).However, the union government in 1956 conceded to the demand for unilingual states only in case of Andhra Pradesh, where the agitation had culminated into the self-immolation of a popular Telugu leader. Milder agitations for linguistically mixed rump states of Madras after bifurcation of Andhra, Bombay, Mysore, Punjab, and elsewhere were ignored. However, the popular linguistic movements and the inter-nal balkanisation of India persisted.As it happened, under the pressure and persistence of linguis-tic, religious, and tribal movements, the central government yielded, creating Andhra Pradesh (Telugu-speaking), Tamil Nadu Table 1: Reorganised States in 19561 AndhraPradesh 2 Assam3 Bihar4 Bombay 5 Jammu and Kashmir6 Kerala 7 Madras8 Mysore9 Orissa10 Punjab 11 Rajasthan 12 UttarPradesh13 WestBengalSources: The Seventh Constitutional Amendment and SRC Act, both 1956.
SPECIAL ARTICLEmarch 15, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly72(Tamil-speaking), Karnataka (Kannada-speaking), Gujarat (Gujarati-speaking), Maharashtra (Marathi-speaking), Punjab which was trifurcated into Punjab (Punjabi-speaking with a Sikh majority), Haryana (Hindi-speaking with Hindu majority), and Himachal Pradesh (Hindi-speaking with Hindu majority) in the 1950s and 1960s. This process of territorial reorganisation extended to the north-east in the 1960s and 1970s. Beginning with the bifurcation of Nagaland out of Assam (1962), the process culminated in the creation of the so-called “seven sisters” – states or the union territories – in the region: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. First Nagaland and Mizoram, and later Manipur and Assam came to be affected by separatist movements. The extent of support for separatism is arguably rather limited political fraction and subject to change. Yet the movements have persisted in varying degrees and caused breakdown to democracy and federalism necessitating invocation of emergency provisions of the Constitu-tion. A recent study of the revival of the Tai-Ahom history in Assam by the insurgent United Liberation Front of Assom (ULFA) in “search for an alternative to the label Assamese and/or Indian” surmises that “religion cannot be the central theme of this kind of history (as it is now)”, and that “one could then move beyond diversity, and, build on Indian nationality that people accept as legitimate and desirable” [Saikia 2005].4 New Sub-State MovementsSub-state movements based on tribal or ethnic identities acquired salience in several states in the 1980s such as Gurkha National Liberation Front in the Darjeeling hill district of West Bengal, Bodoland agitation in Assam, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the Chhota Nagpur region mainly in Bihar but marginally also in the adjoining states of West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. To meet these sub-state demands, a new proto-federal innovation of autonomous Regional Development Councils was set up in Jharkhand, Darjeeling, Bodoland, and Ladakh areas of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, respectively. Systematic studies of this substrate devolutionary quasi-federal experiment are not available because practitioners as well as academics tend to give short shrift to them. The political activists generally continue to agitate for statehood and scholars tend to be sceptical of the will and ability of those in power to act and behave federally.5An overview of the present states and union territories of India with area and demographic characteristics is enough to demon-strate that territorial reorganisation of the federation is still lacking in linguistic homogeneity and uniform standards of literacy (Table 2).The three most recent new states created in the Indian union are Jharkhand (superseding the Jharkhand Regional Develop-ment Council), Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh, bifurcating the states of Bihar,UP andMP respectively in the year 2000. These new states were created in response to popular demands and mass movements in the more backward regions of the three Hindi-speaking parent states. Curiously, they are the first clear-cut category of states created more on considerations of economic backwardness and discriminatory treatment by the political elites of the respective parent states than on linguistic, religious, or tribal considerations. The new states are more endowed in natural resources than their parent states, but less in human development. Uttarakhand is less distinguishable in ethnic terms fromUP but is backward in terms of regional economic disparities. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh share in common disproportion-ately large tribal populations than their parent states. However, over the years, the tribal majority in the former has been reduced to a minority by migration into the area from Bihar plains and other parts of India. The Chhattisgarh region never really mounted a regional movement of any significance. In fact, the creation of these new states is understandable more by looking at Table 2: States and Union Territories in India TodayStates Area (sq km) Population Literacy Principal Languages Rate(%)Andhra Pradesh (1953, 1956, 1959) 2,76,754 7,62,10,007 60.5 Telugu/Urdu/HindiArunachal Pradesh (1971) 83,473 1,097 54.3 Nissi/Daffla/Nepali/BengaliAssam (1951, 1962, 1971) 78,438 2,66,55,528 63.3Assamese/Bengali/ Bodo/BoraBihar (1950, 1956, 1968, 2000) 94,163 8,29,98,509 47.0 Hindi/Urdu/SanthaliChhattisgarh (2000) 1,55,191 2,08,33,803 64.7 HindiGoa (1987) 3,702 13,47,688 82.3 Konkani/Marathi/ KannadaGujarat (1960) 1,96,024 5,06,71,017 69.1 Gujarati/Hindi/SindhiHaryana (1966, 1979) 44,212 2,11,44,564 67.9 Hindi/Punjabi/Urdu1 Himachal Pradesh (1966) 55,673 60,77,900 76.5 Hindi/Punjabi/Kinnauri2 Jammu and Kashmir (1950) 2,22,236 1,00,69,343 54.5 Kashmiri/Urdu/Dogri3 Jharkhand(2000) 79,714 2,69,45,829 53.6 Hindi/Santhali/Urdu4 Karnataka (1950, 1956, 1968) 1,91,791 5,28,50,562 66.6 Kannada/Urdu/Telugu5 Kerala(1956) 38,863 3,18,41,374 90.9 Malayalam/Tamil/Kannada6 MadhyaPradesh (1950, 1956, 2000) 3,08,000 6,03,48,023 63.7 Hindi/Bhili/Bhilodi/Gondi7 Maharashtra (1950, 1960) 3,07,713 9,68,78,627 76.9 Marathi/Hindi/Urdu8 Manipur (1971) 22,327 21,66,788 70.5 Manipuri/Thado/Tangkhul9 Meghalaya(1971) 22,429 23,18,822 62.6 Khosi/Garo/Bengali/Assamese10 Mizoram(1971) 21,087 8,88,573 88.5 Lushai/Mizo/Bengali/Lakher11 Nagaland(1962) 16,579 19,90,036 66.6 Ao/Sema/Konyak12 Orissa (1950, 1960) 1,55,707 3,68,04,660 63.1 Oriya/Hindi/Telugu13 Punjab (1950, 1956, 1960, 1966) 50,362 2,43,58,999 69.7 Punjabi/Hindi/Urdu14 Rajasthan (1950, 1956, 1959) 3,42,239 56,507 60.4 Hindi/Bhili/Bhilodi/Urdu15 Sikkim(1975) 7,096 5,40,851 68.8 Nepali/Bhutia/Lepiha16 TamilNadu (1950, 1953, 1959) 1,30,058 6,24,05,679 73.5 Tamil/Telugu/Kannada17 Tripura(1950) 1,04,91.69 31,99,203 73.2 Bengali/Tripuri/Hindi18 Uttar Pradesh (1950, 1968, 1979, 2000) 2,36,286 16,61,79,921 56.3 Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi19 Uttaranchal(2000) 53,483 84,89,349 71.6 Hindi/Garhwali/Kumaoni20 WestBengal (1950, 1954, 1956) 88,752 8,11,76,197 68.6 Bengali/Hindi/UrduNational Capital Territory/ Delhi State (1950, 1956) 1,483 1,38,50,707 81.7 Hindi/Punjabi/UrduUnion Territories (UTs) 1 Andaman and Nicobar (1950,1956) 8,249 3,56,152 81.3 Bengali/Tamil/Hindi2 Chandigarh (1966) 114 9,00,635 81.9 Hindi/Punjabi/Tamil3 Dadra and Nagar Haveli (1961) 491 2,20,490 57.6 Gujarati/Hindi/Konkani4 Daman and Diu (1987) 112 1,58,204 78.2 Gujarati/Hindi/Marathi5 Lakshadweep(1956) 32 60,650 86.7 Malayalam/Tamil/Hindi6 Pondicherry(1962) 492 9,74,345 81.2 Tamil/Malayalam/TeluguSource : Adapted from Derek O’Brian (compiler and ed),The Penguin Reference Yearbook 2007, Penguin India, New Delhi , 2006.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 15, 200873a new federal coalitional governing framework in New Delhi since 1989. Federal politics was earlier marked by political dominance of UP in particular and the Hindi-speaking region in general. Since the early 1990s this has yielded to a new federal balance of political forces in which the non-Hindi-speaking regional rimland states became politically more consequential due to growing asymmetries and disparities in economic and educational developments and non-delimitation of electoral constituencies after the 1971 Census. Current Political Map and StatesThough the political map of India by now has been considerably reorganised internally to contain 28 states and seven union terri-tories, the federal union continues to be marked by a great deal of interstate asymmetries of demographics and territories as well as internal cultural heterogeneity and economic disparity within each state. Moreover, each unit includes principal linguistic, religious, internal sects/caste and subcaste/tribal minorities. Multicultural diversity and federal segmentation create majori-tarian states for minorities within a nation of a different majority overall. While such a political arrangement allows self-rule within the overall framework of shared rule, the claims of provin-cial majority is privileged and may under certain conditions turn intolerant to minorities within the province concerned. These features often lead to political and social conflicts, sometimes involving violence. Consequently, protecting rights of these “internal” minorities, internal to a federating unit as well as minorities within the major minorities and the majority commu-nity becomes a difficult proposition.6 The experience of the Indian political system suggests that federalism as a political mechanism has been more successful in protecting the identity and interest of major national minorities that happen to be state or provincial majorities (e g, Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, Sikhs in Punjab, Nagas in Nagaland, etc) than of internal minori-ties and “discrepant” majorities, by which is meant the national majority community that happens to be a provincial minority in some states. In practice, national majorities or pluralities (e g, Hindus and Hindi-speaking people) or caste/tribe minorities have all often been victims of discrimination and violent attacks in different parts of India with political and administrative processes often failing them. The political class and the media mostly make more of Hindu-Muslim communal violence, drown-ing the suffering and cries of internal minorities or minorities within minorities and discrepant majority. Only the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) can be said to be more consciously and consistently stirring their limbs for these god-forsaken communities at the receiving end of the supposedly successful democracy of India. But there are limits to judicial action and NHRC’s reach and effectiveness.India – ‘Multinational State’In an attempt to resolve these problems, the Indian subcontinent has explored and experimented with two major models. One is what Paul Brass has called “modern nation state”, in which “loyal-ties to national community and to political structure ultimately merge so that nationalism and patriotism become one” (e g, some Western European unilingual countries and Japan). Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations and the latter for that reason must have a separate state was also inspired by this model. The second model is what Brass calls “multi-ethnic” or “multinational state”, which comprises “many nations bound together in a single political and territorial unit by feelings of patriotism derived from ideol-ogy, memories of a common struggle against external or alien powers, and rational calculations of common advantage in the sharing of a single political structure, but not by a common nationality”. India has obviously opted for the second model, which Brass also considers relevant not only for India but also for the Indian subcontinent as a whole [Brass 1974].Brass’ model of “nationality-formation” in modern north India briefly alluded to above is applicable to the process of states reorganisation done in India subsequent to his study in the areas of the country where the classical Hindu mainstream culture prevailed and to an extent still survives. This area may be said to stretch from Punjab to Assam and the central Himalayan foothills of the Indian north and the southern penin-sula. Though both the north and the south are linguistically plural within the duality of the Sanskritic or Indo-European and Dravidian linguistic families. But both these macro-regions have strongly resisted overcentralisation of the federation sooner or later in independent India. Sanjib Baruah poignantly analyses the tension and continuity between nationalism and nationality and the limits of “nation-building” in the context of Assam. He uses the term “subnational-ism” which refers not to “some stable essence that makes it inher-ently different from nationalism, but to describe a situation at a particular historical moment”. Baruah argues that in the Assamese case the ideology of theULFA illustrates that India’s “stubborn subnational conflicts can be located in this enduring tension and a failure to develop a pan-Indian narrative that can accommodate the entire range of historically constituted subnational aspirations and concerns”. He suggests a departure from “the derivative, suffocating and quite out-of-date paradigm of nation-building” and a “return to a more confident vision of civilisational unity of the subcontinent” and a launching of “a bold project of genuine federation-building [Baruah 1999]. In a subsequent book, Baruah goes beyond the idea of national/civilisational federalism of his earlier work and prescribes a solution of the “insurgencies in the north-east that alternates between disorder and uneasy coexistence within India. He looks beyond subnational and national federal structures and explores the possibility of European Union like multi-level transnational region-building in pursuance of India’s Look East Policy that began in the early 1990s [Baruah 2005]. Obviously, these models have wider applicability for the enduring problems of India’s north-west contiguous to Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Palk Strait on the Indo-Sri Lankan border. Second Reorganisation CommissionThe political reorganisation of India since independence has not resolved all demands for state formation. A second reorganisation commission with a more open mind than the
SPECIAL ARTICLEmarch 15, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly74previousone seems to be called for. The Congress-led United ProgressiveAlliance government when initially formed in 2004 was apparently inclined to consider appointing such a commis-sion, but finally resisted this demand at the cost of losing one of its allies, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, whose minister in the union cabinet, Chandrashekhar Rao, resigned midway in protest. This did not, however, affect the stability of the government. The UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh subsequently appointed a second union-state Relations Commission chaired by the former chief justice of India, M M Punchchi, to review the federal affairs in the post-Sarkaria Commission Report (1987-88) phase instead. But as A K Singh rightly remarks, “The sub-regional identity assumes importance when inter-regional disparities and discrimination surface. This phenomenon has two dimensions: one, many of the sub-regions, despite being rich in resources, have remained economically underdeveloped either because of state neglect or because of the ill-conceived top-down approach of development; second, some regions survive at the cost of others through resource and earnings transfers.” It is within this explanation sketch that A K Singh puts the demands of separate statehood for Vidarbha, Marathwada, among others some of which have already been conceded by the centre [Singh 2003]. Unresolved Issues of Internal and External FederalisationThere are a number of major problems of reorganisation of states in India in the decades ahead. First, the north-south divide that preoccupied Ambedkar intensely in the 1950s is at least partly moderated by division of bigger north Indian states. However, another dimension of this problem has surfaced due to postpone-ment of the delimitation of electoral constituencies following a decennial headcount since the 1971 Census. After being held in abeyance earlier until 2000, the processes have now been frozen until 2026 by the 84th amendment (2001). It has already resulted in a potentially explosive question on the north-south axis as disproportionate increase of population in the two macro-regions has produced distressing representational disparities in the Parliament. The major states of the Gangetic valley have grown faster in populations and proportionately fewer seats in the Parliament. This disparity is likely to be further magnified by the time the question of delimitation of constituencies is reopened after 2026 [Bose 2000].Second, the rise of fragmented ethnic identities and strong micro-regionalism has forced the short-sighted union govern-ments to create new states, often disregarding administrative rationality and financial viability. In the new political economy of neoliberalism, privatisation, and globalisation, when even the more resourceful central and richer provincial states are facing growing and chronic deficits, how long the older and new poorer states can sustain their statehood is a big question. Most of these new states have been created in an ad hoc politi-cal manner without recommendations from a SRC like the one appointed by the Nehru government in the mid-1950s. The problem has only magnified since. A second states reorganisa-tion commission is needed.Third, the asymmetrical federal relations of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland with the Indian union are still not sufficiently resolved. The problems are particularly com-plicated due to insurgencies in these states. The existing special status enjoyed by these states under the Constitution need to be implemented in letter and spirit. What these formal constitutional provisions need is greater democratic substance and federal autonomy in practice. The moderates and hardliners in these states need to be seriously engaged in a democratic dialogue for meaningful alternatives in power-sharing, security of life and property for the citizens, and economic development.Fourth, even after the creation of new states before and after independence, the union of India is still a complex mosaic of religious, linguistic, caste, and tribal minorities within and across the existing internal boundaries. Given the compact geographical template of the subcontinent and the endowment of complex demographic but an overarching civilisational unity-in-diversity, no reorganisation of states can produce inter-nally homogeneous and administratively and financially viable set of states in all cases. Hence, endless fragmentation of the Indian nation state is not a solution but a part of the problem of ungovernability and international instability. There is a strong tendency of clinging to majority-minority straitjacket of Hindu-Muslim communalism of the period around the violent imperial Partition of 1947. Communal violence in India today has become radically transformed. It would be obtuse to ignore the massacre of dalits and upper castes in Bihar. To think that minority communalism is less dangerous than majority communalism is not only unethical but it has also proved to be destructive of civic community and Indian citizenship. By now both Hindus and Muslims have endured “minority” syndrome or psychosis. India is now face to face with hydra-headed communalism involving not only Hindus and Muslims, but also other ethnic communities. We are challenged by the problem of guaranteeing the rights and securities of “internal minorities” (minorities within minorities, “discrepant majorities”), majorities that may be nationally so-called but are provincial minorities or vice versa. Federal solution has historically been predicated on the grant of statehood to provincial majorities within a composite federal union. Federal theory and practice is yet to adequately address to these problems. To address the problems of minorities within minorities and discrepant majorities the federal theory must self-consciously engage more thoroughly than in the past with the theories of constitutionalism and the rule of law, consociationalism, and multiculturalism.Finally, if south Asia has to exit from the history of inter-necine feudal and colonial feuding and warfare, it must become internally democratic and move ahead to embrace the processes of regional and global integration like other supra-national regions in the world. It must make a concerted effort to emulate what David Held called “the cosmopolitan model of democracy”. This model envisages a global and regional order comprising multiple and overlapping networks of political, economic, and social power and clusters of individual

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top