The first three articles of the Indian Constitution make it clear that India, that is Bharat, will always be a Union of states. And that while the territorial integrity of India as defined in Schedule 1 of the Constitution is sacrosanct, the constituent units can be altered, merged, reorganised or renamed by the Union Parliament. A constituent unit includes a Union Territory.
No wonder then that the political map of India has seen many a milestone — from the dominion status of India in 1947 to the administrative merger of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu in 2020.
While the latest change and the changes of 2019, the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir, relate to the formation of Union Territories, the last state carved on linguistic lines was Telangana in 2014.
This reinvigorated the demand for the administrative reorganisation of linguistic states. These included Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Bodoland in Assam, Tipperaland in Tripura, Gorkhaland in North Bengal, Kosala in Odisha, Mithila in Bihar, Tulu Nadu and Kodagu in Karnataka, Kongu Nadu in Tamil Nadu, Maru Pradesh in Rajasthan, Rayalaseema and Uttarandhra in Andhra Pradesh, as well as Poorvanchal, Awadh, Bundelkhand, Baghelkhand, Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh.
Besides Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are seeking to upgrade their status from Union Territories to states.
The English language press has been lukewarm to these aspirations, but if one was to scan the regional press, the salience of the demands comes to the fore. Many of these aspiring states have come together under the banner of the National Federation for New States which documents the demands and also helps aspiring states prepare their memoranda for the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Pros and cons for smaller states
Whether or not these demands are accepted immediately, or in the course of the near future, the fact is that there is a need to engage in a political dialogue with the proponents of each of these states. The pros and cons of statehood, as well as the need to provide real autonomy to councils established under the fifth and sixth schedules need to be discussed.
While these demands have not taken an agitational route, the protagonists, including MLAs and MPs from these regions are driving a hard bargain for a share in governance, and in resources, especially water for irrigation and new industrial townships. They are also mobilising public opinion in their favour and preparing memoranda for submission to political parties and constitutional authorities. And of course, organising seminars to support the general idea that with a population of over 140 crore, India needs to be reorganised into smaller states. In fact, they have argued that when the US with a population of 33.5 crore can have 50 states and the more homogenous China can have 34 administrative regions, why should India not consider establishing fifty or more administrative regions to ensure that the state government has a better connect with its citizens.
“When the organised services undertake a cadre review every ten years, why should there not be political restructuring as well? How many secretaries, generals, DGPs were there at the time of Independence? if their numbers have grown by a factor of a hundred, why not offer a similar expansion in the political space,” asked ex-bureaucrat Metta Rama Rao, who took voluntary retirement from the Indian Revenue Service to launch a political party, Jai Uttarandhra.
Too large for their own good
The key argument for reorganisation is that many states in the country — starting with UP are too large — for their own good, as well as that of the country. States which have more than twenty to twenty-five districts, and a population of more than three to four crores face governance challenges in terms of proper implementation of welfare programmes and follow-up on development interventions. They also face issues related to livelihood, skill development and investment promotion.
The argument is: how can a CM possibly review the functioning of eighty districts? How can they track the irrigation projects spread over multiple watersheds? How can they even interact with the four hundred-odd members of the legislative assembly?
The reorganisation camp also points to the fact that reconstituted units — from Punjab and Haryana to Jharkhand and Telangana — have usually outperformed, or are at least at par with the ‘parent’ state.
With every reorganisation, the process of human resource and asset demarcation has become smoother, and the MHA has more gained than adequate experience. The resistance to the formation of smaller states — which came from almost every pan-Indian party, the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its earlier avatar the Jana Sangha as well as the Communist Party of India — has melted, and even regional parties like the Shiv Sena, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party are reconciled to the reorganisation of Maharashtra and UP.
In fact, the demand for Mewar came from Jaswant Singh of the BJP. It has neither been endorsed nor shot down.
Growing Concurrent list
When the Constitution was written, there was a clear demarcation of functions. The Union, State and Concurrent lists were quite explicit in the distinction of roles. However, over the years, the impact of the Union government on subjects like law and order, health, education, agriculture and welfare has increased. This is not just because of a pan-India policy framework, but more importantly because of the provision of funds for the roll-out of these programmes. Thus, while policing is the domain of the states, modernisation of police stations as well as issues relating to money laundering, drugs, trafficking, transborder crime, border management and cyber security are concerns of the MHA. Likewise, while agriculture extension and agriculture universities are within the remit of the state government, the overall coordination of research, agricultural credit, national-level procurement and price stabilisation and the availability and supply of fertilisers as well as agricultural exports comes under the Union government’s ambit.
The National Health Mission plays the lead role in the formulation, funding and implementation of health programmes. Medical colleges are established by the states but are regulated by the Medical Council of India, an organ of the Union Health Ministry.
The purpose of stating the above is not to make a value judgment on the distribution of power, resources and responsibilities, but to share with the readers the growing salience of the Union government even on subjects which were meant to be under the domain of the state governments as per the Constitution.
Issues of asymmetry
The issue of political asymmetry is becoming more contentious, especially in the context of the delimitation of constituencies. As the Census has been delayed yet again, the freeze on constituencies will hold for some more time, but the time bomb is ticking.
There is great resentment in the South, West and East about the dominance and salience of UP in the political economy of India. The state is a colossus, and its financial, political and administrative clout far exceeds that of any other state. In terms of population, it’s nearly twice as big as its closest competitor. Its representation in both Houses of Parliament as well as the cadre strength in the IAS and the IPS far outweighs any other state. Not just in terms of ministers, but also in terms of secretaries to the Government of India, UP’s influence is clearly visible.
Perhaps the solution lies in the administrative reorganisation of all linguistic states—including the Hindi-speaking states—based on administrative convenience and distinct geographies.
Political parties must take up this issue for discussion with their cadres, as well as with the general voter, and arrive at a consensus. It is time for a second states reorganisation commission to examine all demands for smaller states afresh. Unlike the considered recommendation of the SRC in 1956, all other states have been the consequence of political agitation, or the fulfilment of an election manifesto without a thorough discussion on the pros and cons of the redrawing of internal boundaries of Bharat.
Sanjeev Chopra is a former IAS officer and Festival Director of Valley of Words. Until recently, he was Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. He tweets @ChopraSanjeev. Views are personal.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)