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IDSA COMMENT

Implications of New States in the Union of India

September 12, 2013

The demand for new states, to be carved out of the existing ones constituting the Union of India, has become intense and widespread with politically instigated agitations in north West Bengal and parts of Assam – the trigger being the Centre’s decision to create Telengana from Andhra Pradesh. There are also indications of combined political postures of groups like the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in Darjeeling district of West Bengal, All Boro Students Union (ABSU) and the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) in the Autonomous Boroland Tribal Districts (BTAD) area in Assam, to force the creation of Gorkhaland and Boroland states. The Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation, having some influence in parts of Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, may also join in. Quite clearly, the north-east is the most affected by the decision to create Telengana.

There are, worrisomely, political and security implications for both the centre and states including Manipur and Meghalaya. Both these states have simmering tensions. In Manipur, the Kukis demand a province in the Sadar Hills Autonomous Council and Churachandpur areas. Likewise the Manipuri Nagas demand for linking their traditional areas in the hill districts of Manipur with Nagaland. There is also a movement for autonomy in the southern Garo Hills area of Meghalaya with the Garo Liberation Front spearheading it.

It may not be inappropriate to attribute political compulsions as the prime determinant of the UPA-II government`s decision to form the Telengana state since it was losing its political base to Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress and the Telengana Rastriya Samity of K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Political expediency is similarly driving the GNLF and the ABSU to escalate their agitation for tribal ethnicity-based states. The Boro groups of Assam had apparently felt that they had nothing to gain by remaining satisfied with the partial devolution of subjects and administrative powers from the Assam government in the BTAD area with the spectre of periodic tribal land alienation by the Muslim settlers in the Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri districts looming before them.1 They felt that the time has come to take their long standing demand for a full fledged Boroland State to consummation. The Dimasas and their militant outfit – the Dima Hasao Daoga (DHD) in the North Cachar Hill district and the Karbis of Karbi Anglong district have also decided to exploit the ferment in Assam, in the backdrop of Telengana, and to step up pressure on the Tarun Gogoi government to concede to a new state. The GNLF’s failure to wrest parts of the Doars-terai area from northern Jalpaiguri district and merge it within the jurisdiction of the Gorkha Territorial Council has prompted them to seize the present political opportunity and force the Gorkha statehood issue.

It may be worth recalling the views of Jawaharlal Nehru, expressed in one of his monthly letters to the provincial Chief Ministers in October 1955, where he had mentioned in the backdrop of the recommendations of the First States’ Re-Organisation Commission that when re-organising our states, “which was a matter of great significance to the nation from various aspects logical or scientific approach though desirable, does not lead us far. One has to take into account a large variety of factors.” Nehru had further opined that “it was necessary to evolve something which meets the largest measure of agreement and avoids as far as possible the element of compulsion. A multiplicity of factors had to be weighed and the sentiments of the people involved, cannot be ignored. Great sagacity as well as sensitivity was required on the part of the top decision makers and national leaders, to arrive at a decision which is the least controversial and thereby the most acceptable, decide at the proper forum, and after deciding, adhere to the decision steadfastly and implement it decisively in a time-bound manner.” Nehru had further observed, “I have felt more and more that we should have fewer and large States. West Bengal and Bihar should form one large State. From any economic or planning point of view this is obviously desirable…”2

None of the salient points made by Nehru are being observed in the political system today, particularly on building political consensus on the realignment of the states. It may be recalled that the Congress Working Committee in 1954-1955, at the behest of Nehru, had worked to create a consensus with political leaders both within and outside the Congress Party including leaders of the Communist Party of India, the Praja Socialist Party and even the Jan Sangh on the re-organisation of the states. The approach of Pandit Nehru was to strive for a genuine consensus and work within the Parliament for bringing about the requisite constitutional amendment for creating the realigned states.

The present developments are likely to undermine India’s polity and governance and consequently the socio-economic progress. The cost-benefit analysis suggests that only in some respects, the newly-created states have performed better than their respective mother state. For example, the law and order management is much to be desired in Jharkhand today as compared to the situation prevailing before its separation from Bihar. In regard to human development, Chhatisgarh at present may not be considered as significantly better placed than Madhya Pradesh prior to the bifurcation.

Telengana is now a reality. In future, however, there is a strong case for working out a solution towards a substantial politico-administrative devolution but short of statehood for the Darjeeling district Gorkhas of West Bengal as well as for the Boros, Karbis and Dimasas of Assam, the hill Nagas of Manipur, etc. To execute such an arrangement there may be a need for strengthening the third tier of governance, i.e., the level below the state government echelon. If this can be done, the functioning of District Councils, Panchayati Raj institutions and even urban local bodies and village development boards can become more meaningful and development oriented. A reappraisal of the functional areas distributed among the Union, State and Concurrent Lists of the Constitution would therefore be warranted. Setting in motion such a reappraisal process may be less contentious than re-drawing the states’ boundaries. As a result, some system of direct devolution of funds from the Union to the third tier and below political-administrative entities will need to be decentralized through suitable constitutional amendments. An institutional arrangement which does not undermine the unity of India as well as its external and internal security, but also allows for the fruition of socio-economic aspirations of different ethnic groups and communities living in homogeneous areas, is the need of the hour.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

  • 1. Udayan Misra, “Boroland : The Burden of History”, Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai: September 15, 2012.
  • 2. Letter written on October 26, 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru: Letters to Chief Ministers 1947-1964: Vol. 4 (1954-1957)