ASHA SARANGI IN THE FRONT LINE
The Indian experience of state formation reveals the processes of identity formation of regions and of various communities and groups.
THE demand for the formation of a Telangana state has been voiced for more than fifty years now. Soon after the creation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956 as the first linguistic State in post-Independence India, Telangana, a major region within the State, began to witness the demand for political autonomy and cultural identity within the broader parameters of federal polity and political economy of development. The Congress leadership’s decision to initiate a process to grant statehood for Telangana brings to the fore a number of issues concerning the rationale for creating newer and smaller states in contemporary India. In order to make a better sense of the new demands for statehood, we need to revisit the States reorganisation process carried out between 1950 and 1956 and in the following decades.
The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953 was initially against the unification of Telangana with Andhra. The SRC Report, submitted in 1955, states: “One of the principle causes of opposition to Vishalandhra also seems due to the apprehensions felt by the educationally backward people of Telangana that they may be swamped and exploited by the more advanced people of the coastal area. The real fear of the people of Telangana is that if they join Andhra, they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and, in this partnership, the major partner will derive all the advantages immediately while Telangana itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising Andhras” (Para 378).
Nehru ridiculed the idea of merging Telangana with the Andhra State, fearing a “tint of expansionist imperialism” in it. Later, he compared the merger to a matrimonial alliance having “provisions for divorce” if the partners in the alliance cannot get on well. The merger was facilitated by many promises and constitutional safeguards. However, the demand for separate statehood for Telangana has rested on factors such as the scale of inter-regional inequalities causing socio-economic backwardness of the region, inadequate industrial infrastructure, lack of educational and employment opportunities, diversion of water and natural resources of Telangana to the coastal region of Andhra, the hegemonic control of the coastal capitalist class over the Telangana region, the hegemony of upper castes and upper classes through the Congress party leaders in the State, and the distinctive historical and cultural identity of the region.
On the basis of the SRC’s recommendations, the linguistic reorganisation of 14 States and six Centrally-administered territories was partially completed in 1956, with several other States to be reorganised later on. This was a massive state rationalisation exercise, not simply to establish newer modes of power and authority but to rearrange social, cultural, regional and linguistic diversities into more manageable enclaves of state power. The deep-seated linguistic-cultural diversity and differences within different States and the regions had to be negotiated carefully during the early years of state formation.
The interface between political geography and cultural politics culminated in the consolidation of specific caste and class interests, strengthening the ideology of the nation-state building exercise, in various parts of the country on the one hand, and disintegrated the political architecture of the colonial state on the other. The story of the “integration of states” in post-colonial India is also a story of the disintegration and reintegration of various States and regions into more uniform and administratively rationalised units of state power.
Even before India achieved Independence, the nationalist leaders wanted to reorganise political and administrative boundaries of their country in consonance with its diverse geo-linguistic and cultural diversity to regenerate nationalist sentiments for unity among people belonging to different regions and communities. This attempt required an in-depth study of the regional and local bases of power and their cultural-historical pasts to understand the geographical locations of power. The historical experiment with territorial re-demarcation began in the 1920s, when Mahatma Gandhi proposed to reorganise the Congress provincial committees on the principles of cultural-linguistic and geographical contiguity. The idea was to strengthen cultural consolidation and political participation of the regions in the national movement. This was partially in response to the colonial state’s arbitrary realignment of provincial boundaries and borders by disregarding their historical cultural cohesiveness and bases of power.
Soon after Independence, the nation-building exercise of the new state had to be based on a more robust, democratic and participative pattern. The newly established federal democratic political structure needed to reconcile the balance of power between a relatively strong Centre and weaker States. The States, however, needed to be reconstructed and reconstituted in this long process of political consolidation and formation of the Indian nation. Attaining independence along with the partition of the country made some national leaders like Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel apprehensive about the reorganisation process, which, in their view, could pose the danger of fragmentation of the new state.
The process of reorganisation was based on lessons learnt much from three decades of experimentation with the idea of the possibility of the creation of linguistic states. A number of language-centred identity movements that emerged during this period in regions comprising the Madras, Bombay and Bengal Presidencies, and parts of the United Provinces focussed on reorganising the new States on the principles of linguistic-cultural distinctiveness, economic viability and geographical unity along with the federal political and administrative rationality.
CONFLICTS AND CONTESTS
Nehru’s initial fears and scepticism about the disintegrative effects of this experiment disappeared with his consent for the creation of Andhra Pradesh as the first linguistic State. Though the SRC considered issues such as size, economic viability, economic planning, geo-linguistic durability and even the status of riparian states, it focussed more on redrawing the map of India along linguistic lines. On the other hand, the linguistic reorganisation of States in 1956 also created newer conflicts and contests among different States. The following decades continued to witness the process of reorganisation, with the creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, Chandigarh, Haryana and Punjab in 1966, Himachal Pradesh in 1971, various States in the north-eastern region between 1960 and 1980, Goa in 1987 and Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand in 2000. The creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, which was made possible by disintegrating regional boundaries and political territories from within the existing States of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, respectively, was not along the same criteria laid out for the earlier reorganisation of States.
The political history of independent India needs to be conceptualised by locating it within the political demands for democratic representation and legitimation of authority, on the one hand, and modes of negotiation over and redistribution of rights and resources of the State and its constituents, on the other. The idea of large States and small States had a dominant concern over the political economy of these States. Some argued that larger States would be better governed with the mechanism of Central planning by the strong interventionist state that would ensure a proper balance between developed and underdeveloped regions through an equitable flow of capital and labour in these States. On the other hand, those favouring smaller states were worried about the excessive control over resources by larger states, resulting in the deepening of regional economic inequalities and hierarchies of power. The reorganisation process tells us a story wherein the state attempted to strike a balance between linguistic-cultural plurality and political centrality on the one hand, and strategies to refashion the scales of social, cultural and political hierarchies of regions and States on the other. The process recreated as well as remapped the given hierarchies of cultural and social geographies of castes, classes, regions, economies and cultures, which in turn, were reconstructed for specific political reasons.
Within a decade of reorganisation, it became obvious that language alone could not be a satisfactory basis for the division of States. Political scientists, public policy analysts, sociologists and even historians began to doubt the integrative effects of the process of reorganisation in this new polity. If Selig Harrison called these years “the most dangerous decades”, Joan Boundurant and others linked up the process of linguistic regionalism with “India’s political problem of creating a sense of national citizenship” that needed to be guarded against the parochial tendencies of linguistic chauvinism. Myron Weiner considered the problem of political integration as not just a territorial one but one being part of the national identity, which should also be seen in the context of territorial control, public security, public accountability and the proper balance between the rulers and the ruled. These states were considered to have ushered in the phenomenon of regional cultural renaissance. The process also resulted in the recreation of linguistic-cultural minorities in all large States demanding recognition of their language and cultural identity, such as the Bodos in Assam, the Coorgis in Karnataka and the Nepalese in West Bengal.
The expansion of the Eighth Schedule from 12 languages in 1950 to 22 languages reflects the increasing demands and aspirations of these linguistic-cultural communities for recognition as distinctive political collectives. Is the linguistic principle a better basis to reorganise the States, and if so, to what extent has it created a federal structure satisfying the aspirations of the cultural groups? Has language provided a bond to form durable cultural identities in States such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh? Such questions worried the State officials for quite some time in the initial decades after Independence.
These reorganised States had to negotiate their cultural-linguistic borders with their neighbours – issues arose between Karnataka and Maharashtra, Maharashtra and Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab, Orissa and West Bengal and between Andhra Pradesh and parts of Madras Presidency, among others. Not only this, the dominant linguistic communities in these States had their own specific regional and cultural forms of power. The specific regional linguistic identity provided cultural and economic capital and resources that were now institutionalised through a complex network of state patronage and recognition. These newly formed States had to deal with the large proportion of the population considered part of the cultural-linguistic minorities belonging to languages other than the State/official or regionally dominant and acceptable languages of power and privilege.
The principle of linguistic-cultural homogeneity along with the criteria of economic viability, administrative efficiency and geographical contiguity did not succeed in curtailing the future demands of cultural autonomy based again on cultural and linguistic differences among various groups and communities in these States. From the very beginning, the fears of the linguistic minorities were not unwarranted as the dominant language elites in these newly created States began to exercise cultural and political hegemony in the spheres of education, economy, social mobility, administration, judiciary and employment.
In this context, the present demand for 35 more languages to be included in the Eighth Schedule needs to be kept in mind. The state rationale, therefore, began to conjoin demands of cultural autonomy with developmental polity and regional inequalities – economic and cultural – within a uniform agenda of political economy of development.
A number of ethnic, state autonomy, sub-national and sons of the soil movements emerged in different States and regions in the following decades. The institutionalisation of cultural pluralism of this kind began to reinforce the cultural hierarchies, leading to the emergence of, what Myron Weiner has called, two political cultures, that is, elite culture and mass culture with newer forms of subordination and domination. The demand for the creation of new states clearly indicates the complex relationship between political legitimation of power, on the one hand, and the actual social and cultural diversity and its representation and recognition, on the other. The non-congruence between these two realms is one of the reasons arguing for more states in different parts of the country.
What is important for our analysis is that the principle of linguistic-cultural homogeneity favoured by the SRC had cultural, educational, political and economic manifestations.
The Indian experience of state formation through an extensive exercise of redrawing the boundaries and territories reveals the processes of identity formation of regions, sub-regions and of various communities and groups. The story of integration of states, as V.P. Menon pointed out, was also a story of the simultaneous disintegration of states. The new linguistic States were considered to have ushered in the phenomenon of regional cultural renaissance resulting from the consequences of the redrawing of boundaries culminating in the indigenisation and democratisation of provincial politics, further leading to the development of diverse regional political cultures.
INCREASING DISPARITIES UNDER NEOLIBERALISM
The rise of regional political parties is closely tied up with the emergence of regional consciousness and region-based identity movements as an offshoot of the reorganisation process itself. These political parties and their local bases of power have posed newer challenges of governance and political stability at the Centre in the post-Congress era. However, the experience of the last 50 years shows that the pace of economic development has not been achieved uniformly across regions and has instead increased regional disparities and inequalities. Furthermore, these disparities have increased during the post-reform period between and within these States. Liberalisation facilitated the processes in the formation of an all-India market and increasing competition among States for private investment – both domestic and foreign – putting the backward States at a distinct disadvantage.
Therefore, greater attention needs to be paid to the specific needs of the backward regions and States to allocate adequate and more equitable investment of scarce resources. Factors such as political instability during coalition governments, consolidation of vote-bank politics within and across States, the growing significance of regional political parties in capturing power in the States, the impact of globalisation on the national spaces of economy and labour, and the increasing assertion of lower class/caste communities in the democratic functioning of the Indian state have acquired significance and given way to administrative and political reasons behind the idea of the territorial redrawing of the existing States. The political initiatives of renaming of the States, redrawing their territorial boundaries and creating newer states and districts from within the existing ones have to be carefully planned and executed, keeping in mind the historical processes of contestations over the categories of regions and states in the identity politics of modern India.
The proposed second SRC not only needs to look carefully into the demands for carving out newer and smaller states such as Bhojpur (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Bodoland (Assam), Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh), Coorg (Karnataka), Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Harit Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh), Marathwada (Maharashtra), Mahakaushal (Orissa), Mithilanchal (Bihar), Muru Pradesh (Rajasthan), Poorvanchal (Uttar Pradesh), Saurashtra (Gujarat), Telangana (Andhra Pradesh) and Vidarbha (Maharashtra) but also take into account the complex relationship between regional autonomy and political viability of these regions, and their cultural and political consolidation within a more democratic, plural, secular and participative developmental politics in contemporary India. Only then will it be possible to ensure better and equitable economic distribution of resources within and between States, better protection of the most marginalised sections of the population, more decentralised governance, political accountability to some extent, and the restraints on bureaucratised, centralised oppressive Indian state apparatus.
Asha Sarangi is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.