Sunday, December 13, 2009

Musings on the Telangana matter

Have you been following the latest news about Indian Government's decision to carve out a new state Telangana from the what's currently Andhra Pradesh? If so, you might also quickly realize that it is one of the very rare events involving a government decision which has left the Indian public opinion completely split.

While one section clearly despises the decision in the name that it creates yet another division in what is already a fragmented nation and sets a bad precedent, on the back of which, further fragmentation looks unavoidable. One the other hand, is a very sizable lot who believe that this was a very fair decision in the interest of keeping smaller, easily governable units which can only be expected to generate better results in the future. They agree with the first lot that the way the actual division was announced could have been done in a better way, they consider it only a trivial in what was a generally solid move.

I have been giving a little thought and hence the late response. Like the nation I have been equally split within my head over whether this is good or bad for our nation. Instead of trying to take sides, I am going to talk about various aspects of this and how we could have done a better job.

Let me start with history behind the formation of the States and the socio-political interests that emerged subsequently:
  • In 1956, with the establishment of States Reorganization Act, there was an impetus to uniting the country into a few small units mostly combined on the basis of language spoken in those regions.
  • The political class of the nation has always been found wanting. Instead of uniting the country into one homogenous unit, the class has thrived to keep them segregated into vote banks along lines of language, religion, regions, castes and classes. Hence what should been a gradual but definite building of strong nation based on these few states soon deprecated into an infighting to grab and control power.
  • Unlike the august thoughts of the freedom fighters and the leadership of the Independence era, the society in India never matured. They still put enormous impetus on holding onto what they knew best - the walls of religion, caste etc and hence each section of the society preferred to hold their own forte rather than merge into whatever was the larger cause of the larger unit they were part of. Maybe the poor political class contributed to it, but I believe this is the making of the society itself.
In the wake of this, lets analyze the current decision:
  • The principle behind the decision and what one section of the debate is supporting is that smaller units allow for better governance and would encourage the leaders to promote growth. As the population of these states grow, this principle definitely finds merit. We are pretty much the fastest growing large nation on earth and hence this is something we need to keep doing again and again. But the key is that the same issue will come up in almost every other state in the country. Why did the Government decide only on one state and not worry about every other state? Inconsistency #1.
  • The state of Telangana was fought on the following reasons (at least historically): Telangana had a less developed economy, but higher revenues (due to tax on alcohol, while the larger unit had prohibition); Dam projects don't favor them; Telanganas feared a disadvantage with respect to job finding with the natives of rest of the rest. Do you see the pattern? These are the same issues that are repeated not just within every state but across every state. Mumbaikars complain of north Indians coming and stealing jobs; TN and Karnataka have fought a bitter battle over Krishna water; Job opportunities have caused migration and subsequent pain to successive generations of Indians. So, what is required, I believe, is a stronger political will to solve these problems and not a creation of a new state. Unless the leaders wake up to start looking at solving these problems, forming a new division is not going to help.
  • The formation of smaller states is often underlined on the basis that a government of a smaller state can look after the interests of the residents better. Oh really? Do you know the small north eastern states (Manipur, Assam, Nagaland etc) as the most developed?
  • The bigger issue with starting a new state is the increase cost on the nation. Have you tried moving goods across states? Have you tried hiring a commercial vehicle from Karnataka and driven into Andhra? Have you tried to set up a company spanning factories across state borders? Have you tried understanding the complex plethora of inconsistencies across the educational systems of the individual states? We have just managed to create one more new division.
So, what could have been a better resolution?
  • Focus on the cities. Give them higher autonomy to control their finances and allow them to thrive independently. Many argue that this would leave the rural population into a disadvantage. So what? Over a period of time, the rural populace would move into the cities leaving what's left of the rural areas as a manageable units. This is exactly what has happened in the whole of the western world.
  • Focus on building a effective system of delegation leaving those at the bottom of hierarchy with enough decision making powers to make an impact. In the absence of that, new powers to a new CM sitting in a distinct state capital won't help the nation.
  • Have a consistent policy for the future fragmentation, if that is going to be the mantra. Indicate that when the density of a state crosses a particular number, a natural review of the state borders shall be undertaken. This leaves everyone in a happy state.
  • And for God sake, start working on homogenizing the nation across the lines of India and not let this game of divide and rule continue.
  • And I know I am asking for too much here - but can we just rewire the brains of all the politicians and insert some moral goodies into them. :-)
Debate on this page is most welcome. Waiting for the readers to start a constructive thread.

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