The story so far: On the “appointed day”, as Independence Day was referred to in the Indian Independence Act, 1947, British paramountcy lapsed in India, leading to the formation of two independent dominions- India and Pakistan. Pre-independence India consisted of state units, provinces and more than 550 scattered princely states. Nearly 114 of these, through the Instrument of Accession, had already joined India before August 15. The rest had the choice of joining either India or Pakistan, with most deciding to accede to the former.
From then to now, as India completes 75 years of independence and has 28 States and eight Union Territories, the internal boundaries of the country have undergone several changes with States being reorganised in multiple phases, with different factors behind the redrawing of the map.
Consolidation of the many princely states
The idea that India would be a union of States after the departure of the British had been asserted by the Indian National Congress as early as the 1930s. Two months before the appointed day, the last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, agreed to establish a States Department. The Department, led by Sardar Vallabbhai Patel and his Secretary V.P. Menon, took up the task of integrating the over 550 princely states into India. While a majority of the provinces and native Indian states had acceded to India before August 1947, the process of integrating the rest lasted till 1948.
Hyderabad became part of India more than a year after the latter’s existence as an independent nation. Ruled by the hereditary ruler Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, the kingdom fancied its chance as an independent country. Its eventual surrender in September 1948 was a result of ‘Operation Polo,’ where Indian troops entered the erstwhile princely state.
Another princely state, Junagadh, had decided to cede to Pakistan, with Pakistan accepting its request. However, protests broke out in the aftermath of this decision, forcing Junagadh’s Dewan to flee to Karachi. The Dewan requested the Indian government restore order and troops entered Junagadh in early 1948. A referendum was held in February that year, in which an overwhelming majority of its population voted to integrate with India.
Kashmir for months contemplated whether to join India or Pakistan, but facing pressure and military action from the latter, Kashmir’s Raja Harisingh asked India for help and later signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947.
As per the First Schedule of the Constitution in 1949, integrated territories were grouped into 27 States, divided into Part A, B, C, and D categories.
- Part A states were erstwhile Governors’ provinces
- Part B were former Princely States or clusters of Princely States
- Part C were states run by commissioners appointed by the President
- Part D comprised solely of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, then run by a Centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor.
Reorganisation on linguistic basis
Nationalism and the struggle for an independent India already had started to develop regional linguistic undercurrents in the early 20th century itself, as noted in M.P. Singh’s 2008 paper in the Economic and Political Weekly. The multiple bifurcations of the Bengal presidency in the early 1900s to form Bihar and Orissa provinces are cases in point. The 1920 Nagpur session of the Congress also accepted the idea of linguistic provinces.
As the grouping of states in 1950 was done based on forms of governance, calls for redrawing the map on a linguistic basis grew stronger.
In 1948, the government appointed the S.K. Dhar commission on linguistic provinces, which recommended that until nationalistic feelings strengthened in the country, States should function solely as administrative units under the Centre. Following this, the JVP committee headed by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr. Patel, and Pattabhi Sitaramayya was formed but their report too rejected linguistic reorganisation.
The government eventually yielded and created the first linguistic state — Andhra Pradesh for Telugu-speaking people— in 1953, carving it out of the Madras after Potti Sriramulu fasted to the death protesting for the creation of the State. Following this, other linguistic demands got an impetus and the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was formed by the government in 1953. It submitted its report in 1955 suggesting the creation of 16 states and three Union Territories. The government instead created 14 States and six Union Territories under the States Reorganisation Act passed in 1956-
- States- Assam, Bihar, Bombay, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Madras (renamed Tamil Nadu in 1969), Mysore (renamed as Karnataka in 1973), Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
- Union Territories- Manipur, Tripura, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands.
This is not where linguistic reformation ended. In 1956, the map of Bombaywas redrawn to include Marathi-speaking as well as Gujarati-speaking regions. This led to two separate agitations-the Samyukta Maharashtra movement and the Mahagujarat movement for the creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat respectively. This materialised on May 1, 1960 through the Bombay Reorganisation Act, and the two separate states were formed.
Further, the demands for a Punjabi Suba, or a separate state for Punjabi-speaking people, excluding the Hindi-speaking areas and including Chandigarh, had started as early as the year of independence. The Punjabi Suba movement, led by the Akali Dal, gained momentum in phases and finally, in 1966, led to the carving out of Punjab for Sikhs and Punjabi-speakers, Haryana for Hindi-speakers, with the hilly areas of Punjab becoming Himachal Pradesh. This was done through the Punjab Reorganisation Act which came into force on November 1, 1966. The demand that Chandigarh to be given to Punjab, however, was not met as the former was made a Union Territory.
Besides the States created from linguistic reorganisation, Goa, Daman, and Diu were still in possession of the Portuguese 14 years into Independence. Nationalistic movements began to spring up in Goa in the 1950s and India too made multiple attempts to integrate it into the country, building pressure on the Portuguese. In late 1961, Indian troops captured Goa and Daman and Diu, making the regions a part of India. Goa was given statehood in 1987 and D&D became a Union Territory.
Identity-based reorganisation in the North East
Through the colonial period, the North East was treated differently from the rest of India, as researcher Kyoko Inoue notes in her 2005 paper on the integration of the northeastern region. Supposedly for the protection of ethnic identities, the British restricted business activities, settlement, entry of outsiders and land purchase in the hill areas of Assam, which included other areas of the modern-day States of the North-East. These hill areas were designated as ‘excluded and partially excluded area’ in 1935. The separation from the rest of the country in the pre-independence made it a difficult task to integrate the region with the rest of the country.
With the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, only the State of Assam was created in the North-East, while the long-standing demands of Nagas and Mizos for separate States were not accepted. Discontent grew within the various tribal populations who felt they were subordinate to Assam with their own identity undermined by the government. Multiple movements for secession and in some cases militancy, put the government under pressure and also resulted in military action.
After Assam, Nagaland was the first to get statehood for the Naga people in 1963, years after the Naga National Council spearheading the movement declared a separate federal government. Meghalaya then became a state in 1972, with a majority of the population belonging to the Garo and Khasi ethnic groups. Then the Union Territories of Manipur and Tripura were granted statehood in the same year.
Arunachal Pradesh, of strategic importance to India due its border with China, was first made a Union Territory by the government’s initiative in 1972, and then granted statehood in 1982.
Sikkim was a kingdom when the British arrived and signed a treaty to hold influence over it. After Independence, the King signed a treaty with India and Sikkim remained its protectorate till 1975, when it was merged with India to become a State and the institution of the king was dismantled.
State formation to fuel development
At the turn of the millennium in 2000, three states- Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand were carved out of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, respectively. These states were formed over issues of underdevelopment of the regions in the bigger States they were a part of and some cultural differences. It was believed that if carved into smaller States they would achieve the required administrative attention and development.
As the formation of Telangana, calls for statehood began as early as the State reorganisation in 1956 when the recommendation of the SRC to retain Hyderabad as a separate State went unheeded. Telangana leaders accused the people of Andhra of "colonising the region" by grabbing their jobs and land, and the government of not investing in the region's infrastructure. The movement lasted over the following decades and took a political turn by the start of the millennium when the BJP supported the demand for a separate Telangana. K. Chandrasekhar Rao then took the stage by forming the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and rekindling the movement. The State was eventually formed out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 with Hyderabad as the common capital for 10 years.
The most recent redrawing of the map took place in 2019 with the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the creation of the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. While the decision became a matter of contention amongst the political class, the rationale given by the government for the removal ofArticle 370 and 35A was to fuel economic prosperity, create employment and reduce militancy in Kashmir.