Small States, big problems

Even a cursory look at how Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have fared will tell us how the mere formation of a smaller State is no guarantee for better lives for those groups for whom these States have been created

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:38 pm IST

Published - March 12, 2014 12:48 am IST

Smaller States have been the new political mode of addressing basic issues that were otherwise left unresolved. However, fighting for a new state and reconstructing on a more sustainable democratic content are undoubtedly two different issues all together. One does not automatically promise the other, if there is anything to learn from the previous history of smaller States in India.

The premise of carving out smaller States in India shifted from the formation of linguistic states to one of, since the 1990s, rearranging them on the basis of backwardness and a lack of development. However, even a cursory look at how Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have fared will tell us how the mere formation of a smaller State is no guarantee for better lives for those social groups for whom these States have been created. Uttarakhand continues to be at the lower end in the Human Development Index. There was abject callousness in dealing with the recent floods, focussing solely on how to make it more tourist-friendly rather than planning for the rehabilitation of displaced residents. There was little concern demonstrated for the “local” people in whose name the State was created.

Chhattisgarh has witnessed the largest displacement of tribals in recent times. There have been sustained attempts to dispossess them of their land which they have inhabited for centuries in order to extract mineral wealth. Even as tribals were ostensibly empowered by the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), there were attempts to invoke the clause of Eminent Domain, in the name of national interest. The displacement of tribals was in fact “outsourced” by the State to vigilante groups formed through what was depicted as a spontaneous uprising called “Salwa Judum” — in effect an organised effort by non-tribals and traders from outside the State. How did they get the better of the tribals in whose name the State was created? Jharkhand turned out to be perhaps the worst of the three. With hardly any agenda of development worth mentioning, the State turned into a mining hell of “predatory growth,” eventually resulting in a series of scams and criminal proceedings being initiated against the first tribal Chief Minister of the State. Thus, how optimistic can one get about Telangana?

Questionable model of growth

When States remain backward for long, they are ushered in to create new growth in order to catch up with the rest. While this kind of growth-centric discourse has been the rhetoric of the neo-liberal economy for the last three decades, it neatly overlaps with the aspirations that lie behind the creation of smaller States. However, the nature of the economy in these States remains distinct, since they are latecomers. The lack of industry, an agrarian crisis and a low level of infrastructural facilities push such States into adopting a model of development where growth can be achieved in spite of these handicaps. This, as we witnessed with the examples of the three smaller States, results in an unprecedented exploitation of raw materials such as the mining of minerals instead of the creation of industry, wanton land deals, a boost to the construction industry and the conversion of fertile agricultural land into speculative real estate transactions, since agriculture in any case was untenable and non-profitable.

Alongside these possibilities, Telangana has also been a haven for liquor contractors since a large chunk of State revenue is from liquor contracts. Civil, liquor and mining contractors have come to constitute the dominant, economic elite and the political class. Added to this speculative nature of the economy — especially in the case of Telangana — is the excessive concentration of resources in the capital city of Hyderabad. Since Hyderabad is already well-developed in terms of infrastructure, there remains little possibility of developing other smaller towns for the purpose of economic investments. It is precisely for this reason that the clamour over Hyderabad is detrimental to the interests of other backward districts in the region. Therefore, it is reasonable to bring into question how such a model of growth will be able to address the aspirations of the various social groups that have mobilised themselves relentlessly in a struggle for a separate state of Telangana. Will this model be able to address the impending agrarian crisis that has resulted in scores of farmer suicides? Will it provide employment to the students who formed the backbone of the movement? Will it provide relief to artisans and other nascent non-farm sectors in the rural hinterland? Finally, will it be able to create new avenues to stop massive migration that many districts of Telangana have witnessed in the last three decades?

Politics of polarisation

On the political front too there are many challenges that Telangana will have to face, and this dream of a “New Telangana” that was ushered in by the leaders needs closer introspection — something that has been missing so far from the discourse. With a clear possibility of an alliance, after Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao rejected the idea of a merger between the TRS and the Congress, there will be no regional alternative left in the State except for the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) that has not done well electorally in the last decade or so. This will undoubtedly open up new space for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has also championed the cause of Telangana.

Telangana was ruled by the Nizam, and most of the districts have a Muslim population not less than 13-14 per cent. Added to this is the imagination among the Muslim population that they once upon a time in history belonged to the ruling elite. It is this imagination that is always invoked by the likes of All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi and his brother, Akbaruddin Owaisi. While as rhetoric it might provide a sense of security for the Muslims, it also creates fertile ground for the agenda of Hindutva and a politics of polarising Hindus and Muslims along religious lines. In fact, the BJP sees Telangana as its second stop in South India, after Karnataka. While the dominant castes of Reddys and Velamas constitute the leadership of the TRS and the Congress, there is a distinct possibility of the BJP shifting ground to mobilise the Other Backward Classes, weaning them away from the TDP. Along with the conservative Brahminical social elite, OBCs and even Dalits could be the social base of the BJP to pursue its Hindutva dream, leaving Telangana with no democratic social force that could counter its divisive agenda.

The sentiment of being deprived in a backward region and culturally subjugated and victimised are grounds for the demand for a separate state that can very easily be mobilised, once a new State is formed, against imagined aggressors within the State. It is for this reason that the MIM has been opposed to the demand for a separate State — an issue that was put on the back burner by the leaders championing the cause of Telangana, never looking for ways of addressing it.

In fact, when Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao once recalled the legacy of the Nizam, which was in any case problematic, it led to massive disapproval. The history of the Telangana struggle of the 1940s and the popular memory of the atrocities committed by the Razakars, the private army unleashed by the Nizam, continue to haunt public and political debate in the region, conveniently forgetting that the landlords who sided with the Razakars belonged to the now dominant Reddy and Velama castes. Much of the public campaign of the BJP in the region, alongside the demand for Telangana, was fashioned around this selective construction of history. Another Muzaffarnagar or a Gujarat cannot be ruled out in the near future in the “New” Telangana.

(Ajay Gudavarthy is with the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, Delhi.)

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