The message from the Andhra Pradesh bifurcation

The Republic of India cannot afford the thoughtless handling of major departures from the core organising principles of its political geography

Updated - June 03, 2024 08:25 am IST

Published - June 03, 2024 12:59 am IST

‘The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh can give us some idea as to how reconfiguration can radically alter the pecking order of States’

‘The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh can give us some idea as to how reconfiguration can radically alter the pecking order of States’ | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL/The Hindu

It is 10 years since Andhra Pradesh was divided into two States. A decade is a long enough time examine the political, economic and historical implications of the division of the political geography of the Telugu people, for them as well as for the Indian Republic.

Scant nostalgia

The vitriol that dominated the bifurcation discourse for almost half a decade prior to the actual bifurcation has now vanished without trace. The two successor states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, are moving on. Telugu society today on both sides of the political division carries on with very little nostalgia for the nearly five and a half decades of living together in one political entity. For people from the shrunken Andhra Pradesh part, only Hyderabad from the new state of Telangana remains in their imagination. The rest of the geography of Telangana hardly figures in their consciousness. And, for the people of Telangana, no area or aspect of life from across the Andhra Pradesh side of the divide animates their political, social, cultural, or economic imagination.

This is puzzling for two reasons. These two regions were under different political authorities for only about 150 years. Before the Nizam gave away the coastal districts and the ‘ceded’ districts that came to be called Rayalaseema to the European powers, historically, they were ruled from Golconda and Hyderabad for a long time. And, they were together again since 1956.

However, these long years of living under one political authority could not foster enough of a sense of togetherness to prevent the resumption of their separate journeys. That parting of ways has not yet happened with the Kannada-speaking area of the Nizam’s Hyderabad State, nor did it happen as yet with its Marathi-speaking area. They both joined Karnataka and Maharashtra States, respectively, after the linguistic reorganisation of States.

The question arises, therefore, whether the shared vision of the Telugu elites from both the regions — Madras Presidency and Hyderabad State — for unity on the basis of language is frailer compared to those of the shared visions of Kannada and Marathi elites. Or, does a similar fate await them too in the not too distant future? For, regional economic disparities, linguistic divergences, lifestyle differences, and variations in political culture are more or less the same in all the three linguistic groups across the geographies of the Presidencies and Hyderabad State.

As of now, it is only the unity of the Telugus based on language that has come unstuck. Are the other linguistic States likely to meet the same fate in the years or decades to come? Does the fate of Andhra Pradesh which has pioneered the reconfiguration of the Indian Republic’s political architecture along linguistic lines also foreshadow its eventual unravelling? Does the Indian Republic eventually have to look for an organising principle other than language? That is the larger question that the division of Andhra Pradesh pelts at the Republic of India.

It is often not fully appreciated that except a few States in the geographical centre of our Republic, all other States (from Assam in the east, going along the east coast to the southeast and continuing towards the west coast and up to the Punjab and Haryana in the northwest) of our Republic are organised on a linguistic basis. If the underlying organising principle of language is unlikely to hold them together as units, giving greater force to economic, political, historical and other fault lines, an alternative principle will have to be formulated sooner rather than later. Could that be the size of territory or population? Or, should it be something else? If the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh suggested anything at all, it is that the Indian Republic cannot avoid this question for long.

Size, when translated into the number of seats in the central legislature, might eventually be a point of friction among the units of our Republic, because representation in the form of numbers determines the distribution of political power. And, the distribution of political power has the potential to exert decisive influence on the distribution of economic resources within the federal structure. There are already faint noises of unease among the political elites in some States, especially in the south, regarding speculation about future delimitation in which some northern States could gain abnormal numbers in the central legislature.

Where States stand

The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh can give us some idea as to how reconfiguration can radically alter the pecking order of States. In the united State for example, Andhra Pradesh had 42 Lok Sabha seats and was the largest State in the south India. It was as big as today’s West Bengal and slightly smaller than Maharashtra. It could carry significant clout in the national political equation. But now, with a mere 25 seats, it is smaller than Tamil Nadu which has 39 seats and Karnataka that has 28 seats, effectively making it third in the pecking order. Telangana, with 17 seats, is smaller than Kerala, thus becoming fifth in the pecking order in the south. A part of the biggest State in the south is now rendered as the third and another part became fifth in the regional pecking order in terms of political clout. In our federal structure, numbers do matter in more ways than one can imagine.

If some States become smaller while others remain big, political equations among them will become unequal and may result in undesirable strains in the federal structure of our Republic. Grossly unequal sizes among the units can render some regions irrelevant and others more relevant in deciding who holds power at the Centre. Any perception that an incumbent regime is serving the political and economic interests of some States because its political base is beholden to the unequal power distribution could lead to disenchantment, dissent and alienation of those States from the mainstream of our Republic.

The cracks will surface

The questions that the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh threw up and the lessons the process of division offers cannot be parried or ignored. It is unwise to take comfort from the fact that neither side has as yet sharply articulated and followed up on their grievances regarding the messy way the process of bifurcation was handled. Political expression of those grievances from both sides of the division may be delayed but is eventually inevitable. Telangana elites are still in a euphoric mood that they won their fight for a separate State and are eager to showcase the brighter side of the consequence of their victory. A glittering Hyderabad and the revenue boom it generated conceal chinks in its development path. Elites, therefore, are under no pressure yet to focus on issues arising out of division. Once the euphoria wears off, their perception of the omissions and commissions of the badly handled division and their political and economic implications will begin to surface.

The Andhra Pradesh side, in the first five years after the division, got bogged down in its attempt to build for itself a world-class capital to prove to the world with a vengeance. that it would overcome the loss of Hyderabad. And the next five years were consumed by profligate direct benefit transfer (DBT) welfarism. Alternating between these two foci will eventually bring more serious issues to the surface that could be traced to the ham-handed division of the State. The fact that both the obsessions have made the State financially anaemic is glossed over for now. But it cannot remain under wraps for long. Unfulfilled promises made by the Centre on special category status and financial help for building the capital city, inability to effect proper division of joint assets as well as other such core issues will not escape the attention of the political elites for long.

The idea of the linguistic reorganisation of India had a long incubation period. It was thought through, elaborately debated, agreed upon and then implemented. That idea was seen in the national context. But a departure from it was neither thought through nor debated. It was done as a political expediency to pacify an ongoing agitation. Therefore, from the clumsy drafting of the act, its messy passing, the placatory assurances and their half-hearted implementation characterised the departure of a six-and-a-half decade-old mature Republic from a core organising principle of its political geography. The Republic cannot afford such clumsy and thoughtless handling of major departures from its core organising principles. The Andhra Pradesh bifurcation and its fallout merit a deeper and mature examination to ensure a firm footing for our Republic.

Parakala Prabhakar is a political economist and author of ‘The Crooked Timber Of New India: Essays on a Republic in Crisis’

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