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.


Hi Shreeniwas,

Good to see your ideas listed. Think you should give more thoughts to all the ideas.

For your point #1 of focusing just on cities - your blog has already covered the negative points w.r.t that, as you and all of us know - what has happened to Mumbai and with the people in-flow into that city

For your point #2 - Think Indian government has done enough on the lines of having governance at grassroot levels - Be it Panchayats or local self governments, not sure what other delegations you are talking about

For your point #3 - I don't think you can have any deterministic policy for division or union of states. Population is not the only criteria involved in making decisions. At the end of the day it boils down to the sentiments of people nothing more than that. Hope you have some ideas on combined families and when the people of families decide to part ways (not just on population basis).

For point #4 - Homogenizing the country is not the work of government. United India should be in spirits of people and not driven by government.

For point #5 - All of us know rewriting the brains is impossible, but definitely replacing politicians is possible, so a smarter and better person determined to change system is always welcome.
Srinivas as you have rightly pointed out the solution is to empower the local governance.
Today people don't even know the mayor of Hyderabad and thats the significance of our local govts. Look at who is elected as Mayor of Hyd (this is for telugu readers of your blog, the gist the interview pathetic she doesn't do anything apart from saluting Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi). is a new age political party fighting for empowerment of local governments. It has proposed ward level govts. It has also proposed to build 1200 towns of economic centres to create oppurtunities locally.
These along with an independent monitoring authority can greatly help development of our India cities.
Shreeni said…
@Venkatesh Babu:
Responses to your comment.
#1: No, I never covered negative points of cities. Mumbai is a specific and an extremely sad state of affairs. Most other cities have been the vehicle of growth and provide for opportunities to improve the life of its citizens. Even Mumbai, despite the MNS misgivings, has done the same over the past half century.

#2 Indian Government has only created local entities but none of them have the power to implement change. I am talking about entities which can do something to improve its residents' life.

#3 "Sentiment of people" is a very negative and an extremely dangerous way of thinking. "Sentiment of people" is what is easily affected by unscrupulous politicians and even then its a case of squeaky wheel getting the most oil. If "Sentiment of people" is to be honored, more Godhras, 1984s and Mumbai Riots will happen. Its the law makers who are to raise above that and set to empower the weak. In the case of fragmentation, it has to be strictly done in a manner consistent with each other and with a national policy.

#4 Point taken. All I am saying is that - as much as it is society's task, the government needs to use a firm hand in making sure that the society doesn't run away with it's whims.

#5 Point taken. :-)
Shreeni, there is good difference between saying and doing.

I'm sure even you'll go berserk if some government body asks you to give up even a part of your house because say the road near your house has to be widened. Given that all of us have purchased properties in the most unregulated system. That time nobody can tell that sentiments is a very negative way of thinking.

Coming to cities being developed and people migration to cities, that'll be much more dangerous than current scenario. What we need is a uniform development everywhere and not developments in only selected cities. We've seen how bad Bangalore turned out during IT boom and eventually when IT companies started looking out in other Tire 2 and 3 cities did the mad rush stop. Take for ex. the case-study of formation of SEZs etc... Development can't be concentrated to selected pockets. Nobody will be happy with that (neither the people living in that place, nor the people who migrate into that place).
Also we know - every other political party except Congress had splitting of Andhra into Telangana and rest of Andhra as a very big agenda item. They were the ones playing with sentiments of people.

Think what center has done now is - challenged those political parties now by actually going ahead with the split.
Deepak said…
Interesting post. On the point of focusing on cities, I have to agree with Venkatesh. I am skeptical about taking western cities as an example for all development (or for that matter Singapore or Dubai, which I believe can't remotely be a model for a billion people, 70% of whom are farmers). Western Suburbia was constructed in the days of cheap oil during a civilization that was tolerant of gross inequities. Ah! I have too much to say on this topic to put it in a comment section. Maybe I'll make a post about it :)
Shreeni said…
To answer to your first point regarding piece of land for road work and sentiments, you are confusing public interest with public sentiment. They are a world apart. I am not against the Government acting on public interest, but I am against their acting on public sentiment.

@Venkatesh @Deppe
On the issue of cities, I am not talking about filling all 1 billion into one city. I am just saying that the majority of the population - say 95% should be concentrated among many many cities. This way, providing infrastructure and social engineering, both can be achieved at lower cost. On the other hand, the agriculture can be taken care of by the few who remain who can control more land and hence be more efficient.

I am sure you both would agree that current model adopted for farming is not scalable to a billion people and we are seeing the effects already.

Oh, and @Deppe, I am not talking about the Suburbia model - thats the most dangerous thing that can happen - I am talking about concentrated cities.
Hi Shreeni,

I'm not confusing stuff b/w public interest and public sentiments. All I was saying is - Not always the interests of every public will coincide. Some public's interest will hurt other people's sentiments and taking calls at that time is not easy. Hope you get to understand what I'm saying.

Simple thing - When we say 95% of people should stay in cities the immediate question that arises is which 95% should stay in cities? Answering that is not easy. Even developed nations don't have a nice sustainable model for this.

Any ways, the debate can continue for quite some time, may be we can use some other forum for this :).
errlog said…
Well thought out post.
For a start, the decision to split the state is against public opinion(The key proponent for statehood does not have a mandate to be making this demand). Having said that, the demand in itself is not unjustified.
It also provides the nation with an opportunity for a prototype for future governance(If taken forward in the right vein).
Shreeni said…
Well Said @errlog. I am not saying the demand is unjustified. The key is to have a well thought out and consistent policy, both for fragmentation and delegation.

Also, if the Government wishes to check out prototypes, we did a bunch of these about a decade ago - Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal and the likes. So we don't need to specifically have yet another experiment, specially one that involves so many people and their lives.

Anyhow, with the demonstrations in the state(s), this is taking an interesting turn.
errlog said…
Concur, which is why i indicated this has to be taken forward in the best spirit.
And a consistent policy is but a mirage in our polity, given our propensity to vest power, only in the unworthy.