INDIA has undergone a lot of transition since the days of Independence. Territories have been reorganised to form linguistic states. However, disputes still fester over issues of separation of territory, either due to demands for new states or calls for addition of new territories after separating them from other states, like Maharashtra’s demand for Belgaum from Karnataka. One also comes across calls for Kasaragod’s merger with Karnataka. It would be best for the country to evolve a consensus, ruling out separation of territory with regard to linguistic states (those formed on linguistic basis) or those identified as such or those with a certain identity of their own. Such a political consensus would certainly go a great way in fostering harmony in the country.
It’s argued that states can be better administered if they are smaller and more compact in size, which cannot be faulted. However, we have to take factors into consideration such as the emotions among people. Our countrymen have already witnessed the acrimonious division of Andhra Pradesh into two states. States are being demanded for problems that are not intractable. Voices from Vidarbha in Maharashtra have called for separation, as the perception prevails that the region has been ignored with regard to development. Though the region accounts for a large quantity of the state’s electricity, it has been reeling under severe power shortage. Drought has also harmed the region. It’s being felt that western Maharashtra is drawing more attention. It would be better to address the region’s concerns by chalking out a comprehensive development plan, rather than separating territory to form a new state. There are also people who try to point out features distinguishing the region from the rest of Maharashtra. Whatever the distinctiveness, if people speaking the same language cannot stay together, it portends disaster for the country’s unity. Any division of the state would send out wrong signals, making it imperative that it stay united.
Demand for new states along identity and administrative lines The demand for Gorkhaland is quite strange. Here, it is being stated that the Gorkhas demand separation from West Bengal due to their distinctive identity, i.e., that they want to be recognised as Indians. The proponents also argue that Gorkhas are often questioned about their Indian identity wherever they travel, which upsets them. Apart from this, the region has experienced inadequate development. Though one cannot deny that it’s a genuine cause for anger, the same cannot be used as a pretext for a separate state. Bengalis have considered themselves as one people due to their language and customs from a long time. They would certainly not be happy if the state was divided, despite the distinctiveness of Gorkha majority areas. If the arrangements that came about later like the Gorkha Hill Council and the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration had been put in place earlier, the demand for a separate state would not have been put forth in the first place.
However, states that have not been formed on linguistic basis or those without a predominant identity of their own such as Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh etc., can certainly be divided. It cannot be denied that governance of UP is an arduous task, given its huge population. As the division would be on purely administrative grounds rather than ethnic, linguistic or cultural factors, it’s expected that there would not be much pressure against such a move. Though its division would help administrative convenience, certain factors have to be taken into consideration like the viability of the new states to be formed and equitable distribution of resources. Unless all these factors are meticulously planned, we cannot expect the exercise to be a smooth affair. Here, one is reminded of the earlier bifurcation of Uttar Pradesh, leading to the formation of Uttaranchal (later Uttarakhand). Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar and Chhattisgarh was formed after bifurcating Madhya Pradesh. These divisions went off quite smoothly without posing much hurdles as neither Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh or Bihar had a distinct identity. Other than the division of states, we also come across other demands, such as those for separation of territory from one state to add it to another. For example, Maharashtra has been claiming Belgaum in Karnataka, due to its Marathi majority character. A Commission under retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan directed status quo on Belgaum, which was not accepted by Maharashtra.
The panel also suggested transfer of some villages from each state to the other. The issue has been hanging fire since then. If the authorities decide upon a moratorium on separation of territory after due consideration, the issue will certainly not fester around. As all of us are citizens of the same country, it will cease to matter whether the territory is in Maharashtra or Karnataka. Similar is the case with Kasaragod in Kerala. Many people want the taluk to be merged with Karnataka, as it’s an area with Kannada, Tulu and Konkani speakers in majority rather than Kerala’s native language Malayalam – a language profile that is similar to Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts.
If a political consensus is arrived at as indicated in the beginning, it would certainly put a full stop to demands for new states. The authorities can always sit with the people and discuss ways by which the area can develop further, enabling the bodies formed out of accords to fulfill their responsibilities. As far as issues like Kasaragod or Belgaum are concerned, certain steps must be taken to address the grievances of the people regarding protection of their language or other issues if any.