Once again, the government has delayed taking a decision on statehood for Telangana. Late in December, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the government would make an announcement in a month’s time. That period ended on Monday. This is not the first time that “more time” and “consultations” have been used as an excuse to postpone a decision.
Any decision to create a new state is inherently political. A lot depends on the groundswell of support for a new politico-administrative entity. But at their core, these demands have to contain a kernel of rationality. The key to success lies in trying to achieve a fit between administrative requirements and political possibilities. Compromises of this kind ensured that earlier rounds of state reorganization were successful. In the case of Telangana, the two elements have diverged considerably.
The reasons for this state of affairs are not hard to discern. At their root is the Congress party’s desire to maximize its political-cum-electoral gains from carving out a new state from Andhra Pradesh. Needless to say, the process is deeply divisive. There is a large section of Congressmen from Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra opposed to the creation of a new state. Equally, the proponents of Telangana enjoy overwhelming support in their region of the state. Every time the Union government says something about an “imminent decision”, it ends up fanning hopes, despair and anger in equal measure. The net result is that two years after the B.N. Srikrishna committee submitted its report on creating a new state, administrative concerns have been wholly overtaken by purely political calculations.
At the same time, such demands can no longer be considered in isolation. Any decision on statehood in one part of the country is observed and analysed threadbare in other regions where similar demands are brewing. If Telangana is conceded in a moment of political weakness, it is bound to deliver the wrong lesson everywhere in India: that mass agitation pays. Administratively, all this bodes ill for the country.
What the Congress and the Union government are doing is nothing short of attempts at gerrymandering. This is best avoided in an administratively complex country like India even if the short-term temptation to do so is irresistible.
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