Setting a terrible precedent

Setting a terrible precedent

The year is 2030. India, far from being a great power or a prosperous nation, is a poor country. Hobbled by secessionist movements and crippled by subsidies to keep a restive population at bay, it is a country past its prime. The first shots towards that possible scenario were fired late on Wednesday night. A weak-kneed Manmohan Singh government caved in to the demands of a fasting man and some stone pelting in Andhra Pradesh. Ancient Greeks called such behaviour akrasia, or weakness of will. The government of India is exhibiting it in ample measure.

As in other aspects of Indian public life, there are two faces to the Telangana situation. Those who are demanding a separate state say that a new state will lead to development of a backward region of the country. More importantly, it will also lead to greater representation of voices that are scarcely heard now. It can be dismissed in two words: It won’t.

There are near-insurmountable roadblocks to that. Telangana lacks economic viability. Its revenue base is inadequate for creating the infrastructure and services that residents of the new state will demand. In the absence of that route for financing development, special packages from the Union government will be demanded. Given the scale of backwardness of the region, these could go up to Rs10,000 crore per annum for many years. That will mean more taxes elsewhere. Even then Telangana’s fate will not be secure: political viability in the absence of economic resources leads to only one outcome—corruption.

Then there will be more such demands from other regions aspiring to statehood. Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and Harit Pradesh by dismantling Uttar Pradesh. Kamtapur in West Bengal, and Bodoland in Assam. The list is virtually endless. None of these imagined states is viable. The result: more packages and more corruption. Citizens and their right to a decent life figure nowhere in this political dreamscape. Overall, for India, if the trend gains momentum, ever greater shares of gross domestic product will be spent in propping states that can’t sustain themselves. Precious little will be left for investment. The year 2030 has no idle doomsday ring about it. This could be our frightening future.

Justice or an alarm bell: What does the demand for smaller states imply? Tell us at