Telangana etc.: why the Andhra Pradesh statehood movement is a hornet’s nest

Smaller states have generally been richer. The World Bank’s list of top countries by GDP put Luxembourg, Macau, Qatar, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland right at the top five, in that order. They are some of the smallest countries on Earth; in fact, the largest, Norway, is only the 61st largest, and most others fall around the 140th-160th mark.

Smaller states are also easier to govern. The population density is lower, the government can juggle funds better, generally everything becomes more transparent and understandable when we speak in millions rather than billion-trillions.

Conversely, larger states are easier to ignore. Larger land area means a greater risk of some regions being better looked after for no apparent reason other than proximity, geographic location, climate and such — none of which local residents have control over.

Enter KCR

One calm day of early December 2009, a 55-year-old Mehboobnagar MP, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, decided to go on a fast and take the country down with him. His fast was a weapon to etch the state of Telangana occupying 10 of Andhra Pradesh’s 23 districts. He also made sure that his hometown of Hyderabad would be included in the proposed state.

The main reasons given to justify the creation of a separate state were historic circumstances — Telangana spoke Telugu in times of Hyderabad state (1724-1948) — and the alleged suppression of Northern Hyderabad. KCR, as Mr K. Chandrashekhar Rao is popularly known, previously resigned from the Teugu Desam Party to form his Telangana Rashtra Samithi citing suppression as a reason.

Aren’t there other factors?

Although the Telangana movement started in 1969, and pulsated from 2004 to 2009, it was not until KCR stepped in that people began taking things seriously. The man is currently eyeing the chair of Telangana’s first Chief Minister and looking for complete credit for the formation of the state. The Andhra Pradesh reorganisation bill having been passed in both houses, all that remains is a mere formality — the president’s signature.

In spite of its several years of existence, the formation of Telangana seems more personal and emotional than carefully thought out. For instance, Telangana has opted to give up a coastline. It has lost power plants and three out of Andhra Pradesh’s four electricity distribution utilities. But supporters of Telangana should have learnt a thing or two from the exact opposite incident that happened with Chattisgarh: the newly formed state took home all of Madhya Pradesh’s major power plants and let the parent state lying with a need of literal rejuvenation.

Look around

Dire as it may seem, with Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh’s, special package of tax concessions and extra funds for underdeveloped parts of Seemandhra, finding a new capital and developing it in ten years will be easier than many think, simply because Seemandhra is not starting anew. Vishakhapatnam is an extremely suitable capital for the Southern Andhra Pradesh state, what with it being a major seaport and a fairly well developed city, infrastructure- and education-wise.

Ironically, Telangana is putting itself in a worse position, opting to start off with hardly any power sources, absolutely no sea port, landlocked between Chattisgarh, Orrissa, Seemandhra, Maharashtra and Karnataka — states with a combined population bigger than the United States; states with problems of their own that will be in no mood to assist Telangana’s growth.

If neighbour Chattisgarh or the mountaneous northern state of Uttarakhand at all inspired Telangana’s formation, it must be quickly realised that Telangana itself is really more akin to Jarkhand — once part of Bihar and now a struggling economy, while Bihar itself is growing pretty impressively (the state grew 12% in the last seven years).

Aftermaths the government ought to fear

What few fail to see is that doing practically anything with Andhrapradesh — now Telangana and Seemandhra — will inevitably provide a lease of life to nearly twenty-five statehood movements patiently waiting to erupt. A green light for Telangana will also be a green light for them to start making demands, fasting, dying (supposedly as martyrs) etc. Here is a map:

Statehood movements in India. Courtesy, Maps of India
Statehood movements in India. Courtesy, Maps of India

That would be like stirring a hornet’s nest. India will soon go from having 29 states to mothering over 35, should all uprisings have their way. This is definitely a hard matter to deal with, but only so long as political parties have vote shares in mind. Every state broken will leave a party with one supporting and one opposing state. A much better solution is to provide temporary funds exclusively to those parts who believe they are suppressed and then ensure better administration.

Statehoods are really quick and dirty solutions with short-term profit to the states themselves, that ultimately weigh down national economy on the  long run. With India’s population growth rate, Telangana’s current 35 million number will increase dramatically by the 2050s and the governing troubles that it faces today will return to haunt it.

The Economist suggests a “a new commission to decide how to reorganise states, for it would be a mistake to leave it to politicians always thinking about the next election.” If such reorganisation is indeed left to executive bodies, perhaps more promising puzzle pieces may be cut out of India, paying attention to resources and geography rather than personal trivialities. It is time everybody thought of the country as a whole, or risk sinking India into an abyss.