Finally Telangana, the 29th State of the Indian Union, has come into being after a lot of drama and procedural wrangling by the government and the opposition in Parliament. The history of Indian federalism has come full circle with the creation of Telangana. Andhra Pradesh, which was formed in 1956 in spite of the opposition from the majority of people and political leaders of the erstwhile Hyderabad State, has over the years emerged as exhibit A in the arguments against the last round of reorganization of the states on the basis of ethno-linguistic contiguity rather than political-economic needs of a region.
The States Reorganization Commission of 1952 was constituted to bring the provinces, princely states and centrally administered territories with varying administrative authority and jurisdiction under a simpler federal structure of states, union territories and centre. The SRC agreed to use language as marker of ethnicity sub-nationalism and administrative efficiency in its recommendation to create new states. The reorganization of the states on the basis of language repaired some of the distortions in the body politic of India and it can even be even said that it was a relative success. The linguistic federalism kept the country together, which was not looking very hopeful after the bloody partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
Ironically, despite Telugu being the language of the majority of the people of the then Hyderabad State, the SRC's advice was against the creation of a larger Andhra. Even then the call for a larger Andhra seemed like a hegemonic claim on behalf of a Telugu linguistic community coming from Andhra region and the then city of Madras.
Now that error has been corrected, but the unfortunate part is that all the mayhem witnessed in Parliament has sent a wrong signal to the peoples of the two regions who share a lot in common. In the process, the nation has also lost an opportunity to discuss and debate how development and political-economic logic can be a better rationale for re-conceptualizing Indian federalism, rather than cultural/ethnic logic that was the basis for reorganization of the states in the 1950s.
The first blow to the ethno-linguistic rationale as a basis for formation of states was struck in 2000 with the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. But even the last time, when the new states were created, Parliament failed to engage in a serious discussion on the growing sentiment associated with developmental regionalism in many parts of the country. Now when economic and social development is slowly but decidedly replacing cultural and sectarian politics, it was perhaps the best time to discuss a new federalism for a changing country.
Though the opportunity was lost in Parliament, now as the two states, Telangana and Seemandhra, come into being in the next few months, one hopes that the politicians from the two regions will see this as an opportunity to work on a meaningful decentralization of political-economic power that is entrenched in the state capital of Hyderabad to divisions, districts, taluks, and villages. This will help Telangana and Seemandhra show a new path to realize the goals of 'new federalism' represented by the73rd and 74th amendments.
By shifting the political discourse to decentralization of developmental agenda to local level the Andhra politicians will be able to overcome the ethnic conflict based on destructive and competitive chauvinism being fanned by some people in Telangana and Seemandhra.
The lead up to the creation of Telangana—the rowdy behaviour and pepper spray in Parliament—has already fostered some resentment among the two groups, especially in the city of Hyderabad where murmurs of 'natives' and 'settlers' can be heard. There are talks of reservations in educational institutions and government jobs for 'native' people of Telangana, and outmigration of tech-industry from Hyderabad. Telangana and Seemandhra need all the highly entrepreneurial and skilled people in city of Hyderabad for the development of impoverished regions such as Adilabad, Karimnagar and Mahbubnagar.
The experience of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh shows us that mere creation of a smaller states is not enough to bring development to neglected local communities. Ironically, smaller states can also lead to more corruption and cronyism. Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have acquired notoriety for scams running into thousands of crores.
Finally, the path to a better Telangana and Seemandhra does not go through Hyderabad, but passes through Adilabad, Medak and Nalgonda. The best option would be to leave Hyderabad to professionals and get out of the city to serve the people in whose name the struggle was carried out for all these years. If the politicians who led the struggle for Telangana now get busy accumulating power, land and money in Hyderabad they will be disrespecting the hundreds of lives that were lost in the Telangana movement. One hopes leaders such as K. Chandrasekhar Rao will learn from the falls of Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', N.D. Tiwari, Vijay Bahuguna, Shibu Soren, Madhu Koda, and others.
Anup Kumar teaches communication at Cleveland State University, Ohio, and is the author of The making of a small state: Populist Social Mobilization and the Hindi Press in Uttarakhand Movement.