Gorkhaland triggers fresh debate over smaller states

June 19th, 2008 - 11:40 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party
By Monobina Gupta
New Delhi , June 19 (IANS) The resurgence of a movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland carved out of West Bengal has revived the debate within political parties on smaller states. In the absence of unanimity, each political party has worked out its own logic for supporting or resisting demands for smaller — or not-so-small — states.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) favours splitting up states, barring a few, for better governance while the Congress party prefers not to have a fixed position on the issue.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is against smaller states per se. The Communist Party of India (CPI), however, is all for them — but not in the case of every state.

At the end, for political parties, it is a matter of political expediency, says political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao.

The BJP actively campaigned for the new state of Jharkhand because it led to, as was widely known, curbing the influence of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad who held sway in Bihar.

“The BJP supported the Jharkhand movement to expand their political influence. But the BJP would resist any move to split up Gujarat where it is so powerful,” Rao told IANS.

Senior Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily added: “There is no point recklessly dividing states for political expediency. The Congress does not have an ideological stand on the issue.”

But for all practical purposes, the Congress is against the creation of any more smaller states though many within its own ranks are supporting the separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh state.

“Reckless division of states will have a cascading effect and states may eventually end up being divided along caste lines,” Moily warned.

The only ground for slicing up states, according to Moily, could be administrative convenience. But there is no consensus on how big or small a state should be for administrative convenience.

The CPI-M is fighting the Gorkhaland movement tooth and nail. Splitting West Bengal would mean the party losing an area of its present influence and administrative jurisdiction.

CPI-M leaders, however, couch their opposition to Gorkhaland in a different language.

“Creating smaller states on the issue of development would mean undermining linguistic considerations. Similarly, new states formed on the basis of ethnic considerations would mean undermining the economic and administrative viability,” said CPI-M central committee member Nilotpal Basu.

Clearly, political India has no single mind on whether smaller states are good for the country.

The Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s turned violent amid charges by the Marxists that the Congress was secretly backing the Gorkhas so as to undermine the CPI-M in West Bengal. Its advocates say they are not satisfied with the limited autonomy granted to them.

A separate Gorkhaland would be made up mainly of the hilly parts of northern West Bengal, close to Nepal. Its capital would be Darjeeling, a tourist paradise.

The campaign for Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh had the strong backing of the tribals, who felt they were not getting their due from the plainspeople.

Those clamouring for Uttarakhand — also mainly a hilly region and home to many tourist and Hindu pilgrimage centres — wanted to get out of the clutches of the mammoth Uttar Pradesh.

In 2000, all three states — Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — were carved respectively out of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

That success only emboldened the feelings of those who say they too need separate states.

Both the central and Maharashtra governments are contending with the demand for a separate state of Vidarbha, constituting the eastern region of Maharashtra with Nagpur as the capital. “The BJP supports Vidarbha because it is strong in this part of Maharashtra,” said analyst Rao.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati has indicated that Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state of which she is chief minister, could be broken into three states — Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Harit Pradesh.

At one time, PMK chief S. Ramadoss had called for a separate state in northern Tamil Nadu where his Vanniar community is numerically strong. The DMK and the AIADMK do not want Tamil Nadu to be broken up.

Demands have also been made to separate the Jammu region from Jammu and Kashmir and Coorg from Karnataka.

Between 1947 and 1950, the princely states that existed during the British Raj were politically integrated into the Indian union. Most were merged with existing provinces.

In 1956, the states reorganisation commission appointed by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru reorganised the boundaries of Indian states along linguistic lines following mass protests in many parts of India.

After toying with the idea of a second states reorganisation commission, the ruling Congress has junked it. According to Moily, none of the partners of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are for it.

But that does not mean the demand for new states will go away. If Telangana comes up, it would be made up of 10 Andhra Pradesh districts. It is a good case in point.

Last month, the movement for a separate state of Telangana suffered a setback when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) lost out to the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), both of which are not for a break-up of Andhra Pradesh, in by-elections to four Lok Sabha and 18 assembly seats.

The TRS MPs and MLAs had forced these elections after quitting their seats to protest the Congress’ dithering over a separate Telangana. But despite the electoral drubbing, the TRS has vowed not to give up the demand. And many in the Congress and the TDP agree with TRS.

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