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India's Plan to Create New Southern State


Similar demands in other parts of the country have led to a fresh debate on the issue of governance and regional identity for the huge country.

India's plan to carve out a new state from southern Andhra Pradesh has triggered a political furor. It has also intensified similar demands in other parts of the country and led to a fresh debate on the issue of governance and regional identity for the huge country.

When the federal government agreed to create a new state, called Telangana, from the northern districts of Andhra Pradesh, it hoped to calm growing tensions about the demand that has been on-going for decades.

But the move has had the opposite effect. It has triggered a wave of counter protests from those who want Andhra Pradesh to remain united. More than 120 lawmakers in the state legislature have submitted resignations, demanding that the government scrap its plans.

At the same time, the government's concession on Telangana has revived statehood demands in other areas. In the eastern state, West Bengal, protesters have intensified a campaign for a new state in the hill regions, for the ethnic Nepalese population. In Rajasthan, activists have held demonstrations to demand a new state, Maru Pradesh. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh wants three new states to be created out of the country's most-populous state.

History professor at Delhi University and political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says many of the campaigns for separate states are born in poor and neglected areas. For example, supporters of Telangana want an independent state because they say the region is deprived of resources, jobs and opportunities.

"In many cases the regions that are backward or underdeveloped, there is a feeling among people that statehood within the Indian union will give them a better chance of living a life of material dignity," said Rangarajan. "Added to this, there is the view that there are cultural features which unify them as opposed to people in the rest of the state."

Political boundaries within India have been redrawn several times since it was divided into 18 states, on linguistic lines, in the 1950's. Today, India has 28 states and seven federally administered territories. The most recent division of states took place in 2000, when three new states (Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand) were carved in north India to meet the aspirations of tribal and hill communities.

C.V. Madhukar is the director of the Delhi-based independent PRS Legislative Research. He says the model of linguistic states is being questioned as issues of identity come to the fore in the diverse country of more than a billion people.

"It [language] was relevant at that time and continues to be relevant, in large measure. But, beyond language, there are cultural, ethnic differences," he said. "There are development differences that people want to address and a lot of this is coming out in the agitations which we are now seeing."

Those who support splitting existing states point out that some Indian states are bigger than the size of many countries. The most populous state, Uttar Pradesh has a population of 190 million - nearly the same as Brazil.

Political analyst Rangarajan says the demand for smaller states is no surprise in a country where the population has grown three-fold from the time it became independent.

"Today we have 28 states --but we must keep in mind, 28 states for one billion people. United States has 300 million people and 50 states," he said. "The European Union has 300 million people and 27 nation states. So it is not all that illogical."

Those who support the creation of smaller states also argue that they could promote better governance in a country where administration, in many regions, is ineffective. They say it could lead to better political representation for local communities. They point out that some of India's smallest states, such as Haryana in the north and Kerala in the south, are more developed than larger ones.

However, Madhukar says that size is only a small factor in good governance.

"I think, the bigger logic needs to be that there should be a rationale for creating states. The point is small state or big state, unless you learn how to govern yourself, you don't have a solution," he said. "You cannot have small states as a proxy for good governance."

Indeed, as the protests and counter protests about Telangana show, the issue of reorganizing states will be a contentious one with no easy answers.

The federal government has already put the issue of splitting Andhra Pradesh on the back burner. It says Telangana can only get statehood after the Andhra Pradesh state assembly passes a resolution for its creation - something that could take months, or even longer, given the polarization on the issue.

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