The Telangana effect
09 August 2013, 08:50 PM IST
An endearing, almost cute trait of Indians is that we never really lose hope. We always feel a messiah, or a great grand scheme will soon come and deliver us from our woes. It is a narrative reinforced by Bollywood, where somehow a hero works things out in the end. Our mythology too talks about good forces (God) with amazing powers coming and killing the evil (demons).
It is perhaps due to this gullibility that many of us feel the latest sure-shot solution to the miserable common man's life in India is a new state.
Yes, Stateitis is the new virus in town, affecting everyone from the south to the east to the north. So, what is the latest solution for the common man`s suffering? A new state. Not good leaders, not even new leaders, not new criteria for voting such as governance over caste, not an end to identity prejudice.
We will change none of this. We will simply solve all our jobs, inflation, power, water, safety, health and education problems with one magic solution — a new state. If the consequences of such naÃ¯ve thinking weren`t serious, it would be another cute, hilarious trait of Indians. However, what we have started now with Telangana is something so harmful, vile and terrible, we will all regret it in times to come if we don`t check it now. And that terrible thing is this: making states at gunpoint.
No, making new states is not a problem. In the right circumstances, it may well help. What is a problem is coercive demands for a state, where sections of the population take on shrill voices, threaten violence or strikes and try to gouge out a state for themselves. What makes it worse is a weak Centre and a PM who says or does little to quell such voices.
However, if we want to stem such movements, it won`t be through forcibly shutting them down. It is important to understand where such demands originate, and if something can be done to address the underlying issues without constantly redrawing the map of the country.
So, why the almost sudden desire for so many new states? Well, the demand seems to be coming from more economically backward pockets of the country. The simple reason is this: people are sick of poor governance and don`t know where to look for answers or place the blame. A new state, even if a flawed idea, seems like something new to try.
Also, Indians are prejudiced, aiding such thought. Many of us Indians feel their community/religion/caste is somehow superior to others. We also feel a leader from our own kind will have more empathy towards us. Hence, a new state seems like a reasonable solution.
Of course, this is highly flawed thinking. For our prejudice itself is often the reason behind our woes. If we were not prejudiced, we would not have voted on the basis of identity. We would have chosen instead a leader based on ability. We didn't, which in turn led to the misgovernance mess we find ourselves in today.
This bitter truth, of course, doesn't cut much ice with us Indians. We never buy stories involving us taking responsibi-lity. We never blame ourselves. It is always an external demon, and usually from another caste/community/religion that causes our woes. Not us.
Unfortunately, caught amidst our desperate life situation and prejudiced mind, we forget the damage pseudo-fixes like new states may cause. For, no matter what your local leader may tell you about the utopia that comes of making new states, there're many drawbacks associated with them. Here`re four.
First, small states have little clout at the Centre. Let's face it; the CM of UP carries more clout than the CM of Tripura. Size matters in politics. Two, it creates separatist, almost anti-national sentiments that are harmful for the country. There are reports of people in Telangana being asked to move out. If new states are created in Assam or West Bengal, there could be violence. Indians living peacefully for generations turn adversaries overnight. How can this be good for the country?
Three, business investors are likely to stay away from a newly formed state, especially if the state is created under volatile circumstances. This will mean fewer new jobs, and a worse-off situation for the new state. Frankly, without investments, no backward area can develop. Politi-cians may yield to shrill voices, investors only run away from them. Four, it reinforces and almost validates something we Indians should be ashamed of — our internal prejudices.
Today, the world is looking at India to get its act together. We, on the other hand, are busy finding differences and reasons to hate each other. AP was a wonderful state by itself. Sure, it may have had issues like any other. Cutting it up, making many parts of India vulnerable and legitimising prejudice hardly seems like a smart solution.
There's nothing wrong with making a few new states, but it has to be done on the right terms. The intent has to be rational and the process objective and peaceful. The reason for making states should be administrative and not indulging prejudice. As we celebrate Independence Day next week and unfurl our one flag that belongs to everyone, remember that the answer to India's problems is not a new state. It may be, rather, a new state of mind. A modern, unprejudiced, thinking Indian mind. Can we add that to the list of new state demands please?