Sunday, April 6, 2014

Power Decentralization Within Society - Could It Have Saved Andhra Pradesh?

The new states - Telangana and Rayalaseema (Courtesy: The Hindu)
I watched a fascinating television feature done by NDTV's Hyderabad resident Journalist Uma Sudhir. Her husband, T S Sudhir, and her have covered Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka in a fascinating manner as TV journalists for NDTV and other channels over the past two decades (pity that such journalists don't become stars, while those lobbying in Delhi for parties do). The show clearly highlighted the churning of the caste-religion cauldron in the new states of Telangana and Seemandhra as it heads towards polls for their respective assemblies and the Lok Sabha polls simultaneously. What fascinated me was the reminder that both regions have seen a domination of the Kammas and Reddy castes in Andhra politics for ages now, even though they constitute merely 10-20% of the total population. This isolation of Backward Classes (BCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), and minorities to an extent, was one of the major thrusts for the Telangana statehood movement. Even in the new Seemandhra state, the game is turning out to be interesting, with the BCs, SCs and STs trying to assert themselves with greater force. This made me think deeper today about the whole state creation process in India, and the factors that often drive it, and what may have been preventing the same from happening.

Telangana and the Three States of Last Decade (Courtesy: The Telegraph India)
All the new states that have been formed over the past decade and a half in India have particular similarities in them. The people are economically and/or socially backward, and often also lack political representation in a significant way from the region. Except for Uttarakhand, which saw Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna and Narayan Datt Tewari become Chief Ministers of the erstwhile united Uttar Pradesh, none of the other states saw that happen. Moreover, even in Uttarakhand's case, real political power always lay in the Poorvanchal region within the erstwhile United Uttar Pradesh, dominated by the better off people of Lucknow, Meerut and Varanasi. If one examines Jharkhand's case, there never was a tribal Chief Minister. Similarly, Chhattisgarh never gave a Chief Minister to united Madhya Pradesh - it always came from areas like Rewa, Indore and Bhopal. Curiously, like Telangana, the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have a huge chunk of their population listed as BCs, SCs and STs, though none may be considered to be numerically significant in the political game.

Mayawati at an Election Rally in 2011 (Courtesy: The Hindu)
So why have I posed this question? Well, the question comes from a significant example in Indian politics that has much more to it than we often see. With the ascendance of Mayawati as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (having won a clear majority), Uttar Pradesh saw the power shift significantly from the upper castes or numerically significant BCs to people who otherwise had no representation despite numbers. Her consolidation within the SCs of Uttar Pradesh (UP), particularly those of Western UP and Gorakhpur belt in Eastern UP has meant that the Dalits in these regions had political representation. There has been no mass-based statehood movement in Uttar Pradesh which has clear divide in economic prosperity west-to-east since the Uttarakhand separation in 2000. Mayawati passed a resolution in the Uttar Pradesh assembly favoring a division of the state into four parts, which will be to her advantage, given number of districts with more than 40% SC population. However, if one were to ask the average Dalit voter on the ground for it, chances are that they would cite their satisfaction with the status quo on the question of the state's existence as a single entity.

This certainly raises the importance of political empowerment of communities within states being critical to the unity of a state. This may deemed be crucial for the real socio-economic empowerment of the marginalized within India to take place. Those opposed to the formation of new states (there are several festering wounds) need to understand that greater, meaningful representation in the political framework of the state is needed. There needs to be a let go of the hegemony of certain caste groupingsin the states. Bengalis need to accommodate Gurkhas in the political mainstream, while Vidarbha should see its man being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Bundelkhand saw Uma Bharti become Madhya Pradesh's Chief Minister for a while despite being politically insignificant. A Chief Minister from Jammu or Ladakh, especially a minority man (in this state's case, a Hindu or a Buddhist) amy be critical to quell the flames of separate statehood demand that continues to ignite Jammu even today after six decades. Greater unity to prevent division is possible only if political accommodation can be learnt. For this, political parties need to change their prisms and become truly inclusive. Will that happen? Only time can tell.


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