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  Opinion   Columnists  10 Oct 2022  Mohan Guruswamy | Only small states will be able to save the republic

Mohan Guruswamy | Only small states will be able to save the republic

The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy
Published : Oct 11, 2022, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 11, 2022, 9:10 am IST

Demand for new administrative units will be a continuous one, one that seeks to bring distant provincial govts in remote capitals

India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states, but a union of well governed and managed states. (Representational Image)
 India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states, but a union of well governed and managed states. (Representational Image)

The creation of Telangana, almost 60 years after the people of the region voiced their misgivings about being co-opted into Andhra Pradesh, was yet another step to rationalise and restructure the Union of States that India is meant to be. India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states, but a union of well governed and managed states. The experience of small states has been uniformly good.

Thus, the demand for new administrative units will be a continuous one, one that seeks to bring distant provincial governments in remote capitals closer to people. Before it first formed the government in Maharashtra, the BJP was in favour of a Vidarbha state. Mayawati has many times said that Uttar Pradesh needs to be broken up into three or four states. Even in Tamil Nadu, Dr S. Ramadoss of Pattal Makkali Katchi (PMK), a very regional political party, has mooted the bifurcation of Tamil Nadu, with the northern districts being carved out to form a separate state.

The biggest states of India — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — are also its worst-off states, so the acronym “Bimaru” for them is most appropriate. They are also predominantly Hindi- speaking states and hence quite clearly there is no linguistic or historical basis for their creation and existence as they are. Yet within their blanket linguistic conformity, these states cover a vast diversity of distinct regions, with characteristic commonly spoken languages, culture and historical traditions.

Each of these states, either in terms of land mass or population, will still be larger than most countries in the world. Even without Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh is larger in terms of population than Brazil, Japan or Bangladesh. It was not surprising that despite the supposed linguistic affinity, there were and still are demands for smaller states from within them. All the major political parties supported such aspirations and four new states are the result.

At a time when caste has so fragmented the polity, the demand for small states with a long and traditional affinity, often cemented by a common agro-climatic reality, becomes a strong motivating force to rally the disenchanted and dispossessed to a common cause. But this must not be allowed to discredit the case for smaller and more manageable states.

The late Dr Rasheeduddin Khan most eloquently made out this case in Seminar in 1973. He had India divided according to its 56 socio-cultural sub-regions and a map showing these was the centre-piece of the article. The Seminar map is a veritable blueprint for the administrative restructuring of India. Out of UP and Bihar, eight distinct sub-regions are identified. These are Uttaranchal, Rohilkhand, Braj, Oudh, Bhojpur, Mithila, Magadh and Jharkhand. The first and last of these have now become constitutional and administrative realities. But each one of the other unhappily wedded regions is very clearly a distinct region with its own predominant dialect and history. For instance, Maithili, that is spoken in the area around Darbhanga in northern Bihar, is very different from Bhojpuri spoken in the adjacent Bhojpur area. Similarly, in western UP, Brajbhasha is quite different from Avadhi, that is spoken in central UP. India’s largest state in terms of area, Madhya Pradesh, is broken into five distinct regions; Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra into four each, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka into three each, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Odisha into two each, and so on.

Since 1971, India’s population has doubled, to cross 1.3 billion. Even at constant prices (1980-81), the GNP has grown by 10 times. In 1971, the total money supply (M3) was Rs  11,019 crores, whereas it has now grown to over Rs 16 lakh crores. In PPP terms, it would be closer to Rs 70 lakh crores. Naturally the size and scope of government has also changed. The 1980-81 Budget of the Government of India was a mere Rs 19,579 crores. It is now over Rs 10 lakh crores. The annual budgets of the state governments too have grown likewise.

States like UP, Maharashtra and even Telangana now have annual budgets of over Rs 1 lakh crores each. All the states together have a total annual expenditure in excess of about Rs 9 lakh crores. Last year the total gross fiscal deficit of the states alone was about the same as that of the Government of India.

The total population of India in 1947 was about 320 million. Today, we have about that number of people who are below the poverty line. In the meantime, India has become a very youthful country, with 70 per cent of its people below the age of 30, of whom about 350 million are below 14. Clearly, the task of government isn’t only much more enormous, but also much more complex when the rising expectations, the impact of new technologies and demographic changes are factored in. Our record so far is a cause for great concern and is a severe indictment of the failure of the system of governance in India.

That “the nature of the regime determines the nature of the outcome” is a well-known adage in public administration and public policy studies. The nature of a regime is not only influenced by its Constitution, guiding philosophy, and the consequent system of government, but also by the structure of the system. We know from experience, both in the corporate world and in public administration, that monolithic and centralised structures fail when the size and scope of the organization grows. Thus, to compete with Honda and Toyota, General Motors and Ford have had to restructure into smaller and independent operating units. In public administration, this is called decentralisation.

Decentralisation not only implies the downward flow of decision-making but also greater closeness of the reviewing authority to the decision-making level. Thus, if more decision-making flows to the districts and sub-districts, the state government, which is the reviewing authority, must also have fewer units to supervise. I have always held that the real concentration of power is not with the Central government but with state governments. Thus, when a CM clamours for greater functional autonomy, he or she is actually calling for greater concentration of power in oneself. From the perspective of good governance, this is clearly unacceptable.

Good government also means lesser government, responsive government, closer government and quicker government. Large centralised governments are inimical to good government. The state governments are the worst kind of centralised governments, masking their regional jingoism as a demand for autonomy.

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