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Millennium Post

Are taxpayers ready to support more states?

Why is the national government encouraging the movement of Gorkhaland by inviting the separatist Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) for periodical talks in Delhi ignoring the practicability of and the danger surrounding such a demand. If the three Darjeeling district sub-divisions – Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong – having a total population of less than one million and habitable area of only around 500 sq kms merit a national-level discussion on their statehood, then most of the country’s 660-odd districts may also deserve conversion into independent states to protect local ethnicity, homogeneity, culture, tradition and dialects and, also, to ensure social and economic progress. If for nothing else, such demands would appear to be justifiable at least on demographic reasons. Why not?  If the United States of America having a total population of less than 32 crore can have 50 states, India’s 123 crore-plus people may rightly demand the formation of at least 100 states for them for better governance.

But, population, like ethnicity, tradition and dialects, alone does not merit the division of a country into states. The key issue is economic viability and necessity. Nine most populous US states contain more than half of the country’s total population. California, the most populous state, contains more people than the 21 least populous American states combined. Language too is not considered to be a key factor for creation of a state or a nation. Swiss nationals are mostly divided into three language groups – German, French and Italian. Austrians speak German. Canadians belong to two main language groups French and English. Bengali is spoken in Bangladesh and in two Indian states – West Bengal and Tripura – and partly in Assam and Meghalaya, all bordering Bangladesh.

Even the geographical size of a country, especially in terms of land area, is not considered all that important to demarcate its locally governed states. Russian Federation, the world’s largest country by land area (16.38 million sq km), with a total population of only 14.30 crores, never encouraged the western democratic concept of states. Presently, the semi-presidential Russian Republic comprises 83 ‘federal subjects.’ Under Communism, it was a combination of several quasi-independent republics. The arrangement failed following the declaration of sovereign statehood by those post Second World War Soviet republics in the 1990s. On the contrary, the People’s Republic of China, having over three times larger land area (9.57 million sq.kms.) than India’s (2.97 million sq.kms.) boasting a total population of 140 crores, has only 23 provinces. In addition, the world’s second biggest economy and fourth largest country by land area has five autonomous regions, four municipalities and two special administrative regions.

In comparison, India is a much smaller country by geographical size and habitable land area than countries such as Russia, Canada, China, the US, Brazil and Australia. Yet, it already has as many as 28 states and seven union territories. A separate Telengana, carving out of the existing Andhra Pradesh, will raise the number to 29 states. There are serious demands for at least 14 more states from various regional political parties and militant groups. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has been pressing for splitting the province into four states.

The Congress consent for Telengana has led to a domino effect with demands for new states such as Boroland and Karbi Anglong (Assam), Gorkhaland, Kamtapur and Greater Coochbehar (West Bengal and Assam), Mithilanchal (Bihar), Vidharbha (Maharashtra), Saurashtra (Gujarat) and Coorg (Karnataka) becoming louder and violent as well, as in West Bengal and Assam. Only 15 years ago, India had 25 states. Last time, the creation of Jharkhand out of Bihar, Chhattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand out of UP weakened the financial position of the original states without improving the status of the new ones, all showing massive increase in administrative expenses and budget deficits. Only beneficiaries were politicians – more chief ministers, ministers and local-self-government heads – and bureaucrats and administrators at the expense of taxpayers. More states mean more administrative expenses, more pressure on state and central taxpayers. The planning commission needs more money to fund development projects of new states. They all come from taxpayers, directly or indirectly.

Imagine, tiny settlements such as Gorkhaland, Bodoland, Kamtapur, Mithilanchal and Coorg with only district magistrate heading the administration soon becoming independent states and governed by dozens of ministers and chief ministers supported by a well-heeled bureaucracy. Who pay for them and their massive establishment expenses in terms of housing, motor vehicles, personal security, etc? Do they add value to the national or state wealth and the well being of local people and tax payers? It is a national waste for the benefit of a few politicians. As the recent natural disaster and death in Uttarakhand showed, its 13-year-old statehood had turned its hills into illegal concrete jungles and more unsafe for tourists, who have traditionally been major sources of state revenue, and capital Dehradun a den of corrupt contractors, builders, bureaucrats and politicians. Reorganisation of states is welcome if it makes an economic – and, not purely political – sense and addresses the country’s strategic concerns. For instance, the creation of Gorkhaland taking three Darjeeling district sub-divisions as a separate state will be totally unviable, economically. It will ruin the famous tea and plantation industry, a major foreign exchange earner, and may even invite a more militant pan-Gorkha movement in due course involving Sikkim and Nepal on the lines of J&K in the northwest of the country.

The Darjeeling district connect India’s mainland with seven northeastern states and neighbouring Bhutan.  It is for this geo-political reason the shrewd British rulers of India did not allow the Gorkha-dominated Darjeeling district to be part of either Nepal or Sikkim. The district was deliberately tagged with Bengal to create a buffer between Nepal and Sikkim.

Post-Independence India’s political administration, led by its first Congress Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, has done more harm to the country and the nation by bifurcating its territory on linguistic and other considerations than integrating them into a smaller number of economically viable and vibrant provinces with focus on cosmopolitanism, uniform educational curriculum, healthy multi-cultural and multi-lingual co-existence. The damage has been done. If merger of some of the earlier bifurcated states is not possible, though advisable, fresh demerger of states should be avoided at all cost.
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