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India: Small states, big problems
September 22, 2013, 10:23 am

Partition of India, administratively, was not as painful as the dilemma of the lawmakers to determine shape and size of states.

Even 67 years after Independence from colonial British rule, India continues to struggle over satisfying aspirations of its citizens so far as determining shape of the federation is concerned.

With the distinction of having world’s first democracy in Vaishali (now a district in the eastern province Bihar), the British thrived on India being divided into small kingdoms. The mediaeval India in a way was the true picture of what the world came to know as federal structure of a country. The Mughal Empire that extended up to what is now the modern Afghanistan was on a downfall. The British captured the fragmented and small kingdoms with the use of their advanced arsenal, diplomacy and the divide and rule policy and started the process of reconstituting states for administrative convenience.

By the time they left the country after ruling India for almost 250 years, the British left behind a big headache. Besides creating the Muslim-majority in west and east of India as Pakistan (east now is Bangladesh), it left behind 562 princely or native states besides nine states where they had set up assemblies and held elections.

The princely states were given the liberty to either merge with India or Pakistan, or become sovereign states. While Sikkim and Burma decided to become sovereign states, India used its might and persuasion to get most of the princely states to merge with it — the only exception being when it had to send its armed forces to Hyderabad.

India inherited three kinds of states besides the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which was designated as a union territory. Group A consisted of nine states which had elected assemblies with governors.

Group B consisted of former princely states which formed a group. They formed eight states by merging with each other.

In group C, there were 10 princely states where the British had appointed their own commissioners

India had assimilated most of the princely states into the union within three years of the independence. It had to send armed forces to liberate the western state Goa in 1961 which was a Portuguese colony.

Soon after independence, India realised the need to reorganise its states. The three-member States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) comprising of Fazal Ali, K.M. Panikkar and H.N. Kunzu was constituted by the government in 1953 to recommend reorganisation of state boundaries. In 1955, after nearly two years of study, the Commission recommended that India’s state boundaries should be reorganised to form 16 states and three union territories. SRC followed linguistic formula to carve out new states, disregarding apprehensions that linguistic states could come in the way of the Indian unity.

Even before the SRC came into being, B.R. Ambedkar demanded formation of the Marathi-majority Maharashtra state with Bombay (now Mumbai) as its capital while down south the demand for creation of a Telugu-majority state out of the Madras (now Tamil Nadu) state grew stronger.

The Jawaharlal Nehru government had to concede the demand for creation of the Telugu-majority Andhra state after activist Potti Sreeramulu died in December 1952 after undertaking a fast unto death. Creation of the Andhra state which until then was part of the Madras state triggered agitations in various parts of the country with linguistic groups demanding separate statehood. This led to the government setting up the SRC.

SRC submitted its report on September 30, 1955 suggesting abolition of the three-tier state system, abolition of the institution of Rajapramukh and special agreement with former princely states and merging them with the adjoining states. Besides it also suggested adding Delhi and Manipur as the two new Union Territories in addition to Andaman and Nicobar.

The nine Tier-A states after Independence were Assam, Bihar, Bombay, Madhya Pradesh (formerly Central Province and Berar), Madras (now Tamil Nadu), Orissa (now Odisha), Punjab (formerly East Punjab), Uttar Pradesh (formerly United Province) and West Bengal.

The Tier-B states, in all eight, were princely states of groups of princely states which were governed by a Rajapramukh who happened to be one of the kings and had elected legislature. The Rajapramukh was appointed by the President of India. The eight Tier-B states were Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Bharat, Mysore, Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU), Rajasthan, Saurashtra and Travancore-Cochin.

The Tier-C states which comprised both commissioners’ province from the British time and some small princely states were Ajmer, Bhopal, Bilaspur, Coorg, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Kutch, Manipur, Tripura and Vindhya Pradesh. They were governed by a chief commissioner appointed by the President of India.

The States Reorganisation Act of 1956, however, went beyond the SRC recommendation and established Laccadive (now Lakshadweep), Minicoy and Amindivi Islands, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura as Union Territories and established in total 14 states.

Interestingly, the seeds of the Telangana versus Andhra controversy which has shaken the incumbent Manmohan Singh were sowed in 1956 when despite protests from people of the Telugu-majority Telangana region which was part of the Hyderabad state, it was merged with Andhra to create Andhra Pradesh on November 1, 1956 since people in both state spoke the common language Telugu.

The merger did not go down well with those living in Telangana and gave birth to a protracted movement spanning over five decades leading to the federal government conceding the popular demand of creation of Telangana as a separate state recently.

Up in the north, the Akali Dal, a quintessentially pro-Sikh political party, demanded creation of a Sikh-majority Punjab state. While the government declined the demand after Punjabi Hindus protested, PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) was merged with Punjab. The Akalis, however, continued their protest, leading to bifurcation of Punjab with creation of Haryana as a separate state on November 1, 1966 comprising Hindi-speaking areas of Punjab. Finally the wish of the Akalis was granted and Punjab became the Sikh-majority state.

The States Reorganisation Act also transferred some Bengali-speaking territories from Bihar to West Bengal while Bombay state was enlarged with the addition of Saurashtra and Kutch, Marathi-speaking districts of Nagpur division of Madhya Pradesh and the Marathwada region of Hyderabad. Soon the government realised that the enlarged Bombay state had become too big for smooth administration, leading to its bifurcation on May 1, 1960. While the Marathi-speaking areas became part of Maharashtra, the Gujarati-speaking areas were put together to create Gujarat.

Kerala was formed as a separate state on November 1, 1956 with the merger of Travancore-Cochin state with Malabar district of Madras state and Kasaragod of South Canara (Dakshina Kannada). In lieu, Kanyakumari district was given to the Madras state which was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1969.

Madhya Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh and Bhopal state were merged to create Madhya Pradesh while the Marathi-speaking Nagpur division was transferred to Bombay state.

Mysore state (renamed as Karnataka in 1973) was enlarged by the addition of Coorg state and the Kannada speaking districts from southern Bombay state and western Hyderabad state, while Ajmer state was merged with Rajasthan.

After the reorganisation of the states was complete in 1956, or so the Nehru government thought, the focus shifted on liberating the former French and Portuguese colonies in India. French colony Pondicherry (now Puducherry) was made a Union Territory in 1962, while India had to send armed forced to liberate the Portuguese colony Goa. Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Goa, Daman and Diu became Union Territory in 1962.

The reorganisation of state it may appear is still a work in progress. If Nagaland was made a state on December 1, 1963, Punjab was divided with creation of Haryana while some northern districts of Punjab were transferred to Himachal Pradesh which was upgraded from being a Union Territory to a new state on January 25, 1971.

Next year, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura became full-fledged states on January 21, 1972, while the Kingdom of Sikkim joined the Indian union as a state on April 26, 1975.

Eastern state Assam continued being trimmed. After creations of Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram became states on February 20, 1987 while Goa became a full-fledged state on May 30 the same year excluding Daman and Diu which became a Union Territory.

The methods of mass movement and even armed struggle were also used subsequently for force formation of new states. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2000 ordered creation of three new states. Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh on November 1, 2000, while Uttaranchal (now renamed Uttarakhand) was carved out of Uttar Pradesh to become a state on November 9. It was followed by bifurcation of Bihar with creation of Jharkhand on November 15.

When created, Telangana will become the 29th state of Indi

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