Small Is Not Always Beautiful!

Darjeeling,

Grass root reason for the public unrest in places like Darjeeling, Srinagar is related to our state government’s inability to read the bio-diversity between plain and high altitude areas

By Anil Anand

Till the smaller states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttrakhand were carved out of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand respectively during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, the underlined thinking behind such demands was that smaller states can be governed in a better manner. That still is a predominant view among policy planners, administrators and intelligentia. But ground realities prevailing in the three new smaller states has weakened this argument and popped up altogether a new narrative against smaller states. This narrative has certainly not impacted the growing demand for more small states.

 The hilly areas of West Bengal with epicentre in Darjeeling are burning with demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. It is the dominant discourse in the areas bordering Nepal. A demand for trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir is also gaining currency in the midst of serious situation engulfing Kashmir Valley and persistent charge of neglect by Jammu and Ladakh regions and there are similar demands from other parts of the country.

There is no doubt that areas falling under Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttrakhand were receiving a step-motherly treatment both in terms of financial allocation and good governance. While Chattisgarh and Jharkhand represented vast expanse of Tribal dominated areas and Uttrakhand the top hilly terrain which portrayed a picture of utter neglect. But has the creation of these new states solved the perennial issues? The indicators point to a different direction.

 Past experience testifies that demand for carving out smaller states is the outcome of apathy and poor governance. At best these factors end becoming only the starting point of what ultimately becomes a long drawn struggle as is currently happening in Darjeeling. But subsequently more emotive issues overtake the most important aspect of seeking a new set up in the name of good governance. Again, Darjeeling is the latest example in this connection where demand for separate state for Gorkhas has become the predominant outcry which is visible in the kind of slogans being raised by the protestors.

A similar sentiment based on religions and regionalism is currently dominating the demand for a separate state of Jammu and Union Territory status for Ladakh and as an outcome the Valley to be a separate entity. Underlying ambitions of certain political groups and individual leaders and their tendency to use every trick in the book to raise emotions, again as is being witnessed in Darjeeling, further compounds the problem. For records sake the trifurcation in Jammu and Kashmir is being demanded in the name of better governance and proper financial allocation for development.

After all why has scepticism grown about the viability of smaller states as symbols of good governance? This is on account of dismal failure of the political system to show commitment towards either the concept of good governance or maintaining probity in pursuing the art of politics. Lack of good and experienced leadership and secondly growing tendency to manipulate the strength in the Legislative Assemblies has brought the concept of smaller states under scanner.

The developments recently witnessed in Uttrakhand and Arunachal Pradesh vindicated the argument that smaller State Assemblies are easier to “manage” to cobble a majority. The way ultimately judiciary upturned the “manipulations” is both a dark chapter in the Constitutional history of India and a relief that the pillars of democracy are counter-balancing each other to protect sanctity of Constitution.

Good governance in true sense of the term is a misnomer in these states till today. Even in Chattisgarh which is comparatively better governed the neglect and underdevelopment of vast Tribal areas still exists. This is basically on account of poor leadership provided by the political parties who came to power from time to time. In majority of the cases leaders foisted by the ruling parties had little are no experience of governance as their loyalty to the party high command and low profile became the clinching points rather than competence. Lower the profile the more the acceptance as that would mean that a chief minister would perpetually remain under the thumb of top leadership and never ever exert even in the interest of the state he/ she is governing.

Uttrakhand and Jharkhand provide glaring examples of this variety and both Congress and BJP who have been alternatively ruling these states have followed the same pattern. Inexperienced and inarticulate leaders with no backup plan on the part of the high command to train them for the task both on-the-job and before given the assignment has made the matters worst.

There still is a strong case for smaller states purely from the point of view to provide good administration and assure development. The bigger states such as Madhya Pradesh, Utter Pradesh and Maharashtra are administratively unmanageable. As a result many of the areas remain out of focus for development purposes.

So far as demands for carving out new states and Union Territories out of already existing smaller states is concerned, this is no one’s case to dismiss such demand summarily. Either such demands could be met through addressing the grievances while remaining in the existing set up, which would be the most preferred route, or in extreme circumstances the cases for separate state should be diligently considered bereft of emotions of the region, religion, caste and community variety. No emotive agenda should ever be permitted to be the basis for creation of a new smaller state or else a situation could arise where those who fought for a separate state are heard ruing that they were better off in the earlier set up by being part of the bigger state. Such voices are often being heard in all the three newly created states.