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Smaller States can be Bigger problems
Sutanu Guru
I was waiting for a flight the other day at Mumbai airport and watching a news channel. There was a Russian woman with her face covered who was on screen, plaintively saying how she was raped by an influential politician of Goa and how the cops there were doing everything possible to hush up the case. Then I recalled frequent stories of how Goa has now been completely hijacked by criminals, mafia and politicians who think committing a crime and getting away with it is their birthright. That story was followed by a report on widespread agitations in Andhra Pradesh for a separate state called Telengana. And then I thought about the long standing demand for smaller states in many regions. I thought of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal, of Harit Pradesh in Western U.P., of Vidharbha in Maharashtra, of Koshal in Orissa and many more.

In each case, citizens demanding a separate state have a seemingly fool proof logic: their needs and concerns are not addressed by existing state governments and only a ‘state’ of their own can lead to better development and delivery of developmental benefits. The logic is that there wouldn’t be so many farmer suicides in Vidharbha if it becomes a separate state; or that sugar cane farmers in Harit Pradesh would get a better deal than what they are currently getting from Lucknow. On the face of it, the logic appears impeccable. But will this work in reality? Will smaller states genuinely lead to better welfare outcomes for citizens; for better governance and stronger democracy?

I look at the examples of Jharkhand and Goa and shudder at what might happen in reality. You and I already know about how Goa is rapidly descending towards hell; it became a state back in 1986. Then, in 2000, three states called Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand were created. Almost 10 years down the road, can anyone say with even an iota of confidence that freeing Jharkhand from the clutches of Bihar has led to more prosperity for citizens? In fact, exactly the opposite seems to have happened. Chronic political instability and relentless Maoist violence have become the signature themes of the state. It is a unique state where an independent MLA became Chief Minister.
And now, we read about how Jharkhand was plundered by the same politicians to the tune of about Rs.40 billion? Development, economic growth and a better life for poor tribals of the state have remained illusions. Chattisgarh and Uttarakhand have not performed as outrageously as Jharkhand; but they haven’t excelled either.

So how do people of Telengana expect a miracle in terms of growth, poverty eradication and prosperity once it becomes a state? And will the creation of Vidharbha lead to a stop in farmer suicides? My fear is that things might worsen. The problem in India is not about smaller states but pathetic governance. With pathetic governance persisting, creating smaller states will create more Jharkhands and Goas.

I know it is a tall order, but it is really time for citizens – and the media – to more aggressively confront the ruling class with hard questions. And keep asking those questions till governance improves. Creating smaller states will be like wishing away the real problem.
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