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Lessons for our federation

India and Pakistan might have common problems, but India has ensured its integrity thanks to its willingness to create new administrative units in response to popular demands

Lessons for our federation
Neighbours need to get rid of past hangovers.

There is no denying the fact that India has survived as a democracy thanks to its secular principles laid out by its founding fathers — especially by Dr Ambedkar popularly known as Babasaheb (1891-1956) — in the constitution that have withstood the tests of time. In addition to a secular constitution, another important factor that has helped India remain a united country is its willingness to create new administrative units in response to the demands of people. In 2014, India accomplished the task of bifurcating Andhra Pradesh in South India and created a new state called Telangana, after almost a 50-year struggle of the Telanganites.

It can be argued that both India and Pakistan have failed to solve problems like poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. But one needs to admit that India as a united country has performed much better than Pakistan.

 The success of a federation

The success of a federation to a great extent depends upon how easily smaller administrative units can be carved out of the bigger states or provinces and how autonomous they become in exercising their powers. Usually, federal democracies are composed of a bicameral parliament.

In India, the (upper house) Rajya Sabha seats are allotted in proportion to the population of each state or union territory. Therefore, while in Pakistan all the provinces have an equal number of seats in the Senate, in the Rajya Sabha Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Maharashtra have as many as 31 and 19 seats respectively but there are nine states that have one seat only, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya.

In the British Indian Empire, there were mostly two types of territories: the provinces of British India and the princely states. The princely states were ruled by dynastic Nawabs or Rajas but in almost all the provinces there were some sort of legislative institutions introduced by the reforms in the earlier period of the 20th century, while smaller provinces were governed by a chief commissioner. The constitutional reforms of the 1930s largely accepted the federal principles of governance.

At the time of independence, there were as many as 500 princely states that were given a choice to join either India or Pakistan and most such states opted for India or Pakistan depending on their geographical realities. Bhutan and Hyderabad Deccan proclaimed independence as separate countries but Hyderabad could not sustain the onslaught of the Indian army and, in September 1948, was occupied and incorporated into India.

From 1947 to 1950, most independent princely entities became part of India; some of them were merged with the existing states and others were accorded the status of new states. For example Rajputana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, and Vindhya Pradesh were created after the amalgamation of several such princely entities and Mysore, Hyderabad, Bhopal and Bilaspur were organised with new names.

 The Indian Constitution

The Indian constitution promulgated on January 26, 1950, proclaimed India as a republic which was also a union of states. This constitution recognised three types of federating units: the first group contained the British Indian provinces that already had a mechanism for elected legislatures; this group include nine provinces i.e. Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh (formerly called Central Provinces and Berar), Madras, Orissa (renamed Odisha in 2011), Punjab (old name East Punjab), Uttar Pradesh (formerly the Unite Provinces), and West Bengal.

The Indian constitution in 1950 also included a second group of eight princely states ruled by a rajpramukh appointed by the president of India, who was usually the ruler of a constituent state, and an elected legislature. These states were Hyderabad Deccan, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Bharat, Mysore, Patiala & East Punjab States Union (PEPSU), Rajasthan, Saurashtra, and Travancore-Cochin. The third group had provinces governed by a chief commissioner and some smaller princely states having a chief commissioner appointed by the president of India. These were Ajmer, Bhopal, Bilaspur, Coorg, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Kuch, Manipur, Tripura, and Vindhya Pradesh. Another category had Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Even during the British period, demands were raised for the creation of administrative units on linguistic basis. Orissa was the first province created on linguistic lines in 1936. This Orissa movement had initially started in 1895 and was later on led by Madhusudan Das who campaigned for Orissa’s separation from Bihar.

 The Fazal Ali Commission

After independence, when in Pakistan efforts were being made to merge the provinces of West Pakistan into One Unit, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) of India established States Reorganisation Commission in December 1954, headed by retired Chief Justice Fazal Ali (1886-1959). That is why the commission was also known as the Fazal Ali Commission. The other two members of the commission were Hridya Nath (1887-1978) and K M Panikkar (1895-1963). The commission was overseen by Govind Ballabh Pant (1887-1961) who later on became home (interior) minister of India.

The Fazal Ali Commission submitted its report with recommendations on September 30, 1955 for the reorganisation of Indian states. Prior to this report, the Telugu-speaking people of Madras had struggled to have a separate state and had succeeded to create Andhra State carved out of Madras in 1953. From 1950 to 1956, other states had also undergone minor changes in their boundaries. For example, the small state of Bilaspur had been merged into Himachal Pradesh and formerly French occupied territory of Chandra Nagar was incorporated into West Bengal in 1955.

Almost at the same time, in November 1954, the government of Pakistan officially announced that the provinces of West Pakistan were being abolished and One Unit was being established with Lahore as its capital. In India, the States Reorganisation Act was passed in August 1956 and the seventh constitutional amendment abolished the earlier division of provinces in categories. The first and the second groups were named as states and the remaining units were called union territories under the federal government. Some parts of Bihar were given to West Bengal. So the administrative changes made in November 1956 were as follows:

Andhra was attached with the Telugu-speaking areas of Hyderabad and the new state was called Andhra Pradesh. Assam remained unchanged. Some areas of Bihar were given to West Bengal. Bombay was given some areas of Saurashtra and Kuch. The Marathi-speaking districts of the Nagpur division in Madhya Pradesh were also given to Bombay. Similarly, the Marathi-speaking area of Marathwada was excluded from Hyderabad Deccan and merged with Bombay. The southern most districts of Bombay were attached with Mysore.

In 1960, Bombay was divided into Maharashtra and Gujarat; Travancore-cochin and the Malabar district of Madras merged to form Kerala; the southern part of Travancore-cochin i.e. Kanyakumari was given to Madras (in 1965, Madras changed its name to Tamil Nadu); Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh, and Bhopal state were merged to form Madhya Pradesh. Mysore was given Kannada-speaking areas of Coorg, Hyderabad, and south Bombay (in 1973 Mysore was renamed as Karnataka). Punjab was given Patiala and East Punjab States Union, while Rajasthan added Ajmer and some areas from Bombay and Madhya Bharat.

According to the Indian constitution, the creation of new states is the prerogative of the Indian parliament that can take away a part of any state and can also merge areas of two states to form a new one. That’s how the state of Nagaland was created in 1963, and from Punjab Hindi and Haryanvi-speaking southern areas were made into Haryana in 1966. In 2000, three new states were created: Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttaranchal (renamed Uttarakhand in 2007).

 The Telangana Movement

Now, something about the newest state called Telangana. This is important to remember that this new state was not created on linguistic basis; both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana share the same language i.e. Telugu. At the time of independence, the Telugu-speaking people lived in the northern areas of Madras and the eastern areas of Hyderabad State. Telangana is the region between the Krishna and Godavari rivers. In the Telugu-speaking areas of Madras, a popular leader, Ramullu, launched a movement for the separation of Telugu areas from Madras. When he died in December 1952, after two-month long fast unto death, the Indian PM Nehru had to announce that for the Telugu-speaking people of Madras a new state, Andhra, would be created.

That’s how in 1953 Andhra State was created that did not include Telangana — the Telugu-speaking area of Hyderabad.

In Telangana, from 1946 to 1951, the Communist Party of India (CPI) had led a peasant rebellion that started from the Nalgonda district under the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad and spread to Warangal and Bidar districts. Initially, this movement was against the local landlords and the CPI liberated activists led the peasants to liberate hundreds of villages from the clutches of the landed gentry. This movement was beautifully depicted by the Indian film director, Shyam Benegal (himself from Telangana), in his masterpiece movie, Nishant (1975) with Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi in lead roles. It was during this movement that India occupied Hyderabad and removed the Nizam. After 1951, the CPI also changed its policy and opted for a democratic route instead of a violent path.

In 1953, the Fazal Ali Commission recommended that the Telugu-speaking areas of both Madras and Hyderabad be merged to form Vishal Andhra. The Telanganites never liked that proposal for the Telugu areas of Andhra were more developed thanks to being under direct British control in Madras and had better educational institutions, banking, industry, trade, and ports that Telangana lacked. Telangana had suffered under the Nizam rule in Hyderabad and was much worse in terms of education and development due to the suffocating suppression of local landlords.

After the Indian annexation of Hyderabad, the first democratic elections were held in 1952 and Rama Krishna Rao became the first elected chief minister of Hyderabad Deccan. He realised that the Telanganites did not want to join any Vishal Andhra but he gave in to the pressure from the central leadership of the Indian National Congress (INC) and agreed to the merger of Telangana and Andhra into one state.

In 1955, the Andhra assembly passed an act to protect the rights of the Telanganites and gave assurance that they would get special treatment, to be inducted into government jobs, educational institutions and development projects. In 1956, Andhra and Telangana merged to form Andhra Pradesh. The Fazal Ali Commission recommendation was ignored according to which a two-thirds majority in the Telangana assembly was needed to support any such merger.

Telangana consisted of about 40 per cent of Andhra Pradesh population and area but paid for around 75 per cent of revenue thanks to Hyderabad city; it had only 20 per cent of government jobs and various state organisations had even less representation from Telangana.

During the past 50 years, the movement for separating the two gained momentum every now and then. Only in 2010-2012, around 300 youth reportedly committed suicide and millions participated in demonstrations. Out of the 13 most backward districts of Andhra Pradesh, nine were located in Telangana, while it contained 45 per cent of the forest.

In July 2013, the INC requested the central government to accord Telangana the status of the 29th state in India. In October the cabinet approved the proposal and in December the bill was passed. Finally, in February 2014 both the lower and upper houses of the Indian parliament approved to separate ten out of 30 districts of Andhra Pradesh to form Telangana state. The population of Telangana is around 35 million.

 Lessons for Pakistan

This brief overview leads us to conclude that India and Pakistan might have common problems but at least at the federal democratic level India has ensured its integrity, thanks to its willingness to create new administrative units in response to popular demands. Be it a change in nomenclature, a demand for readjustment in state boundaries or the creation of new administrative units, the federal government ought to adopt a sympathetic approach.

From almost a dozen provinces at the time of partition to 29 states right now, India has carved and recarved its domestic frontiers and that is one reason why we don’t see so much instability in India as we notice in Pakistan.

Regular free and fair elections without any interference from self-appointed custodians of ‘national interest’ are a pre-requisite for smooth national survival.

Another major lesson for Pakistan is that the federal government and the military establishment should get rid of the past hangovers; accept the 18th Amendment as the decision of the federating units and go for the creation of new provinces if the people demand it. The formation of a Reorganisation Commission on the pattern of Fazal Ali Commission in India is the need of the hour in Pakistan if it wants to survive as a federation.

Dr Naazir Mahmood

Naazir Mahmood
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator.

2 comments

  • R S Chakravarti

    An interesting, informative report. There are some minor inaccuracies like some dates. What you call “onslaught of the Indian army” is officially described as Police Action! What I have read is that it came after the Nizam’s Razakars established a reign of terror. That may have been provoked by the CPI revolt.

    There was a secessionist party in Madras as well, the DMK. But it gave up the idea in the early 1950s. Since 1967 the DMK and/or an offshoot, the AIADMK, have been ruling the state of Tamil Nadu.

    The allegations about Andhra people made by people in Telengana before the split were quite alarming (or hilarious, depending on how you look at it); they looked down on them, exploited them, cheated them, etc. etc.. The problem was that the powerful people from coastal Andhra invested in Hyderabad, neglecting their own home, and dominated it. It appears that things are quiet and peaceful now and the (new, smaller) Andhra Pradesh is progressing.

  • Thank you R S Chakravarti for reading my article and commenting on it; I agree with your observations and appreciate you further enlightening me on this subject; I am glad that in India such issues are resolved overall amicably and the demand for the creation of new administrative units is not considered treason.

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