Small Is Beautiful

The Logic of Small States

T Vijayendra

With the announcement of imminent formation of the new state of Telangana, the demand for other small states has gained strength, and a new phase of agitation has already started around the demands for Gorkhaland and Bodo-land, among others. Many more are sure to follow. The number of states, after the formation of Telanganaa will be 29.

Since Independence, formation of states within India has been a more less continuous process. To begin with, first there was an integration of some 500 princely states of British India into the Indian Union, comprising provinces inherited from British times. Some of these princely states were even smaller than today's districts! Then the State Reorganisation Act of 1956 created the present day basic structure of linguistic states. However there were some basic anomalies in these efforts, which led to further emergence of more states.

On May 1, 1960, Bombay State was split into Gujarat and Maharashtra. In 1961, Goa was included as a Union Territory, and in 1962 former French colonies were incorporated as Union Territories. Nagaland was carved out as a state from Assam on December 1, 1963. The Punjab Restoration Act of 1966 divided Punjab into Haryana and Punjab. Statehood was conferred upon Himachal Pradesh on 25 January 1971, and on Meghalaya (carved out from Assam) and Manipur and Tripura (upgraded from Union Territories) on 21 January 1972. The Kingdom of Sikkim joined the Indian Union as a state on 26 April 1975. On 20 February 1987, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram (both carved out from Assam) became states, followed by Goa on 30 May. In 2000 three new states were created : Chhattisgarh (1 November 2000) was created out of eastern Madhya Pradesh; Uttaranchal (9 November 2000), which was renamed Uttarakhand in 2007, was created out of the Hilly regions of North-West Uttar Pradesh; and Jharkhand (15 November 2000) was created out of the southern districts of Bihar. The process will undoubtedly continue in coming years.

Many of these new states have resulted from demands made by movements for the creation of these states. What is the source of energy for these movements for small states and who opposes these demands?

Federalism Vs Centralism
While India is supposed to be a federal State, in reality it is a centralist state. The autonomy of the states is very limited. In a genuine federal State, the constituting states will be autonomous, collect their own taxes and pay the federal Government a part of their tax collections towards federal activities such as foreign affairs, defence, central reserve bank, post and telephones, railways, national highways and civil aviation. The energy behind the demand for small states essentially reflects this reality and the aspirations of the people for strengthening federalism.

The Indian ruling classes were opposed to this process from the very beginning. The story begins with the partition of India. While the history of partition is complex, one major contributing factor was federalism. After the Second World War, the Indian bourgeoisie had grown strong and wanted to control and exploit national resources. An undivided India would perforce need of a federal structure; yet the Indian bourgeoisie was prepared to accept partition but not a genuinely federal structure. They preferred partition to losing control to a federal united India.

But federal tendencies kept expressing themselves in the form of reorganisation of states on linguistic lines. The bourgeoisie completely opposed this and said that Indian state boundaries should be drawn with parallel and vertical lines across the map, like in the United States.

Capitalist development resulted in uneven development of different regions, and aspects of internal colonies soon appeared in various parts of the country. Bihar and Bengal felt discriminated against. Within states too, uneven development occurred, and demands for Telangana, Jharkhand and Vidarbha emerged quite early. In response, new states kept being formed and the process goes on even today.

Capitalist development also further accentuated class differences, with growing inequalities and the rich and powerful becoming richer and more powerful. This also became a factor in the movement for smaller states. Both Telangana and Jharkhand regions have powerful histories of class struggle.

What is the basis for these federal tendencies? India is a group of nations and nationalities with highly developed regional and linguistic identities, and is by its very nature a federal entity. The basis of these identities can be sought under several heads.

Since everybody uses language everybody has some ideas about it. Often these ideas are popular ideas absorbed uncritically. Like most things in reality, language is in reality also quite a complex subject.

Most people think that there are languages like Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, etc and then there are dialects of these languages. Usually it is understood that 'languages' are those that have a written literary tradition, whereas dialects are mainly oral traditions. But if one looks closely, complexities soon appear.

Let us take the case of Hindi. Hindi is supposed to be a language, and Braj, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Maithili and Magadhi are its dialects. One can also add all the languages of the region where Hindi is the official language : Dogri, Garhwali, Kumaoni, Himachali, Harvanavi, Marwari, Mewari, Malwi, Bundeli, Nimari, Bhageli and Chhattisgarhi, among others. One may add Urdu and Dakhni which belong to the same group. Scholars like Rahul Sankrityayan quote  a figure of 30 such 'dialects' of Hindi alone.

Now the problem is that Hindi has a written literary history of only about 150 years, whereas Braj, Awadhi, Maithili, Urdu and Dakhni have a much longer history!

In reality, languages have many aspects. They can be literary languages, official languages, link languages, languages for limited use and languages that are only spoken and have no scripts. Linguists treat all of them as languages and sometimes they even use the term 'code' for language, which can cover every possible meaning. Standard languages are usually languages of a powerful community that dominates a region and are sometime referred to as languages with a gun! On the other hand, 'Link Language' is a language that spreads over a region due to trade, travel, religious and cultural communication. There is also a term 'adequate language', which separates some languages from inadequate languages such as baby talk or pidgins which serve a limited purpose.

As a rule all so-called 'dialects' and all adequate languages are treated as languages, and can thus form a basis of a 'speech community' and hence can also form a basis for a community or a small state. Languages are born in specific biogeographic or ecological regions. A large eco- region can have several small regions and each region will have a separate dialect or language. The language of the whole region can be considered as a set. For example Hindi is the name of a set of 30 languages and Telugu is the name of a set of 3 or 4 languages.(1)

There is a relationship between language and biodiversity. In a region of greater the biodiversity there will be a correspondingly greater number of languages. North East India, which has a large biodiversity boasts of a large number of languages (sometimes every valley has a different language) and hence the demand for smaller states is higher in that region.

India today has 415 living languages or speech communities, 196 of which are endangered and 9 are extinct. Evidently  endangered languages have very small speech communities and many others also have relatively small speech communities. There are 13 languages with more than 1 crore speakers, 29 languages with more than 10 lakh speakers, 57 languages with more than 1 lakh speakers and 67 languages with more than 10,000 speakers, based on census results (languages with less than 10,000 speakers are not listed). However there are another 147 languages recorded by ethnographers, which have 10,000 to 1 lakh speakers. And some languages like Dakhni and Bhojpuri don't even find a mention although there are more than a crore speakers in each! A more recent People's Linguistic Survey of India by Bhasha Trust, Vadodara, lists 860 languages! It includes languages with very small number of speakers also.

So which languages or speech communities can form a basis of a small state? It will have to be large enough to be viable, and people of such communities should have shown some political presence in terms of identity politics. By identity politics it is meant that these people feel a sense of oneness and that some injustice has been done to them for example, that they are treated as second-class citizens in their own land. Most probably such communities will range in population from 1 lakh to 1 crore or more. Also these communities will have to be settled in one contiguous region. The Lambadas or Roma gypsy community is united by a language but is spread in many parts of Western and South India as well as in Russia and Eastern Europe! Evidently they cannot claim a state of their own.

Socio-cultural sub-regions
Socio-cultural sub-regions have existed for a fairly long time. They have existed before the Indian Constitution came into being, before the British came to India.

The late Dr Rasheeduddin Khan used this term to designate 56 such regions in India (2, 3). What are these regions and how did Dr Rasheeduddin come to select them? Actually it was fairly simple. He started with the existing states in modern India and looked into the sub-regions within them. In most cases they were already identified —like Marwar, Awadh, Bundelkhand, Malwa, Saurashtra, Kutch, Konkan, Ladakh, Rayalseema, etc. He put them on the map of India with boundaries marked with population in parantheses. In his scheme the smallest population was of Ladakh with just 1 lakh people followed by Kutch with 8.5 lakh. Awadh, Braj, Bhojpur, Malwa, Mithila, Bhojpur etc. had populations of more than 1 crore. With the formation of Telangana, this map was uploaded to the internet, and several references to his article also have also appeared. On the whole it is a fairly reasonable picture and will match with the language picture that has been given above. In fact the number of such regions will be slightly larger (up to 65 by this author's count) if one takes the languages into consideration.

Biogeographic Regions
Biogeographic regions are even older than socio-cultural regions. Based as they are on environmental features they were formed even before the human species evolved. These are eco-regions with definite geographic boundaries such as rivers, hills, soil type, rainfall etc. A biogeographic region defines its flora, fauna and human society. Thus, it defines a people, a speech community or, if you like, a nation/small state. They are defined in terms of the food they grow and eat, the kind of houses they live in, the kind of clothes they wear, and the kind of religions and  local deities and festivals they have. While all humans belong to one species, they differ in appearance due to having lived in different eco-regions. Earlier, the term 'race' was used to describe this feature, but today it is considered politically correct to use the term 'people' with a definite identity and name like Bengali or Santhali. Thus, a biogeographic region provides a 'natural' basis of defining a sub-continent, a country and a state within a country.

India as a biogeographic region
It is possible to define the idea of India in terms of biogeography. It is the region east of the Indus river and to the west of the Brahmaputra/Padma river. It is bounded on the North by the lower Himalayas and in the South by the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Scholars have demonstrated the socio-cultural unity of the Indian people and some even have shown that all Indian languages form one family. (4)

Dr Kumar Ghorpade has done a remarkable job of defining the sub-regions and the sub-sub-regions of biogeography of India. His primary purpose, of course, was to study the flora and fauna of India but he is also aware of the possibility of these regions defining the small states in India. (5 and 6)

Logical (Natural) unity of linguistic, socio-cultural and biogeographic regions
There is thus a natural basis for defining a small state, combining the linguistic, socio-cultural and biogeographic sub-region. (7) This modifies Dr Rasheeduddin's description but also adds more strength to it. The final decision of course lies with the people of the region—whether they want a separate state or not. For example there was not much of a people's movement (as compared to Jharkhand and Chhattis-garh) demanding Utttarakhand and recently one has heard voices that they want to go back to Uttar Pradesh! Many regions designated above are not seeking separate states and there is no reason to assume that there should be new states created in every case of a distinct socio-cultural region. However, as of now there is a demand for at least ten new states, which will take the number to 39 and if one adds the 7 Union Territories it will be 46!

Viability on the Basis of Size
Very often one hears the argument that small states are not economically viable. This is a question of history. For the last two hundred years people have lived in an era of cheap energy resources based on fossil fuels like oil and coal. This has given rise to industrialisation, nation states, and large states. This has also given rise to environmental destruction and global warming that threatens the very existence of life on earth. The idea of the viability of a state in terms of economic growth is valid only for this era.

However in the coming decades this will no longer be valid. The fossil fuel sources of energy are declining rapidly and people are envisioning a transition era of reducing energy consumption to reach an era of a fossil-fuel-free future. This involves local self-sufficiency based on renewable resources and a sustainable economy. The idea of small states suits this vision admirably. In medieval India there were more than 600 states, which paid an annual tribute to a central authority[?]. This was a kind of federal authority which changed from time to time. But the basic constituting units remained the same. So theoretically there can be some 600 viable units—the same as the number of districts in today's India. The idea is not to go back to the medieval period, except in that main source of energy will once again become the Sun. Also one can look forward to a war-free, worldwide federation of small states based on principles of'a free association of free people/communities'!

However such a transition will not come about solely on the basis of resource depletion and threats due to global warming. It will require a total change of human values.

It is very well to have a vision and wish list, but who will bring about the change? Class struggle has also been a contributing factor in the demand for small states. Thus, the demand for change will come from people who need the change most that is the people who have been exploited and oppressed by the system the most. It is the working classes who will provide the energy and manpower to bring the required changes. Unless masses in general share their concern with the working classes and join with them in their struggle, change will not come.

References :
1.    T Vijayendra, 'Language and Biogeography: 'The Logic for a Separate Telangana State', in T Vijayendra, The Losers Shall Inherit the World, Hyderabad, 2009.
2.   Khan, Rsaheeduddin, The Regional Dimension, The Seminar (164) April, 1973.
3.   Thapar, Romesh, Is Small Beautiful? : India Today, 1977, December 16-31
4.   T. Vijayendra, 'Sanskrit and the Indian Language Families', Frontier, September 25, 2011.
5.   Ghorpade, Kumar, Biogeographical Areas of the Indian Subregion. (Mimeo)
6.   Ghorpade, Kumar, Biogeographical Areas, Sub- Areas and Sub-Sub-Areas of the Indian Sub-Continent (Mimeo)

    • 8. T Vijayendra, ‘People’s Republic of Telangana’, Frontier, October 3-20, 2010.
    • Frontier
      Vol. 46, No. 11, Sep 22 - 28, 2013

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