State of unreason

Having given in to the long-running Telangana agitation for a separate state without explaining the basis of the decision, the Centre must now reckon with a spate of angry statehood demands. As Mamata Banerjee's 72-hour deadline to the agitating Gorkha Janmukti Morcha draws to a close, the turmoil in Darjeeling, for instance, shows no signs of abating. GJM chief Bimal Gurung resigned from the two-year-old Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to lead a renewed struggle for statehood. Banerjee, in whose term the GTA accord was reached, has taken a tough line on agitators, using a range of methods to undercut the mobilisation. The GJM, which has now accused her of shutting down cable TV operations to sap the energies of the agitation, insists on dealing only with New Delhi. The Centre has another reason to worry as Bodo and Gorkha leaders consider a united front. This kind of regional coordination and joint strategising could pose a formidable challenge, especially because the UPA appears to have no considered answers to give them.

After all, it has not made clear the basis on which it is denying these demands, or laid out neutral, objective criteria by which various petitions are weighed. If the reason for carving out a separate state is administrative efficiency and better governance, giving a fresh start to regions currently ignored by a remote capital in a vast state, then Uttar Pradesh needs to be broken up too. If it is about helping an economically deprived area stuck in a prospering state, Vidarbha or Bundelkhand make the cut. If it is about the duration and tenacity of the struggle, or cultural distinctiveness, Gorkhaland certainly qualifies, as one of the oldest of such demands in the country.

It may take a second states reorganisation commission to study these matters. We need a rigorous analysis of how smaller states have thrived or fallen behind, while adjusting for historical legacies. We need to consider strategic repercussions, if any, and the fate of cities that are fought over by different parts of a state. To what extent can popular aspirations be satisfied by greater decentralisation and political autonomy rather than a harsh partition? The Telangana question could have been a moment to prepare this comprehensive study, one that could guide future decisions to redraw the map of India. Instead, the UPA made an impulsive announcement about a separate Telangana; then, panicked by the intensities of hope and resistance it had set off, it stalled for years. And ahead of the election, just as inexplicably, it sealed the deal. No surprise, then, that Gorkha and Bodo protestors are hoping the Centre's random, thoughtless approach can work in their favour too.

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