Divide and rule?

Instead of dealing with the issues of poverty, governance etc, our rulers feed us the opium of language, region and religion.

States reorganisation is revisiting us. Andhra Pradesh – that currently includes Telangana – is on the boil. Again, the people on the opposing sides of the argument, for and against the splitting of Andhra Pradesh, are fighting as though two nations were being created.

We Indians fight amongst ourselves for issues that need not have been there in the first place. When we – the rulers are a part of our very own selves – cannot confront, forget solving them, real issues and tough issues that bother us, we seem to be turning our attention to smaller issues. That has been our pattern in all these 67 years of our freedom from the British Raj.

There could be different interpretations of the present unified Andhra Pradesh and Telangana tangle. Either the politicians, particularly those who run the central government, are ultra smart in placing a minor but contentious issue in front of the people when they are themselves confronted by huge problems of colossal corruption and total inability to tackle either the problems of economic downturn, fall in jobs, inflation, and poor becoming poorer or the problems on the borders where the neighbours are being constantly hostile.

Or, since after all the politicians arise out of our own lot, we are a nation of people who have lost their mental bearings who cannot consider issues in the right perspective.

The thought behind reorganizing the states, when India as an independent nation was born, was to facilitate the administrative process for the new India. Many provinces then were the erstwhile princely states.

The division during the British Raj was based on their needs to rule the kingdoms – small and big. The administrative division was then for the convenience of the British rule. It was for their political, military and strategic needs.

After freedom, the independent India needed to edit the existing structure for the administrative needs of this new nation. The needs were very different. They were to develop the nation economically; to oversee that hunger is eliminated.

 It was also to ensure that the citizens of this free country get adequate education and health services. It was essential to ensure that the basics were met for the people who were all proud to be free of the yoke of foreign rule and its excesses.

It was also essential to ensure that the fledgling nation could defend itself from any foreign aggression in the future. The perception of independent India’s strategic, defence and economic needs were very different from pre-1947 British India’s needs. It is towards these new purposes that the states needed to be reorganized. In short, it was purely an administrative need.

The British India’s division into provinces or states depended heavily on the rule of the princely states which again tended to accentuate divisions based on religion. These suited the purposes of the colonial masters.

Therefore, the pre-independence thinking of our national leaders or freedom fighters was to reverse such a division on the basis of religion or castes. Perhaps, the pre-independence Congress saw that as a reason to support a linguistic division.

Pose a risk

However, immediately after independence, the Congress-led government sensed that a division based on language would pose a risk to the national unity. President Dr Rajendra Prasad set up a committee to look into the issue of reorganisation of states based on languages.

This committee, during December 1948, submitted its report which advised that “the formation of states mainly on linguistic considerations was not in the larger interests of the nation.” Instead geographical contiguity, financial self-sufficiency and ease of administration were to be the criteria. 

That in successive decades the central government continued to violate these principles, for temporary political expediencies, is a fact we are witnessing even today. That the present UPA government at the centre saw it convenient to bolster its electoral chances for 2014 appears like a logical conclusion.

The timing of the decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh definitely lends much support to this view. If electoral compulsions make us take such divisive decisions, are we acting any differently than what the colonial masters did all along?

India’s need is to eliminate hunger. 25 per cent of its people go hungry. The nation’s need is to uplift the poor economically. This cannot be achieved by plundering lakhs of crores of rupees in coal, in telecom and several other spheres of economic activity.

It cannot be achieved by trying to shield criminal elements in the parliament and state assemblies. It cannot be achieved when the government is callous about millions of tons of agricultural produce rotting in its own godowns.

Instead of dealing with the above, our rulers and politicians feed us the opium of language, region and such other issues. A region, its people, its natural bounty and beauty, its traditions and culture are things of magnificence.

These are positive things that evoke positive thoughts, thoughts of seeing loveliness in its many perspectives. In its place, our rulers and politicians are placing negative and divisive thoughts of fears of one region suppressing the other region.

Where will it stop? Tomorrow, a sub-region may be suspected of oppressing another sub-region. Pitting a citizen against another citizen is not good politics. Divide and rule was supposed to be the policy of our colonial masters.

Citizens of this nation should wake up to these awful tendencies. They should demand eradication of poverty, growth for all, availability of food, water, shelter, healthcare, education and security for all citizens at all times.

How will a division of a state provide answers to all these unfulfilled basic essentials? Let us not be detracted from asking for better governance so that the nation moves quickly towards meeting these very basic needs.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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