It is never a good idea to let electoral compulsions decide State policy. The creation of new states is a weighty matter with serious political and administrative consequences. The last thing that a responsible government should do is reduce it to an election issue. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the United Progressive Alliance government has done in endorsing the new state of Telangana. The Congress has apparently concluded that the move will give it an advantage in the new state in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. It could not have been unaware that the move would re-ignite the demands for statehood in other parts of the country. At the moment, demands for more than 20 such states are believed to be lying with the Union home ministry. The UPA’s move on Telangana has already prompted parties and groups supporting these demands to start fresh agitations, some of them violent, in different parts of the country. Agitators are back on the streets of Darjeeling, demanding ‘Gorkhaland’. In Assam, violence erupted during renewed stirs by Bodo and Dimasa groups demanding their own states. Other statehood calls have been heard from Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Bihar, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh. In all the states, the party in power opposes such moves and blames the Centre for the trouble the demands have caused.
But why do people in these regions want states of their own? There are usually two answers to this question. One, getting a state of their own fulfils the people’s aspirations for self-rule. Second, it offers greater opportunities for economic development. Both these answers suggest that the existing structure of a state and its administration do not live up to the people’s political and economic aspirations in some of its parts. But the solution in the form of new states could be worse than the problem. Leaving aside the question of managing such demands from all corners of the country, there are graver issues at stake. Smaller states could actually end up eroding the principle of federalism. The existing system of allocation of resources between the Centre and the states is hugely flawed. It makes the states perennially dependent on the Centre. Smaller states would be even more so for managing their finances. Creating new states is hardly the best way to redress economic imbalance within states or to fulfil people’s hopes for greater political empowerment.