Regional disparities in development have long created areas of discontent in different parts of India. This has prompted political parties and groups to demand separate states for these areas. In some cases, such demands flow more from identity politics than from serious concerns for development. The Centre’s decision to create the separate state of Telangana out of the present Andhra Pradesh has re-kindled such demands in several parts of the country. While the Congress’s hopes of political gains from the move are understandable, it is not quite certain how it will help improve the quality of people’s lives in the Telangana region. It is unrealistic to assume that the best solution to the problem of uneven development within a state lies in dividing it. If some areas in Assam, Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra are poorer than other parts, it is so because of bad policies and inept administration. The Darjeeling hills in West Bengal have long suffered from official neglect. But so have several other backward areas in the state. Even the fact that the majority of the people in Darjeeling are linguistically and racially different from those in the rest of Bengal is no reason for making it a separate state.
What Mamata Banerjee has said at a public rally in Kalimpong, therefore, makes eminent sense. Her point about the ‘divisive’ nature of the Gorkhaland agitation should be valid well beyond Bengal. In Assam, for instance, New Delhi’s decision on Telangana has spawned four different statehood stirs by several ethnic groups. The Centre has invited some of these groups for discussions on their demands later this month. It is safe to assume that the Centre would not even think of conceding these statehood demands. The same message must go out to the agitators in Darjeeling too. It is time that New Delhi realized the essentially divisive nature of statehood politics. And it should re-examine policies aimed at changing things in the backward areas. In the past, regional development boards were used to that end. More and more autonomous councils have been set up in order to promote local government. If such councils do not live up to the people’s expectations, the fault mostly lies with the politicians and the administration. The Indian polity has enough divisions to make governance increasingly difficult. Divisions of states could lead to worse fragmentations.