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SENDING OUT THE WRONG SIGNALS

It is the Constitution (Fifth Amendment) Act, 1955, effective December 24, 1955, which provides for a new procedure for ascertaining the will of a state legislature with regard to “territorial or boundary changes” affecting it. Prior to this amendment, no bill for forming a new state, increasing or diminishing its area or altering its boundaries or name could be introduced in Parliament, unless the views of the concerned state legislatures had been ascertained by the president. Since there was no time limit for this purpose, it could cause avoidable delays or even hold up legislation in matters referred to in Article 3. The president is now empowered to fix the time limit or to extend it.

According to Article 3, “Parliament may by law — (a) form a new State by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more States or parts of States or by uniting any territory to a part of any State; (b) increase the area of any State; (c) diminish the area of any State; (d) alter the boundaries of any State; (e) alter the name of any State, provided that no Bill for the purpose shall be introduced in either House of Parliament except on the recommendation of the President and unless, where the proposal contained in the Bill affects the areas, boundaries or name of any of the States;... the Bill has been referred by the President to the Legislature of that State for expressing its views thereon within such period as may be specified in the reference or within such further period as the President may allow and the period so specified or allowed has expired.”

With the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 1966, effective from August 27, 1966, came further explanations of Article 3 which clarified that the “State” in clauses (a) to (e) of Article 3 (but not the proviso) includes “Union Territories” and that the power under clause (a) of Article 3 includes “power to form a new State or Union Territory by uniting part of a State or Union Territory to another State or Union Territory”. Thus the new-look states, Punjab and Haryana, were reorganized on linguistic basis with the Union Territory of Chandigarh as the capital of both.

Here, it may be of some relevance to refer to the constitution of the United States of America, which is the second biggest democracy after India. Thus Article IV, Section 3 (1) of the American constitution stipulates, “...But no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States, without the consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned, as well as of the Congress”.

No wonder that this is one of the factors by which the unity and integrity of the states in the US federal system has been maintained. By implication, it is clear that it will not be allowed of any one of the parties (the national or the union government) to redraw the map of the US. This prevents the merger or partition of states without their consent. “The plenary power of Congress to admit new States into the Union is subject to this limitation.” Thus in the long history of the US, the number of states has increased to 50 through acquisition or addition of new territories rather than through partition, bifurcation or division of the existing land, as in India.

Indeed, the contrast between America and India is too sharp not to be noted as there were only 14 states after the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1956, came into effect from October 1, 1956. In 2014, the number of states in India is set to rise to 29 as Telangana is born. Post 1956, however, things started moving fast with the creation of Gujarat (1960), Nagaland (1962), Haryana (1966), Himachal Pradesh (1971), Manipur (1972), Sikkim (1975), Mizoram (1987), Arunachal Pradesh (1987), Goa (1987). Interestingly, all these new states were born when the Congress was at the helm of the Central government. When one of the first stable non-Congress governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee ruled Delhi from 1998 to 2004, it too found it prudent not to openly oppose the creation of three more states of Chhattisgarh (2000), Uttaranchal (2000) and Jharkhand (2000).

Although an important duty of any responsible government is to show its people, and the opposition parties alike, that whatever action is being initiated or undertaken by it passes the scrutiny of law, the present (hasty) action over Telangana appears vulnerable and susceptible to judicial challenges in the near future. When the (united) Andhra Pradesh legislature, in accordance with Article 3, did not approve of the division of the state, can it really be said with conviction that the due process of law was followed by the federal government of India? How could the views of the constitutionally elected legislature, acting on behalf of the people of a state government, be brushed aside?

Let us now see what constitutes the “due process of law”. According to the universally accepted Black’s Law Dictionary it is “the conduct of legal proceedings according to established rules and principles for the protection and enforcement of private rights.” In this context, one wonders why the long-pending decision over Telangana had to be realized so suddenly and with such missionary zeal, thereby bulldozing all canons of accepted procedures as well as the points of view of various political parties. This has surely sown seeds of future disruption and violence. Telangana will embolden potential as well as dormant forces in the Indian social and political cauldron.

What then is the gain or the loss? And who is the ultimate beneficiary? Interestingly, the Constitution of India makes “special provisions” with respect to the state of (united) Andhra Pradesh. Thus Article 371D says, “The President may, by order made with respect to the State of Andhra Pradesh, provide, having regard to the requirements of the State as a whole, for equitable opportunities and facilities for the people belonging to different parts of the State, in the matter of public employment and in the matter of education, and different provisions may be made for various parts of the State.”

The erstwhile (united) Andhra Pradesh gave two presidents (V.V. Giri and N. Sanjiva Reddy) and one prime minister (P.V. Narasimha Rao). Yet today, the creation of Telangana means Telugu speaking people cannot stay with the Telugu speaking people. What then is the signal? Linguistic state is a myth, which is no longer sacrosanct. Hence any future government of India can do what it wishes to do in accordance with the (short-term and myopic) political expediency to create more states on the ground that when the strongest binding force of a common lingua franca could not keep the Telugu-speaking people together, nothing can stop two different linguistic groups from separating from each other in the near future. Call it a prelude to the Balkanization of India or to more divisions. But who cares?