There is little doubt that the Congress party has made a mess of the creation of Telangana. True, pretty much every territorial partition, whether of Bengal in 1905 or India in 1947 or some of the states in 1956 or more recently, has caused angst in the hearts and minds of the status quoists. But, that being so, the challenge has always been to manage the angst. It is in this that the Congress party and its governments, both at the Centre and in the state, have failed. The former botched the creation, and the latter is botching the post-partum pain. The episode, therefore, offers three key lessons.
The first lesson is that there should be a proper agenda for the creation of new states. Post-Telangana, there are several claimants - Vidarbha, for one; Gorkhaland, for another - and eventually some future government will allow their demands. Therefore, one of the better legacies that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) can leave behind is a new states reorganisation commission. Even if the UPA doesn't create it, it can at least announce the intention to set up one. This will go a long way towards removing suspicion and knee-jerk opposition from the Opposition parties. This has become very important now because the Congress has handled it badly. After all, it is difficult to find anybody who believes that this decision was taken without an eye on the electoral arithmetic and the dates of the general election. With, and in, Telangana, it is argued that the Congress can hope to get around 15 seats in the 2014 general election; without it, some in the party feared it would have got less than five - in a state that has been the bulwark of two successive electoral victories for the Congress. Thus, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy's remark - that the state was created only to make Rahul Gandhi prime minister - strikes a chord with many listeners. Intentions, like Caesar's wife, don't merely have to be honourable; they have to be seen to be so as well.
Another lesson would be to examine if India is paying a political cost for not changing the number of parliamentary constituencies for several years, even as its population has risen in this period. As numbers have increased, so has the political relevance of the smaller groups. Since representation has been frozen, the way out has been the creation of smaller states. If the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats is not increased to represent optimal numbers of people, this process may accelerate in the future. Meanwhile, it is state capitals, rather than New Delhi, that most affect people's lives. Together, this leads to ever-stronger demands for new states. Lastly, there is the question of preparedness when a state is divided. This has to be at the political, social and law-and-order levels. All three have been casually, and poorly, handled in this case. It is no excuse for the state's chief minister to say that he is caught in a dilemma. The consequences of his dilemma should not have been borne by the people and the economy of his state. If the Congress now loses Seemandhra for good, just as it lost Tamil Nadu after the Hindi agitation of the mid-1960s, it will have only itself to blame.