After many years of struggle and strife, Telangana has come to pass. Many lives have been lost and property destroyed because various governments at the Centre have had no defined policies for creating new states. There has to be a better way of "delivering" a state - not by fasts, by threats or by violence unleashed by a "rent-a-crowd" but by a logical, democratic way of meeting the will of the people. Not the will of an egotistical leader who wants to establish one more political dynasty - or one who equates state with caste.
Praful Patel asks for a Second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC-II). When? In the very last year of United Progressive Alliance-II. Rajnath Singh also wants SRC-II. What was he doing in the National Democratic Alliance years? Rather late in the day for both. If we are to escape Telangana-type cataclysms in the future, we have to institutionalise the mechanism, taking it away from the grubby hands of the political class.
Do we have too many states? Not by a long shot. The US, with around 315 million inhabitants, has 50 states; Germany, with a population of just over 80 million - just 40 per cent of Uttar Pradesh (UP)'s - has 16 Länder. So, we certainly do not have too many states.
But what should be the criteria for forming new states? Language, the sole criterion of SRC- I, has now been almost exhausted. By forming Telangana, we have demolished an old shibboleth - that in non-Hindi speaking states, there should be only one state per language. Some say that the new states should be viable but what is viable? Is the UP of 200 million people and Rs 2-lakh crore debt viable? There is a reasonable amount of data to suggest that recently-created small states are viable, compared to the states from which they were carved out. It is not a matter only of size, though very small states could be unviable.
So, how do we ensure that the process of creating new viable states is democratic and does not tear the nation asunder? I suggest a three-stage procedure. In this procedure, there are various "number-based" criteria. These numbers are not sacrosanct. What we need is a debate on the principles involved in the procedure.
Stage I: A States Reorganisation Commission
An SRC should be appointed every 30 years - with the next one being in 2013. This SRC-II should set out the possible new states based on the old linguistic principle or on the new regional principle (e.g. Poorvanchal) or on some other defined principle/s. SRC-II should also take into account the principle of viability (in whatever manner defined by it). The findings of SRC-II would identify the new states that could be created over the next 30 years with their specified borders. This, however, does not mean that these states would be created automatically - they would need to move through stages II and III.
Stage II: The political process
Once an area is identified as a potential new state, one would have to see whether there is genuine, popular support for that state within that area/region.
This could be in one of two forms. First, the demand could be raised by a party that has secured at least 25 per cent of the votes in the area/region in the preceding Assembly election. Or, second, the demand would have to be backed by more than a third of the strength of the state's Assembly as well as by more than 50 per cent of the MLAs representing that region. Then, we would move to stage III.
Stage III: The people's verdict
In India, we have a representative democracy. The concept of referendum is alien to the Indian Constitution. But since creating a new state is a major decision, we could have a referendum to be convinced that the people (not just the "neta" and family) of the region do actually want the new state.
The Election Commission would call for a referendum in that region (not the whole state) within one year of the demand. The referendum would be a straight choice between a "yes" and a "no" for the state as defined by the SRC (not "give me two extra districts and throw in the capital too"!). In the referendum, at least two-thirds of the electorate of the region would have to participate and at least 50 per cent of the total electorate would have to vote in favour of the new state. That 50 per cent of the total electorate should back the new state is a strict criterion but then it is a very important and irreversible decision and at least half the voters should be willing to back it.
If a referendum is won, the new state should be formed. If it is lost, stages II and III cannot be revisited for at least five years.
We do need more states but they need to have some logic to their creation and they need the people's backing. Or, we shall be at the mercy of those who seek to aggrandise themselves and encourage fissiparous tendencies at the cost of the nation. It is apt to remember what Jawaharlal Nehru said in the 1950s: "Who lives if India dies?"
The author is a political analyst