We all know about the unification of Italy in the 19th Century, and also about the tension that currently exists between the developed northern part of the country and its poorer southern region. The tension between the two parts has been simmering for decades. The important point, however, is that it has not been subsiding. On the contrary, very recently, the call has been given once again to separate the north from the south Constitutionally, which is as close as one can get to ‘Independence’ without uttering the word.

Towards fragmentation

In historical terms, the underlying political (and perhaps social) trend in Italy, therefore, is from unification to fragmentation, if one can use a much stronger term. Certainly, there is no movement the other way, which makes the Italian situation a bit problematic for those in the European Union who have been plugging for greater integration in the wider region.

The stark question is: Is the same process replicating itself in India? On the face of it, this is a revolutionary thought, perhaps even unpatriotic, for who would want one’s own country to be divided into even smaller parts having distinctive centres of governance, all owing allegiance to the republic’s Constitution? Or, who would not want such a situation to develop because so many different constituents of the governance structure merely reflect a certain fulfilment of the different political aspirations of a nation peopled by more than a billion souls?

A bit confusing perhaps, but both points of view seem to have a core of common sense. A strong India would presuppose first and last a sense of inviolate political integration because the opposite does not always augur well for state stability and, therefore, strength. And yet, a strong Indian nation should allow its constituent parts — in their social, cultural and religious manifestations — to flower which, in terms of theory, should allow these units to become healthier and thus even more self-sustaining in the future.

Key issues

What this means is that, in real terms, the number of States forming the Indian Union should be allowed to proliferate, assuming that the creation of more such units directly reflects the demand for separate and smaller groups to be able to express themselves more fruitfully. But where does one draw the line? Should the divisions be based on language, or should they be governed by even more detailed differences stemming from local variations, etc?

These are important issues at the present juncture, particularly when there is a move to set up a second States reorganisation commission more than half a century after the first. Most people would perhaps agree with the view that too many State Governments will inevitably make the job of the Union Government in New Delhi more difficult than before. Similarly, if regional political parties come to rule the roost in more geographical areas as the years go by, the formation of a stable Central Government would become even more problematic than it is now, which again is not what a strong India would want.

So what should be done? A politically fragmented India with a weak Central Government is the last thing that the New India would want. And yet, if the picture projected by the Union Home Ministry is any indication, the demand for new States has become a flood. The question is: Are the politicians spearheading the demand for more States behaving responsibly? Why cannot they look beyond their nose and strive for a stronger, more united Indian republic instead of pushing their own narrow interests, which are firmly tied to wielding power in their immediate neighbourhood?

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 7, 2008)
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