On 20th of February, the Indian Parliament passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill (the “Telangana Bill”), a measure that will bifurcate the existing state of Andhra Pradesh into two, creating a new Telangana state in the northwest and leaving the remainder as Andhra Pradesh. The issue has no doubt been very controversial, dividing the state and the country, at times violently, on whether or not to keep the state unified or bifurcated. Not only is the matter internally sensitive for the Telugu-speaking population (Andhra Pradesh was originally split along linguistic lines), but it is also of key concern for the country, establishing further precedents on the constitutional ability of the central government to make decisions on behalf of the federation in drawing state boundaries for the sake of maintaining stability. Although Parliament has passed the bill, Andhra Pradesh state legislature rejected the motion on the 30th of January, offering up tension between state parties and the federal government. Further, the timing of the bill has offered more controversy, occurring right before to the May 2014 elections. The passing of a new Telangana state is said to benefit the Indian National Congress the party under which the bill was introduced. I hope in this article to explore these tensions as a source of potential conflict, address what they mean for India’s distribution of power, and finally explore what this might mean for the most marginalised in the country for whom the bill was brought into consideration.
High-level tensions stem from Article 3 of the Indian Constitution, which according to the Supreme Court, holds that there are no constitutional barriers to creating a new state so long as the motion passes through Parliament. The Union holds the power to redraw state boundaries, because this flexibility allows the federation to maintain stability in light of its extensive ethnic, religious, and tribal identities. The Parliament may seek the recommendation of state legislature but are not legally obliged to adopt the views of the same. Although Article 3 has been asserted for this purpose before, as of now, nine petitions have been offered against the motion which passed both houses of Parliament on the 18th and 20th of February respectively. Further, the introduction of the bill is said to be a political move by the Indian National Congress and Sonia Gandhi, in particular, as a ploy to increase the party’s supporters for the upcoming election, in which her son, Rahul Gandhi may act as a prime ministerial candidate. There is no doubt that the Andhra Pradesh legislature, which denied the bill, was supported by members largely from the Seemandhra region of Andhra Pradesh, which excludes Telangana, and further tactics such as the pepper spray incident in Parliament during the vote count on the bill have alienated MPs from participating in discussions on their own state for “disciplinary” purposes. Regardless of these instances, however, the Union’s primacy in the issue is asserted not by the ongoing political struggle but rather by the plight of those have been seeking the creation of a Telangana state for years, whom have been denied political representation. The Union is said to have passed the bill in both houses, because the area has been persistently underdeveloped and ignored. Without Union flexibility and maintenance of the status quo of Andhra Pradesh leadership, the marginalised people of the state would continue on their path. Union leadership is thus required for the well being of all in the state.
Still, there are many sources of potential conflict, including the inclusion of the capital city of Hyderabad, in which many technology giants house their offices, following a 10-year transition period, water resources, and gas and electricity distribution. The Group of Ministers however has reviewed these issues and has decided to constitute commissions to govern fair distribution. As sources of electricity and water, crucial rivers, in particular, will be governed by a Krishna River Management Board and a Godavari River Management Board respectively. Apart from resource conflicts, there will additionally be a larger question of Telugu identity. Although the area is rich in history, religion, ethnicities, tribes, commonalities as well as divisions in culture may create further tensions along identity and historical lines with regards to resources. Political parties, such as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim group Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party already exist as examples of the crucial role culture plays in local politics.
Nevertheless, these potential conflicts have not yet had time to manifest and the central government’s move seems to be well intentioned. From an economic perspective, the creation of the Telangana state is meant to give voice to an area that has been largely marginalised in development through the political alienation of Telangana’s nearly 65% population of caste groups that fall into an “Other Backward Classes” (OBC) designation. Although the divide is largely clear in leadership terms, whether or not India can effectively address socio-economic divides through Telangana’s creation is yet to be decided. With hope, the malleability of the map will enable the country to successfully pursue its democratic vision.