Friday, 11 December 2009

Telangana Conundrum (Divide, divide again and rule?)

This post is about the flavor of the week. It is my take on Telangana and the argument for breaking up the larger states into smaller more efficient states. When I sat down to write this post, I was against any division of the states. The “divide, divide again and then rule” approach was not making sense and appeared colonial. However, a little bit of research has managed to partially change my opinion. I will try and present some of the data that I came across.

First, comments on what has been happening

The pro-Telangana politicos are in hot pursuit of their goal for statehood. Chidambaram issued a statement that kicks of the process of state-formation.

Going by Chidambaram’s track record on contentious issues (e.g. Operation Green Hunt) the directive to the Andhra government is probably a red herring aimed at a) diffusing a potential crisis and/or b) an effort to divide the opposition benches by throwing a bone to regional parties who have state autonomy as a part of their agenda.

I will stick my neck out to predict that in all probability, Chidambaram will “clarify” his statement in studio interviews with anchors in a few weeks. The clarification will say that the issue is first a state subject and unless the legislature passes a resolution his hands are tied. He will once again play the “state subject” card with ease.

As far as Telangana is concerned, he chose his words (as always), with great care. In the process, he created a win-win situation for a fleeting moment. The media, and all parties concerned, bit the bait hook, line and sinker.

However, his statement has set the cat amongst the pigeons in regional political circles. Many regional forces are brining back their demand for state-hood. Area that are being discussed include
  • Vidarbha (Maharashtra)
  • Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh)
  • Gorkhaland (West Bengal)
  • Bodoland (Assam)
Second, the crux of the debate

Two questions that are resurfacing and are being debated include-
  • Is the division of state based on language the right thing to do?
  • Are smaller states easier to govern and they do they tend to have better administrative efficiencies?
For starters the two questions are VERY different. The first question has political roots. Identity based on language has been a useful political platform for regional parties (e.g. MNS in Maharashtra and DMK in Tamil Nadu). I am not going to bother analysing this question. I think any discussion on these lines will be counter-productive.

The second and far more relevant question is about  administrative efficiencies. Do Small states address development priorities and administration better than a large state? Do they have less corruption?  The rest of this post is an attempt to figure out the answer.

Small states and administrative efficiencies?
  • Small Assemblies
    One down side of the small state assembly (number of MLAs) is that they may be unstable. Small assemblies and the divisive nature of local politics leads to brittle governments with wafer thin majorities. Horse trading is rampant and governments may change more than once between elections. Haryana, Goa and Jharkhand are examples that come to mind.

    My Argument:  If I were forced off the fence, I would say that it will not necessarily help in brining about better administrative efficiencies.

  • Corruption
    Will small states breed less corruption? Hard to say! Data that I found on the net did not provide any conclusive proof that small states fair much better than large states. However it is apparent that the level of corruption appears to be marginally less in the smaller states.
    My Argument- Based on available data. It appears that small states deal slightly better at dealing with corruption particularly when it relates to their poorest citizens.

Note - Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, and Punjab are treated as “Large States” by the original report/source

  • Voter Turnout
    Since we are a democracy, one good way to judge how healthy our democracy is to see what the voter turnouts looks like. Data Available in the National Election Study 2009 (courtesy EPW) seems to indicate that small states produce far better voter turnouts. This is a positive sign and an argument that works in favor of smaller states.

    My Argument: Electorates seem more responsible in smaller states.

  • Literacy Rates
    One interesting indicator that should shed some light on development is literacy rates. According to the data available with the National Literacy Mission smaller states are performing much better than larger states. The area that grabs my attention is literacy rates amongst women.

    My Argument: Small states seem to have better literacy rates when it comes to women.  It reflects that a key government portfolio is being delivered more efficiently if the state is smaller. Can we extend this to other indicators? Maybe or maybe not. At the risk of sounding radical, literacy and women’s literacy are good enough reasons to start creating smaller states.

  • Sate Per Capita Domestic Product
    Data is not readily and uniformly available on Per Capita domestic product (maybe I was looking in the wrong places). I will present two graphs based on Government of India data for 2009 (data downloaded with some difficulty).
    Source: [India in figures - 2009]

    My Argument: If this economic indicator is to be believed, smaller states are doing better economically (at least on a per capita scale). We can find case specific reasons for each small state and why they are where they are in these rankings. However, the fact remains, that citizens in small states appear to be doing better than the larger ones. Again, an argument in favor of small states. 

  • Urbanization of India
    Over 28% of India now lives in its cities.By 2030 this number will be close to 40% (source: EPW Vol 48, 2009).
    It is not just the metros that are bursting at the seams. Like metros, towns and cities across the country have grown. What was a large town 50 years ago is now a sprawling city. Many of these cities have remained underdeveloped.
    My Argument: Infrastructure infusion into capital cities in new and smaller states will ease the burden on Metro cities in the country.There will be a multiplier effect around these cities that will give a better geographic spread to development.
When I began this post, I was convinced that Small states would not work well. What data I found says I may be wrong. I am confident, based on what I have read in the last two days, that most development indicators will be better in smaller states. Maybe this question deserves some serious thought. If the division of states happens based on regional developmental goals and not feudal family structures, I think we should invest in the shift.


  1. Why not smaller countries then ? There are many tiny nations that match your criteria.
    Maino Devi is playing according to Bama-China playbook.

  2. @Anonymous
    Looks like you prefer the linguistics based approach. Fair.

    What is Maino Devi and Bama-China BTW?

  3. Anand,

    On a serious note why not smaller countries just like the EU? We can have the military and currency in common?

  4. @Anonymous
    Interesting suggestion. Firstly, I am not too sure if that is going to help with administrative efficiencies.
    Secondly, my worry is - we might spin the clock back to the days of princely states.

    That said, if your suggestion implies dramatically increasing autonomy for states I think it has tremendous merit and deserves attention.

  5. I want a separate statehood for our beloved bannerghatta.You see it kind of fits the bill - for neglect,over-populated-under fed, screaming for attention, it s fare share of infrastructure woes, and the newly added terror threats. I can do mini fasts with some tiffin from Adiga's every now and then, and get some people shout slogans,considering the ample traffic jams - and get media attention too...see traffic jams mean a lot of eyeballs after all....

    Are you in it ?

  6. Inpite of Anand's meritorius presentation with clear stats I see again questions raised against his conclusion. I do not understand why don't people question his method rather than stricltly confined to his conclusion or jsut trying to justify their own belief. Remember human opinion is dynamic and our though processes are always analysing the truths and facts so as to comprehend our belief with new facts and if possible change our opinion.
    Either you guys for now,might not want to strain your minds or may be you are comfortable with your belief until it hits you hard, I am sure you would someday change your opinion.

  7. Actually all the above comments counter questions suggest that we should have more decentralized governance which Lok Satta party and many other intellectuals have been preaching.
    When you share responsibility and accountability for metrics which Anand has gathered to district level governance and ward level governance.. we might have better results according above analysis.. and this fits well with the request where Gyanban was for separate statehood for Bannerghatta
    Anyhow recent GHMC ( hyderad municipal) elections and mandatory voting in Gujarat indicate that our polity doesn't seem to be matured enough for the same...
    Infact recently when local level governance is explored as a reason for current state of things, Mr. Moily has squarely put the blame on the state govt pointing that central govt has provided such provisions but its up to state govts to implement it.

  8. @Kapileswar

    Thanks for the comments.

    It does look that it is becoming necessary to a) understand whether not these number are telling a story b) Like you point out, it would be interesting to see, as you suggest, how these numbers break down at a more granular level (district/taluk).

    Unfortunately, the current debates is centred around power equations. The emphasis is not on a equitable re-distribution of power but concentrating power.


  9. Thanks for this great analysis Anand. Sadly, objective fact based analysis of this kind has been hard to find at most other places. None of the news media I saw had such an analysis.

    Many thanks, this will be of great use in the future as well.

  10. @Vikram

    Thanks for the comment. Coming from a blogger of your stature, it means a lot.