Gerrymandering, Indian Style

September 21, 2014 • Glimpses, Print • Views: 3053

By Shreyas Ravishankar

The map of Indian states is being redrawn for political, not public interest, reasons.

On February 20, 2014, the Indian legislature passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganization Bill, which split the state of Andhra Pradesh into the new states of Seemandhra and Telangana. Reactions in the two new states remain polarized. The Telangana separatist movement, which has long demanded the creation of an independent Telangana state,continues to rejoice, while the majority of the public in Seemandhra is dismayed by the loss of a united state.

The fight for Telangana statehood has been long and arduous. Since the state of Andhra Pradesh was originally formed in 1956, outbreaks of separatist sentiment have been a regular occurrence. However, it was only after the formation in 2001 of the Telangana Rastriya Samithi (TRS), a political party that claims to champion Telangana interests, that the separatist movement received defined organizational structure. Following a 15-day hunger strike in December 2009 by the party’s leader, K.C. Rao, the national coalition government, led by the Indian National Congress party announced tentative plans to form a separate state of Telangana in the near future. The Telangana issue has largely escaped attention in subsequent years– until now.

A map of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

A map of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Elections for India’s national government began this April, and initial polling suggests that the incumbent Congress-led coalition will surrender large swaths of political ground to its primary rival, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates. Haunted by the revelation of numerous corruption scandals over the course of its term, and by the immense popularity of Narendra Modi, the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister, the Congress party seems certain to lose these elections.

Andhra Pradesh currently constitutes the biggest chunk of the Congress party’s national political capital. However, just as in the rest of the nation, it has been losing voter confidence in Andhra Pradesh , which puts it at greater risk of being badly beaten later this year. By claiming credit for the creation of Telangana and allying with the TRS, the Congress party hopes to ensure electoral victories in this new state, which constitutes 17 of Andhra Pradesh’s 42 districts.

Despite its criticisms of the Congress party for playing petty politics over creating Telangana, the BJP – currently in the opposition – supported the passage of the bill in the national legislature. This is likely because this controversy could potentially benefit the BJP. The creation of Telangana has created a massive rift within the Congress between those opposed to bifurcating Andhra Pradesh and those in favor. Moreover, the BJP can now strengthen its currently miniscule voter base in Seemandhra, which will comprise the other 25 districts of Andhra Pradesh, by playing into the general disapproval there of the Congress party’s action.

Politics aside, many are unconvinced that creating two new states will genuinely solve any problems. The governments of Seemandhra and Telangana are expected to be at loggerheads with each other over numerous heated administrative issues. Most crucially, there remain major disputes over the allocation of water between the states. Andhra Pradesh used to receive its irrigation water from the rivers Godavari and Krishna, but nearly 75 percent of their collective catchment area lies exclusively in the Telangana region. Hence, separatist leaders constantly demanded that the Andhra Pradesh government allocate Telangana a corresponding proportion of the state’s water resources. Even though these demands were never fulfilled, many portions of what is now Seemandhra are far less developed than Telangana. A breakdown in communication between the states could hence be disastrous for portions of the Seemandhra public.

A map of aspirant statehood movements throughout India (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

A map of aspirant statehood movements throughout India (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

The creation of Telangana and Seemandhra appears motivated more by the Congress party’s political calculus than by prudence. It seems unlikely that this move will significantly benefit the population of either state in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the situation sets a dangerous precedent for the formation of new states in India. More than ten other established state separatist movements exist in India, and not all of them will actually help the people for which they stand. The ramifications of mere political expediency, rather than public necessity, becoming a basis for creating new states are very serious.

The states’ division has already brought surprises. In what appears to be an attempt at political grandstanding, the TRS recently refused to ally with the Congress party. As the political implications of Telangana’s new statehood play out in the next few weeks, more twists likely lie ahead.

Shreyas Ravishankar ’17 is in Davenport College. Contact him at shreyas.ravishankar@yale.edu.

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