Friday, December 11, 2009

Small is beautiful

Apart from the regular torrent of issues and unrest in our country, we are now experience a new wave of protests and strikes. Either for the formation of some new states or against doing the same. The immediate reason being the statement from centre government regarding the proposal of new state in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh. The protests in other parts of Andhra can be attributed to the sentiments and passions running among the people of linguistic states like Andhra.

After Independence, we opted to have states formed based upon the linguistic lines. States, which are more than anything else ,the administrative entity for the welfare of people inside its borders, were formed based upon the language people speak. Due to this linguistic roots, it resulted in states which are huge in size, have strong consolidation of power and capital and even stronger potential for corruption. For reasons I have never been able to understand, we still call it Federalism. Clever politicians always used the feelings of the people to manipulate the public opinion so that their corruption regime goes on without any hindrance. Due to the huge size, management and administration suffered seriously and they were not able to reach out to everyone inside it or get a complete coverage for its citizens. This disastrous combination of gigantic and powerful state governments and even more powerful government Delhi was catastrophic and resulted in highly uneven and skewed distribution of resources. While regions and people at the centre parts of the rule got most of the meat, people at the periphery and remote areas were often neglected and left to have a poor life. Its not a strange coincidence that areas of the country where we see a lot of unrest like Maoism and Nexalism are the regions which are or were mostly part of such big states. Even in Andhra, this Telangana region is a hotbed of Nexalism which thrives on the poverty and poor living condition of the people in the region. All these outfits have grown out of the rampant feudalism left over by the absence of state power and administration.
Perhaps being the home minister and an astute managerial guru, Chidambaram has realised this fact. He might be expecting to defuse the movements by giving them their own states which are smaller in size and will be more attentive to the issues affecting them.

So why not go further and have a radically more distributed architecture for India with a centre dealing only defence, foreign affairs and currency while numerous small states with lots of power vested upon them ? The states should be ideally of Goa's size. This will be a country with a meaningful implementation of the principle of 'unity in diversity' which we all love to boast of. This distributed architecture and greater degree of devolution has some inherent benefits.
First and foremost is the ability to make the state more accessible to everyone of the society. Unlike the present day states with huge size and unable to reach to the periphery, the "administrative coverage" can be reached everywhere. Second, being small in size means people know each other better and their leaders too. So the leaders are judged and their performance is scrutinized in the elections even more closely. It becomes more like a Panjayath election where you talk about the actual development and down to earth issues affecting them rather than making some vague and unrealistic jargons and slogans. Third, when states or countries are formed out of passionate feelings like religion and language it inherently becomes more vulnerable for tension and clashes of different such entities. Cauvery water dispute is a classic example for this scenario where two states are involved in bitter fight against each other over some seemingly non issue. They cannot come up with a viable solution for the problem not because of gravity of the issue. But rather due to the nature of the problem. The people of two states consider it as a clash of two communities separated by their languages. Last, but not least, this will give the centre government more leeway to focus more on its core duties which are currency, defence and foreign affairs. Free of all the trivial tasks like the construction of roads and bridges in the remote parts of the country, centre government would be able to give a sharper focus on these core tasks.
This is not a silver bullet for the development of India. Neither is it a panacea for all the problems our country faces. But it should give us a strong foundation upon which we can grow further.