For the past several days, we’ve been living in a state of siege.
Since this statement will, of course, be a surprise to some of you, let me explain.
I live in a part of the country called the “North-East” because it is...in the north east. It’s, in fact, a chunk which is geographically completely isolated from the rest of the country, except for a 20-kilometre-wide corridor known as the “Chicken’s Neck” lying between Nepal on the north-west and Bangladesh on the south-east. All communication – except by air – between the rest of the country and the North-East passes through that corridor.
Some days ago, I wrote an article on the Hindunazi party, the BJP, and its agenda for seizing power in the next national election. Let me now talk about how its competitor, the Congress, is trying to hang on to power.
It’s trying to do so in the old, typical Congress tradition, which it learned from the British: divide and rule.
Now, India is a nation comprised of 28 states of various sizes, and seven centrally-administered regions called Union Territories. Some of these states are very large, some medium sized, and some very small. Their developmental standards and quality of government also vary widely, from moderately tolerable to incredibly appalling.
Before I go further, there is something to be clearly understood: states in India are not the equivalent of states in the United States. India is not a union of states which have come together to form a country. At the time of independence in 1947 India comprised British-administered territories and over five hundred quasi-independent kingdoms, which were all British protectorates. These kingdoms – many of which themselves comprised bits and pieces stretched over large areas, with enclaves inside other kingdoms’ territories – were absorbed into either India or Pakistan; but this made the new nations administrative nightmares. So, merely as a matter of convenience, the kingdoms were absorbed into newly-created provinces which were called states.
There were many parameters on which these states could have been created – ethnic groups, cultural customs, primary economic activity, and so on – but, in its so-called wisdom, the government of the time (the same Congress Party) decided that the basis would be...language. Not unnaturally, this meant that territories which had nothing in common with each other, except (often different dialects of) a language, were yoked together. It also meant that while some states were very small, others were gigantic.
As the years passed, some of these states were broken up into smaller ones, when some proved simply too large to administer, or when people of different language groups who had been forced into the same state determined to go their separate ways. But each time these smaller states were created, yet more demands for states came up, some of them on extremely flimsy grounds.
Let me make a point here – Indian states exist, basically, for one purpose alone, and that purpose is the enrichment of their politicians, bureaucrats, and the capitalist corporations who control them. Basically, whatever the people get from the state is what’s left after these parasites take their share. Obviously, smaller and more numerous states mean more politicians, more bureaucrats, and more opportunity from graft from capitalists. Often the politicians and bureaucrats are themselves the capitalists; a very cosy situation, which makes politics the career option for the unscrupulous.
Therefore, each time a new state is demanded, you can be sure of two things: politicians from the regions which would comprise the new state will cheer for its creation, since they have everything to gain; while politicians from the remaining part of the state will oppose it tooth and nail, since it will diminish their own importance and sources of revenue.
And – as I also mentioned earlier – politics in India is inseparable from gangs of goon squads and pet criminals, often masquerading as “student’s unions” and the like. These politicians will use those goon squads as stormtroopers to enforce violent “agitations” to press home their demands. Ordinary people have no option but to go along with the diktats of these criminals, because the alternative is to be assaulted or worse. Clear so far?
Now, the last time states were created was circa 2000, when three – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand – were created out of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively. In each case, the creation of these states did precisely nothing to help the people of the states, but absolutely everything to enrich the politicians, especially by looting the mineral wealth of the first two. Many more states are being demanded, with tribal or ethnic homogeneity now being the basis for demanding statehood rather than language. And, since India has literally hundreds of distinct languages and tribal groups, this means, practically, that no state can ever be small enough – there will always be a subgroup demanding still smaller statehood status. Eve micro states mean politicians can get rich from funds given by the centre for projects – the state I live in, one of the smallest in the country, is a prime example.
Now, one of the largest states in India is Andhra Pradesh in South India, created for the Telugu speaking people. It was created out of three separate and distinct territories, one of which – Telangana – has long (for several decades now) demanded its own separation from the rest of the province. All these years, while it was in power, the Congress did nothing to facilitate creation of the state. Now, faced with looming defeat, suddenly it’s announced – without actually consulting the people of the state of Andhra Pradesh as a whole – that Telangana will be created. What’s changed so suddenly that the state must be created right now, instead of, say, ten years ago, or why it can't wait till after the next elections?
In a word: nothing.
|Telangana is the red bit|
The reason – so obvious that it doesn’t really need to be spelt out in so many words – is that the Congress is banking on getting virtually all the votes from the new Telangana state in the next elections, which it thinks will strengthen its seat number and act as a magnet for allies. That the main Telangana political party, the TRS, has already announced that it’s thinking of merging with the Congress means that its cynical ploy may even be working.
But what happens in Telangana doesn’t necessarily stay in Telangana. As I mentioned, this is hardly the only demand that’s been pending for another state. In fact, Eastern (and especially North-East) India, which is a bewildering ethnic mix, is a ferment of statehood demands. Going from West to East, I can name several: Gorkhaland and Kamtapur from Bengal, Bodoland and Karbi Anglong from Assam, and Garoland from this state (Meghalaya); I’ve probably missed out a couple more, like Dimaraji from Assam and Nagaland, but those are for states so small you’d need a magnifying glass to spot them.
This is India as it is now (if you check with the Telangana map above you'll note that the international border of Jammu and Kashmir state, in the north, is fictional - only about a third of the state is under Indian control):
And this is a speculative view of what India would be like if the statehood demands currently pending would be accepted (actually, it omits many micro-state demands, like Kamatapur, Garoland and Karbi-Anglong):
The point is this: the grant of statehood to Telangana has, quite predictably, inflamed the politicians of these localities, and their goon squads as well, They aren’t blind; they know that this is their chance to drive a hard bargain for their own ethnic enclaves, where they can be virtual rulers over a homogeneous population. And almost all of these places have, or had, armed insurgencies ongoing, so there isn’t any shortage of violence-prone recruits to the cause.
So, the railways and roads passing through the corridor connecting the North-East to the rest of the country lie severed, as Bodo goon squads forcibly occupy railway stations as a pressure tactic; since the North-East imports virtually everything it needs from the rest of the country (a direct consequence of the government’s refusal to let the region access its natural market in South East Asia) it means that we’re essentially cut off, and besieged. Meanwhile, Karbi gangs are on the warpath, and Garo hoods have ordered a shutdown over the Western half of this state, while the Gorkhas gather forces for a renewed attempt to forcibly wrest their own state, as they have done more than once before.
We here in the North-East have already one of the highest prices of all commodities in the country, a consequence of the long communications and logistics routes. If this goes on much longer, I have no idea just how much worse things are liable to get.
The cynical Congress calculation is that while it will gather votes in Telangana, it will be able to ride out the violence elsewhere. Eventually, people will tire and go back to work, until the next cycle of violence, To be sure, people will die (and are dying even as we speak), and there will be a great deal of bitterness, and the seeds of later dissolution will have been sown.
But to the party which, in 1947, agreed to cut the country in two just so it could rule unchallenged over rump India, without competition from the Muslim League, that is no price to pay at all.