Federal Restructuring
For a States Reorganisation Commission

Gorkhaland - The Issue Reopened

Deve Gowda's Uttarakhand announcement has rekindled the Gorkhaland issue once again. When GNLF leader Subhash Ghising raised the issue all over again in the wake of this announcement, an angry Basu curtly rejected the demand initially. But very soon he changed the tack and offered to negotiate with Ghising about more powers to the hill council and even had a round of discussion with Ghising. This has reopened the issue whatever is the position of CPI(M) leadership. This approach seems to have paid some immediate dividends since the Gorkha leader has been unable to whip up a new round of stir in the hills as in the old days. Rather he is forced merely to lobby his case with national leaders of Congress(I), BJP and UF in Delhi.

More than Gowda's announcement or Ghising's efforts what has added greater fuel to the rekindled issue is the decision of CPI(M)'s district committee to support the demand for a separate state. Under the leadership of Ratnabahadur Rai and a few others, they even held a rally in the hills in support of the demand for a separate state in mid-October. It is not clear whether the decision of the district committee to identify more closely with the local popular aspirations so as not to get marginalised has a wink of approval from a section of party higher ups outside Bengal. So far the party leadership has been treating the dissidents with kid gloves - something unusual by CPI(M) standards. But these developments have convincingly disproved in their own backyard the laboured theory officially worked out by the leadership that greater allocation of funds to tackle economic backwardness would take care of such aspirations once and for all. Anyway, CPI(M)'s willingness to keep the issue open and carry on a dialogue counts more than these theories.

It was a painfully protracted struggle by the people of  Uttarakhand to achieve their democratic demand of a separate state in India. But they encountered nothing but indifference from the governments at the Centre. The UF's Common Minimum Programme was also noncommittal. But then came the announcement for UP elections and the hill people had a windfall. If such issues get settled only as the spin-off of electoral compulsions and populism then it speaks for the kind of treatment such an important issue like federalism gets at the hands of bourgeois parties in spite of all their rhetorics.

Be that as it may, Deve Gowda's announcement on the formation of a separate state of Uttarakhand in his Independence Day address did open up a Pandora's box. It gave a new life to the dormant demands for separate states in Vidarbha, Chattisgarh, and even Telengana. But they were feeble voices yet. It gave a new fillip to the movement in Jharkhand that was lying low. And it reopened the apparently settled issue of Gorkhaland, much to the consternation of Jyoti Basu and CPI(M). (See box) A sulking Jyoti Basu refused to attend a UF Steering Committee meeting peeved at Utarakhand announcment having not been discussed in the Steering Committee. CPI(M) has made this, more than its difference over the economic policy, the main bone of contention within UF. And this has put a question mark over not only Uttarakhand issue but also over the long-pending demands for reorganisation of States, which are an important part of the federal agenda in the country. The CPI has however differed with CPI(M)'s approach on this issue. All this has put the question of Left's approach to autonomy and regional movements among the topics of debate within the Left camp and at large.

The CPI(M) has the dubious distinction of being the only major party that opposes a new Uttarakhand state. CPI(M) may or may not have a case when it comes out against a separate state of Gorkhaland. Whatever is its position it is supposed to carry on a dialogue with those who are raising it in Darjeeling, including some from within their own party. But to oppose Uttarakhand from the angle of its fallout on Gorkhaland is absurd.

By all reckoning, Uttarakhand is a separate category. Both Kalyan Singh's government and Mulayam Singh's government passed resolutions in the UP Assembly in support of setting up a hill state. The CPI supports this demand and the CPI(ML) has been actively championing it. The undivided communist party too raised this demand as far back as in 1952. There are no bitter conflicts and bloody clashes between the people from the hills and from the plains over this demand. There is a consensus now among all the major parties in Uttar Pradesh - of course, with the exception of the isolated voice opposition by CPI(M). Uttarakhand as a separate state cannot be ruled out from the point of view of economic or fiscal viability. In terms of size, if it comes into being, it will be bigger than Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Population-wise it will be larger than Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

The CPI(M)'s irrational opposition to Uttarakhand springs not only from its worries over its implications for Gorkhaland. It is rooted in this party's insensitivity to the larger problems of federalism: in its indifference to the autonomy aspirations of national minority peoples; in its rejection of such demands as purely 'emotive' issues as if they have no substance at all; in its narrow economistic approach to such issues; and in their unreasonable fear that this would lead to Balkanisation of India.

CPI(M) might think that with the creation of linguistic states, the states reorganisation in India is a closed chapter. But this is not true. This unfinished problem of Indian federalism, this quest for smaller and newer states, is an ongoing process. Apart from linguistic states, the demands for hill states, tribal states, and even states based on ethnicity and regional backwardness continue to remain important strands of democratic federalism. Of course, it is nobody's case that 'small is beautiful' and we too don't subscribe to the view that smaller states by themselves are more democratic. Nor is it our case that a separate state is the solution in each and every instance where this demand has come to the fore. But we don't oppose all these demands in principle as the CPI(M) does.

We don't approach the question of states reorganisation from the standpoint to be adopted towards nationality question as CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat has argued in People's Democracy (Nov. 17, 1996). The two may overlap in certain instances but the two are clearly different, as, for example, in the case of Uttarakhand. Counterposing class unity and democratic unity of the people against aspirations for a separate state, for instance in the case of Jharkhand, is not valid. If class and democratic unity can be achieved cutting across linguistic states, where the CPI(M) leader's approval of the states reorganisation stops, it is not clear why it cannot be achieved cutting across states formed on the basis of tribal, ethnic or hill people identity. In fact, such juxtaposing arises only due to the failure to acknowledge that these demands, in some cases, are also popular democratic demands and supporting them would serve the cause of democratic unity better.

True, in certain cases they may kindle ethnic passions, hatred and rivalries among the people and disrupt democratic unity. In some other cases, political conditions may not be mature for a broad acceptance of the demand by a majority of the people. There is a need for greater circumspection in such instances. What is needed is a case by case approach. Why create a scare by abstract extrapolation that conceding one Uttarakhand will lead to the breakup of all major states including the linguistic ones and there will be unmitigated bloodshed all over?

CPI(M)'s economism reduces all these demands to underdevelopment and unemployment. They clearly overlook the ethnic or regional-cultural binding forces underlying these demands. HKS Surjeet, the GS of CPI(M), has argued in another article which appeared in The Hindu that giving more powers to existing states will take care of the autonomy aspirations of regional movements for statehood prevailing in that state. Well, existing states are not ready to part with any resources even where regional autonomy has been granted. For instance in Bihar, the 42 subjects which should have been transferred to Jharkhand Council under the JAAC Act have not only been withheld by Laloo government but even elections to it have not been held. Yet, this JAAC is cited by Karat as the generalised model for all cases of autonomy movements!

It is hightime that a new States Reorganisation Commission is formed which can go into the actual merits of each and every demand - including political consensus, popular acceptance and their economic viability - and evolve some guidelines. Pending scrutiny by such a commission let there be genuine autonomy at the intermediate levels. This alone can be the realistic demand of the Left