1956 was a watershed year in the political history of India as this was the year when the reorganization of the states commenced thus paving the way for the demands for new/smaller states. A reluctant political leadership, shaken by the simmering tension and violence in different parts of India, had already conceded the demand for a separate Andhra State in 1953. Now after receiving the recommendation of Fazal Ali headed States Reorganization Commission (SRC), which led to the passage of the States Reorganization Act, 1956, the law makers did start conceding the demands for new States on a case-by-case basis subject to the fulfillment of certain criteria like the demand for the proposed State was to be considered only if a) it had a wider support base among the local peoples including the sizable linguistic/cultural minority; b) the proposed State was to be socially and economically viable; c) demand should not be potentially secessionist in nature; d) the basis of the demand should be cultural or linguistic and not communal; e) the creation of the new State was not inimical to the implementation of five-year plans crucial to the then avowed aim of nation building. Significantly, the then government at the Centre did not accept the recommendation of the SRC regarding the creation of the States of Telangana, Jharkhand and Vidarbha and there was a great degree of reluctance to create a Punjabi Suba where both linguistic as well as religious identities gelled together.
The fact remains that there was apprehension in the minds of the national leadership of the Congress regarding the reorganization of States as they thought that it would weaken national unity and integrity and threaten India’s security. The ‘Partition anxiety’ of leaders like Nehru and Patel was reflected in the negative reports of both the Dar Committee as well as JVP Committee, constituted in postcolonial India regarding the emerging demands for the remapping though the Constitution of India vide Article 3 provided for the reorganization of the States by the Parliament by simple majority. This was a turnaround on the part of the Congress leadership as the Party had agreed to the linguistic formula for the formation of provincial Congress committees based on linguistic regions as early as in the 1920 Nagpur session and reiterated in the Nehru Report (1928). Based on its recommendation, the Parliament passed the States Reorganization Act (November 1956) redrawing the boundaries of States on a linguistic basis vide Article 3 of the Constitution of India.
The book under review provides a comprehensive idea of the views of Ambedkar on the issue of reorganization, something that has remained much neglected so far in the relevant literature (Sarangi, 2006:151). The authors have structured the book in two parts. In the first part the authors present a comprehensive analysis of the views of Ambedkar whereas in the second part, a compendium, they have included the writings of Ambedkar on the subject in a chronological order i.e., tracts, articles, speeches and book extracts. Interestingly, the few maps originally sketched by Ambedkar for his book titled Thoughts on Linguistic States also figures in the volume.
What adds to the value of the book is that while focusing on Ambedkar’s views, the authors also refer to their relevance in today’s context as India of late has been witness to a series of movements/protests based on ethnic or regional identities that veer around the demand for the reorganization of its internal State boundaries. These struggles have primarily been attributed to uneven patterns of development and unequal access to political power. The changed mode of electoral representation has contributed to the growing assertiveness of the hitherto politically dormant regions as not only the newly emerged identity based State level parties but also even the national parties with distinct regional characters increasingly adhere to region-specific electoral campaigns and policies. While in the fifties and sixties the demands were on the basis of culture and language now the additional factors that have received legitimacy and wider acceptance in a changed federal mindset have been the agitating people’s aspirations for greater development, administrative efficiency and decentralization of political power (Mawdsley, 2006:2). Unlike the past, the emerging demands are not being slammed for being parochial, divisive or based on regional chauvinism/ fanaticism. Symptomatic of changed times, even the dialect communities of late have been asking for their own ‘territorial homeland’ like in the case of Bundelkhand, Ruhelkhand, Mithilanchal. Even the Telangana people have claimed the distinctiveness of the Telugu they speak from the Telugu being spoken in coastal Andhra. With the creation of a separate Telangana State, old and new demands for redrawing the boundaries of the States are likely to receive momentum.
With the benefit of hindsight one can concur with the authors’ argument that the views of Ambedkar have remained significant and relevant, as besides being scholarly they also at the time represented an alternative mode of thinking. Thus Ambedkar remained persistent in his view that the Congress should have adhered to ‘one state-one language’ as per its earlier commitment for linguistic states rather than ‘one language-one state’, as the linguist states would prove to be socially and culturally more homogeneous which would be conducive for greater degree of political democracy (Sarangi, 2006:151). Showing great sense of prescience, writing in the fifties he had suggested almost at the same time the creation of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the States that came finally into existence at the turn of century (p. 94). Sifting through Ambedkar’s writings, one comes across a number of significant themes related to the issue of States reorganization and its effects that are relevant even today specially when we think of the ongoing demands for smaller States: like the optimum size of a State, question of economic and political marginality, administrative efficiency, the emergence and assertion of historically-culturally constituted regions within the States. Showing the deep concern Ambedkar had about the issue, he not only concerned himself with the demands about the status of Bombay (now Mumbai) in Maharashtra but also the possibility of reorganization of Karnataka, Andhra, Jharkhand and other similar cases. As the authors argue, Ambedkar did not concern himself with the immediate developments but went deep into the historical formation of these geographical regions before taking the pros and cons of conceding their demands. So it was not merely a political positioning but rather an intellectual exercise.
The volume is highly recommended for not only scholars engaged with State politics deliberating about the politics and economy of new States but also the countless academic as well as non-academic followers of Ambedkar who would be able to acquaint themselves with the hitherto underexplored writings of Ambedkar on an issue that has remained of great significance for postcolonial India. As Thorat laments rightly in his foreword to the volume: ‘When it comes to the recognition of Ambedkar’s academic contributions, he generally stands ignored on a number of issues’ (p. xii), certainly on the issue under discussion here.
Mawdsley, Emma (2002): ‘Redrawing the Body Politic: Federalism, Regionalism and the Creation of New States in India’, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 40 (3): 34-54. http://eprints. bbk.ac.uk/216/1/Mawdsley9.pdf? origin=publicationDetail Accessed on 16 August 2014
Sarangi, Asha (2006): ‘Ambedkar and the Linguistic States’, Economic and Political Weekly, XLI (2):151-57, January 14.
Ashutosh Kumar is Professor in the Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh. firstname.lastname@example.org