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Friday, 07 January 2011 00:00
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Supporters of a separate state of Telangana will highlight those parts of the Srikrishna Committee report that show how it got shortchanged, whether in terms of engineering colleges, or even the number of Telanganaites employed in top jobs in the state (the concept of Mulki Rules was enshrined in the Gentleman’s Agreement in 1956, made to keep Telangana in the fold). Critics will point to how the Committee brings out the fact that the region is not that badly off on most parameters—indeed, if economic and social backwardness is to be the criterion for statehood, it is Rayalaseema that needs a new state—and how in some it actually leads the state. There can, however, be no doubt that, as a region, the Telangana one is the one that is growing the fastest in all of Andhra Pradesh. There is no rocket science here, it’s that age-old thing economists call ‘catch up’—less developed regions, after a while, tend to grow faster than better developed ones. It’s the reason why India will grow faster than China in a few years, despite its levels of literacy being lower, its colleges and universities being vastly poorer (India has just two universities in the top 500 in the world versus China’s 34), the R&D being a fraction of China’s; as for the infrastructural differences, the less said the better.

The Committee brings out all of this in a wonderfully-detailed and well-argued report. The case for smaller states, it says, is made out on mainly two or three grounds, of lack of economic development, of poor human development indicators, and of lack of political representation. On the economic front, after examining all manner of parameters—per capita incomes, share of industry in state GDP, growth in credit, among others—it finds Telangana has nearly the same per capita income as coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rs 33,771 versus Rs 36,496, a difference that no one would claim is particularly significant. Mind you, this is Telangana once you take out Hyderabad. With 9% workers who are graduates, Telangana ex-Hyderabad is better off than Rayalaseema with 7.4% and coastal Andhra with 8.8%; it has an 89% literacy among 8-24 year olds versus 88% in coastal Andhra; it has less engineering seats though, and less MBA seats as well; 8 doctors per lakh population versus 11 for coastal Andhra.

So will having a separate state help? Apart from the political fallout, the Committee makes some strong arguments. On average, to cite one of the arguments, more economic activity takes place along the coast than in the interiors. So, a landlocked Telangana will lose out on this front—just see what development of ports has done to Gujarat to know what this means. There is all the activity related to the oil and gas off the Andhra coast that needs to be kept in mind as well!

In any case, while political power (which Telangana supporters say they have been denied) can be used to help a region get a better chance to develop, it cannot correct for historical facts—some regions have better entrepreneurial talent, some don’t (just visit Gujarat to understand what this means). But, you can anticipate the refrain, the demand for a separate state is about giving Telangana the political space to develop. There’s this great table in the report which says the Telangana region held the chief minister’s job for 10.6 years versus 23.9 for Rayalaseema and 18.1 for coastal Andhra, but it held the deputy chief minister’s job for 7.8 versus Rayalaseema’s 5.7 and the coast’s 2.2 and the revenue job for the most time—23.1 years versus 20.9 for coastal Andhra—the pro-Telanganaites explain this by saying their politicians got coopted by the coastal Andhra ones! Which makes you wonder if they’ll do that good a job in an independent state—look at the chaos in the newly-created Jharkhand to understand what this means and look at the way Nitish Kumar is husbanding his meagre resources in Bihar.

What happens to Hyderabad, of course, is the most important part of the entire agitation since everyone recognises that it is the magnet around which investments come in, around which higher education and even entertainment are getting built. Which is why the larger part of the Committee’s energies have been around how to save Hyderabad, of making it a union territory capital shared by all regions in case of a separation, much like Chandigarh. But here’s the point, important as Hyderabad is, India’s going to need to build as many new cities in the next 20 years as it has in the last 60, indeed many times more, given the existing cities pre-date India’s Independence. So Hyderabad is important, to Telangana, and to larger Andhra Pradesh, and it will continue to remain important, but Hyderabad cannot deliver either Telangana or Andhra Pradesh what they need. It is up to the politicians, the Jai Telanganas and the Jai Andhras, to figure this out, and to give themselves the space to allow new cities to develop. Urbanisation is the only way to go. Look around the world to know that.

But the coastal-dominated politics of Andhra won’t allow the cities to come up, the educational institutions to flower, the roads to travel ... That’s the truth, that’s the problem, and that’s the solution. This is what the Committee has said is the way forward—of a unified Andhra with an empowered Telangana Regional Council to focus on development of the area—and this is what home minister P Chidambaram endorsed after the all-party meet. For those who came in late, this is what the late Rajiv Gandhi used to talk of when he spoke of the third-tier of government, of empowering local leaders so they can develop their areas. The past is the future.

 

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