‘A challenge to Indian federalism’ by Jayaprakash Narayan (The Hindu, October 28, 2013) is a bundle of lies, prejudices and a seemingly intellectual defence in support of six-decade injustice against Telangana people, packaged in an altruistic pose that the author always dons. It needs volumes to set right his selective amnesia and to offer a balanced picture of constitutional, economic, moral, natural and political justice. Here is a modest attempt to set the record straight with regard to constitutional issues he raised.
Narayan tries to make the readers believe that “this is the first time in India that a State is sought to be divided without the consent of the State legislature, and without a negotiated settlement among stakeholders and regions, and in the face of public opposition.” He also says, “… every state has been formed with prior consent…”. His objective seems to be misleading the readers that the consent of the State legislature was mandatory and all the earlier State formations were negotiated settlements and there was no public opposition. But the facts stare in the face of each of these white lies.
Though the reorganisation of administrative units in the country was on the agenda of the national movement since 1905 Bengal division and more so from 1920s when the Congress decided on linguistic principle, the basis for the reorganisation kept on changing, more so after 1947. The prominence of linguistic unity criterion declined post-1947, to the extent that Dar Commission (1948) did not even mention linguistic principle in the list of five parameters it suggested. The States Reorganisation Commission (1955) categorically said: “It is neither possible nor desirable to reorganise States on the basis of a single test of either language or culture; a balanced approach, which takes all relevant factors into account is necessary.”
Till now there have been ten instances of State formation and out of them, apart from the major reorganisation in 1956 following the SRC report, the other cases of carving out new States by dividing the existing are only six. Again one can leave out two cases of division in North-East because of the region’s specificities.
Then we are left with four cases to examine and out of them only the recent bifurcation of 2000 had this idea of consent of the local legislature. In the other three cases: i. The first State to be formed after the Constitution came into effect was Andhra, carved out from Madras State and the Bill was discussed in Madras Legislature in July 1953. The then chief minister, C Rajagopala Chari, wisely suggested that the members of the residuary State should not participate in the debate and voting and hence the question of consent did not arise. (Despite CR’s directive, five members from the residuary state took part in voting to defeat an amendment for making Vijayawada-Guntur as capital instead of Kurnool, but that is a different matter). ii. There was no State legislature at the time of Punjab’s division into Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in 1966. iii. At the time of formation of Bombay State in 1956, the Bill that was sent from Delhi and discussed in Bombay legislature was different from the Bill that was introduced later in Parliament. Indeed, this is a classic case of defining the role of State Legislature and its “consent” in division. The original Bill had a proposal of setting up – Maharashtra, Gujarat and UT of Bombay, and after the debate in Bombay Legislature, the proposal was dropped and a composite Bombay State was mooted. Babulal Parate appealed to High Court which upheld the Government of India’s decision and the petitioner went to Supreme Court. A five-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice S K Das in its judgment on August 28, 1959 categorically said that modified Bill need not go again to the concerned legislature, and all that the President required to know, under Article 3, was the “views” of State Legislature only. That clearly shows that there is no scope for “consent”.
Concerning Narayan’s gross misinterpretation of Article 3, one has to go back to the Constituent Assembly debates to find out what exactly was the position. The CA discussed Article 3 threadbare for two days (November 17-18, 1948) and thought in its wisdom that it was not necessary to seek “consent” of the concerned State legislature.
In fact, Prof K T Shah made a fervent appeal for providing the right to people of the concerned State. He even said he would prefer a referendum, but contented with giving that right to State Legislature. The original Article 3 had given the entire power to form or redesign states to Government of India. However, by the time of debate itself, Dr B R Ambedkar moved an amendment where the power was given to the President. In defending his amendment, Dr Ambedkar said: “…there must be, before the initiation of any action, representation made to the President by a majority of the representatives of the territory in the Legislature of the State, or a resolution in that behalf passed by the Legislature of any State-whose boundaries or name will be affected by the proposal contained in the Bill. Here again, it was represented that there might be a small minority which felt very strongly that its position will not be safeguarded unless the boundary of the State were changed and that particular minority was permitted to join their brothers in the other State, and consequently if these brothers remained there, action would be completely paralysed….”
“In the case of (a), that is to say, reorganisation of territories of States falling in Part I, all that is necessary is consultation. Consent is not required. All that the President is called upon to do is to be satisfied, before making the recommendation, that their wishes have been consulted.”
During the debate K Santanam argued against giving power to the state legislature and said, “… take the case of the Madras Province for instance. The Andhras want separation. They bring up a resolution in the Madras legislature. It is defeated by a majority. There ends the matter. The way of the Andhras is blocked altogether. They cannot take any further step to constitute an Andhra province. On the other hand, as re-drafted by the honourable Dr. Ambedkar, if the Andhras fail to get a majority in the legislature, they can go straight to the President and represent to him what the majority did in their case and ask for further action removing the block in the way of a province for them. If they are able to convince the President, he may recommend it and either the Government of India may themselves sponsor legislation for the purpose or any private Member or a group in the Central legislature can take up the question.”
Pandit Thakur Dass Bhargava said, “…if any part of a big province wants to break away then the only course before it is to bring the matter before the Members. But by doing so the very purpose would be defeated because the majority would always reject such a proposal…. No provincial legislature would agree to the separation of a part, and the representatives of the affected area will be so influenced that they would not be able to give free expression to their views….. Views of the provincial legislature may be taken but the changes should be effected in accordance with the wishes of the people of the area, who want separation. If this is not done then the principle of self-determination would be nowhere. We used to hear that after the attainment of Swaraj the right of self-determination would be given to all…. Views of the legislatures may be invited, and may be taken into consideration; but the determining factor should be the vote of the people of the area, which wants to separate.”
Besides a number of historical blunders, Narayan appears to say, in the nutshell, that the division of Andhra Pradesh raises questions about federalism and the nation’s future; leads to danger to federalism and unity; and would be ham-handed, arbitrary and uneven. This is unwarranted and motivated false alarm to crush the aspirations of people of Telangana as well as glossing over five and half decades of denial of faire share, violation of promises and humiliation of a unique identity.
(The author is Editor, Veekshanam, Telugu Monthly Journal of Political Economy and Society, with eight books on Andhra Pradesh-Telangana to his credit)