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The ethical hollowness of the idea of small states in India

Kiran Batni kiranbatni

Updated: February 14, 2014, 12:37 PM IST
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The popular understanding among the Indian elite is that states are units created for administrative ease. The big picture is simple: there are these Lords of India sitting on top, doing all there's to be done, and administering doses of life to these passive and faithful units, which then pass them on to the dumb millions who happen to be in them for unexplained reasons. These units could as well be rectangular in shape, they think, having looked at the shapes of states in the most advanced nation on earth, the United States. From here the going is easy: sit down with a scale and a pair of scissors and think hard on what the ideal size of a state in India could be. And then, cut.

But the whole idea that there's an ideal size for a state is laughable. Thinking hard on this is a pretense to cover up the murder of morality. One can talk of an ideal size for a state only if neither a smaller nor a bigger size is better in some sense. But better in what sense? This, nobody seems to understand or even have any interest in reflecting upon. Yet, there is no dearth of political parties and ideologues declaring that they 'bat for smaller states'. Until now, it was the Congress and the BJP which did this batting, and we now have AAP, the party with a difference, join the batting team. If creating or bifurcating states is a game, looks like everyone in New Delhi wants to bat, divide, and rule.

But if it's true that there's an ideal size for a state, it follows that there's an ideal size for a nation. And India, in this sense, is obese to the point of disease. There are 192 nations in the world, and one of them, India, houses a sixth of humanity in its belly. Does this mean we should begin to have debates on how many nations India must disintegrate into? No? What's the moral reason not to go down this path? The answer of the Indian elite and the political parties, I'm afraid, is the received wisdom that it would be unpatriotic and unconstitutional. But that's not the answer to my question.

India cannot and must not model itself on the lines of the United States when it comes to defining states. The United States was basically created on the graves of its native inhabitants by the self-professed lords of the Earth, the Europeans. Rectangles must have been rather easy to imagine and calculate the areas of when sharing the continental graveyard among the invading stakeholders. This cannot be how we think of India. We, Indians, have lived here from the ages, have developed multiple cultures and languages, and possess unique distinguishing features that define life. It's this diversity that defines India and keeps it alive, not the uniformity of the grave that's so easily assumed to be okay in any debate on 'smaller states'.
First Published: February 14, 2014, 12:37 PM IST

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