Herald: Politics of small states
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Politics of small states

03 Jan 2017 06:50am IST
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03 Jan 2017 06:50am IST

Today there is a growing demand from sub regions within larger states in India like Andhra Pradesh,

 Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh for breakup and formation of smaller states. Economic backwardness of these regions has emerged as an important ground for such demands. Way back in the year 1955, the SRC (State Reorganisation Commission) redrew the map of India, creating many states on linguistic basis. Now that the new SRC is in pipeline, there is an opinion building that India’s federal map can be redrawn once again, creating many smaller states keeping in mind economic viability. Size of the state matters, especially in country like India which has diverse histories, regional imbalances, class, caste, religious differences, poverty, economic discrepancies, and democratic pattern which is solely based on majority.

Smaller states are aspired on various grounds. Small size facilitates easier operations and promotes good governance. It is possible to take key decisions closer to the ground. Easy administration is possible as administrative area and population is small, and therefore manageable. It promotes accessibility between ruled and the rule, and thus boosts democracy. It reduces diversity reducing the scope for conflict. It encourages greater participation, economic viability, faster and inclusive growth, thus providing better governance. It provides gains for the electorates in terms of better representation of their preferences in the composition of their government. It attracts private investments which can create new ventures and employment opportunities. Thus small size of the state can accelerate the socio-economic development of the state. 

However there is also a counterview to this argument. Merely size of the state cannot be panacea to all problems. Size is not a magic formula. Small size has certain limitations. The natural and human resources available to it may be not sufficient to meet the requirement. Also it may lack the kind of agro-climatic diversity required for economic and developmental activities. The small state may be restricted to raise its own resources internally, and may be dependent on centre for financial transfers and centrally sponsored schemes. And therefore small size need not always mean good governance. To quote renowned political scientist Robert Dahl ‘Democracy and governance are size neutral’.     

Goa is the smallest state in the Indian Union. The historic Opinion Poll of 1967 was the most strategic and significant deciding factor for Goa where people of Goa refused to be either a part of Maharashtra or Karnataka, and decided to be an independent territory within the Sovereignty of India. Goa is India's richest state with a highest NSDP per capita among 33 Indian states and union territories, and per capita income of Goa is 3.01 times more than India's average (source: Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation). It was ranked the best placed state by the Eleventh Finance Commission for its infrastructure. Goa has only two districts, North and South Goa, and it has twelve talukas. It consists of 191 village Panchayats and fourteen towns. The small size of the state has resulted in accessibility and communicability between the rulers and the ruled. Smaller size has reduced the distance between state capital and peripheral areas. It has helped the state in achieving greater mileage in certain sectors such as education, health and women and child development. Goa's public transport, largely consisting of privately operated and Government-run buses linking major routes and remote parts of the state, has encouraged people to seek jobs from one end to another in the state. Small size has also enabled marginalised social groups to articulate and raise their voices. The state has witnessed technological advances and it is the small size of the state which has tempted the leaders to announce that Goa will be a cashless economy by January 2017. 

However there are a couple of questions waiting for an answer. Are the local bodies in Goa enjoying freedom? How much of attention is paid to the aspirations and needs of the local people? The resource abundant state of Goa has become vulnerable to the pressures of corporate and private investors, literally on way to become resource depleted state if not timely checked. Over enthusiastic focus on making the state a tourist state without proper planning, uncontrolled exploitation of raw materials, growing empire of construction industry, conversion of agricultural lands etc. has further aggravated the problem. The small size has also widened the scope for favouritism and corruption and as a result merit is helplessly taking a backseat. The tag of ‘susegado’ is often misused to denote that people in Goa are not aspiring and efficient enough. We have diverse talents available within the state’s population, but it is hurting to note that their talents are not recognised by their own fellow beings which have led these deserving people to migrate to other places.

In spite of having good physical features like land quality and topography, agro-climatic conditions, socio-cultural factors, natural and human resource availability, improved means of communication,  all don’t seem to be right with the state. Much more than the size, it’s the leadership drive and vision that determines whether a particular state performs better than the others. The greed for some immediate political benefit is letting the genie out of the bottle with very uncertain consequences for the state. The state is in dire need of selfless leaders with bigger vision for the state. Economies of small size can be reaped only if regional elites decide to be enlightened and local populace awakened.   

(The author is Associate Professor in Political Science, Government College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Khandola, Marcela)
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