The case for North Karnataka as a separate State

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Hyderabad: Skimming the papers on a pleasant Sankranthi day, one finds the news columns filled with talk of the formation of a second States Reorganisation Commission (SRC). Apparently, everyone and his aunt has an opinion on the issue. With Hyderabad being the epicentre of the Telangana debate, one can safely assume that the dust won’t settle anytime soon.

With the apparent justification for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Telangana being the backwardness of these regions in otherwise developed States (aside from the obvious attempt by the Congress to garner a few more votes in this year’s Assembly elections), I thought of a third region that meets these very parameters, is in fact in the same general geographical area, and pretty much shares the same history as both: North Karnataka.

Or, more precisely, the regions often referred to as Bombay-Karnatak and Hyderabad-Karnatak.

Let’s make one thing clear first. The first SRC in 1956 got it right. States on linguistic basis were required because it was necessary to stave off Hindi nationalism. All those people who talk of the rift it caused in the national polity, blah-blah, can go see what is happening in Sri Lanka for a crash course on attempts to impose one’s language on the rest of the population.

Now, a very sensible demand is being made to separate States, originally drawn up on linguistic lines, on the basis of underdevelopment, and though this is being said in the context of Vidharbha, Telengana Bundelkhand and so on, I believe North Karnataka must also be discussed in the same vein.

In fact, North Karnataka has as strong a claim to separate statehood as Telangana or Vidharbha.

The facts speak for themselves. In an otherwise moderately developed State, the districts of North Karnataka severely lag behind those of South and Coastal Karnataka. Be it education, health, infrastructure, the economy, or drought, the picture is unchanging and grim. The State government has itself recognised this many times, but like an incompetent doctor, prescribes the same medicine again and again, knowing that it has little effect on the disease.

The reasons for this backwardness are two-fold—neglect and more neglect.

In other words, historical neglect (it was the backwater of the Bombay Province and the Nizam’s Hyderabad), and continuing neglect by successive State Governments. Endless crocodile-tear-shedding and “packages” (which are to bureaucrats and MLAs what an elephant’s carcass is to a pack of hyenas) have not helped, nor even the fact that many CMs of Karnataka have come from there.

That is because development doesn’t come in “packages”.

Development requires a set of leaders dedicated to the cause of their respective constituencies and not to petty power politics in a far-away Capital. That is why the Constitution also puts a burden of governance on the State Government, and does not treat them as mere appendages of the Central Government.

North Karnataka’s problem has been a “governance deficit” that has led to this current situation. A smaller, more manageable State will help to tackle such a problem hands-on unlike a State the size of Karnataka which is itself bigger than half the countries in the world.

Of course, I write this with full anticipation of abuse from the language chauvinists (who, I presume, will take a quick break from the Railway recruitment matter to shoot off a couple of outraged responses to this). I would expect their argument will be that Karnataka is for Kannadigas/Kannadathis, as envisaged by the SRC, and by separating it, one is affecting the unity and identity of Kannadigas/Kannadathis everywhere. I would also expect individual politicians will be blamed with the fond hope that the next lot will announce bigger packages and make the problem go away.

What rot!

Let’s get this straight: Kannada existed and flourished before Karnataka came into being. Though the creation of Karnataka at that time in our history was necessary, it is by no means the be-all and end-all of our aspirations. Staking out our identity as a linguistic group was important then, but 60 years later, when the descendants of Hindi nationalists themselves have abandoned that idiocy (and are instead trying to gain a political foothold in Southern States) one can safely assume that that battle is won.

Besides, North Karnataka’s problems are institutional. Bangalore and South Karnataka, by virtue of being centres of money and political power, will occupy the minds of any politician who wants to keep that seat in Vidhana Soudha for long enough, even if he is from another “seat”. This would not be so much of a problem if North Karnataka were not backward to begin with. Sometimes regions can do with a bit of benign neglect from political leaders, but backward regions like North Karnataka need neglect like a bullet in the head.

It won’t do to trumpet the achievements of individual leaders, when the region as a whole suffers this institutional and historical problem. The only course is, therefore, to remove this institutional problem by creating a separate State that is not subject to the same kind of pulls and pressures.

There is one more factor that strengthens my belief in the correctness of this course of action for North Karnataka.

In recent times, one group has provided me with a very safe moral compass. Whatever they prescribe, be it with regard to the USA, Islamic fundamentalism, SEZs, the retail sector, trade unions, Saddam Hussein, caste and China, among many other things, I have found that we can safely follow the opposite course with a clear conscience, knowing fully well that it will only be a matter of time before we are proved right.

Naturally, the Communists are completely against division of linguistic states.

Photograph: Satish B. Mural /Karnataka Photo News

Mothers waiting for their turn at a family planning programme at the government hospital in Koppal, while their new-born infants hang from the jolies off the trees.