Should Indian states be smaller?

It is remarkable that people say India should have a smaller government. Numbers show the problem to be the opposite.


Aakar Patel August 03, 2013
The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar [email protected]

Our states are bloated and this is one reason they are not manageable.

If India’s states were nations, 10 of the world’s top 21 nations would come from India. Uttar Pradesh, with more people than Pakistan, would be the world’s fifth largest country. The chief minister of that state rules as many people as the Chancellor of Germany and the prime ministers of France and Britain put together.

We have five states each with populations larger than Europe’s largest nation, Germany, which has 80 million citizens. Maharashtra has almost twice as many people as Europe’s second largest nation, France. Rajasthan has more people than the United Kingdom while Karnataka, our ninth largest state, has more people than Italy.

Have a look at the figures of the top 10 Indian states: Uttar Pradesh 200 million, Maharashtra 112 million, Bihar 104 million, West Bengal 91 million, Andhra Pradesh 84 million, Madhya Pradesh 72 million, Tamil Nadu 72 million, Rajasthan 68 million, Karnataka 61 million, Gujarat 60 million.

That’s not really the end of the list and even India’s sixteenth largest state, Haryana, has more people than Australia.

The average American state with a governor and a local legislature has six million people. The average Indian state with a chief minister and an assembly has 42 million citizens or seven times as many. The average number of people in a UK constituency is 97,000. The average in India is 2.2 million.

India’s citizens are under-represented in parliament and assemblies and under-administered by the civil service. Each of our states is run by an elite corps of overworked bureaucrats. There are 3,384 Indian administrative service officers running 28 states, an average of 120 officers per state, who have to deal with files for dozens and often hundreds of programmes.

It is remarkable that there are people who say India should have a smaller government. The numbers show that the problem is the opposite — not enough government because states are too big.

To the Indian citizen, the administration is distant and unapproachable. It is true that he is alienated from the municipality and also from the district administration, but the source of the problem is the size of the state.

The confederating unit in India is the state and there is no argument against smaller states that trumps their unmanageability. As I said, the size of our states is only one among the reasons why they are not governable, but size is the most important factor. Even talented and hardworking managers like Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar have a problem managing the size of their domains.

The issue of smaller states keeps coming up episodically. It began in the 1950s when linguistic states were formed under Nehru after a protest in Madras Presidency that led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh. The redrawing of lines that followed generally led to stability because, in most cases, language decided borders. However, some demands remained.

In the last week, it was announced that Andhra Pradesh would now be further divided into two parts, creating another state called Telangana.

The issue was old but difficult to solve because of the asset of Hyderabad. The capital of the Nizams falls in Telangana and it is what powers the economy of the state and contributes much of its local taxes. The moth-eaten Andhra Pradesh that remains must find another city worthy of being a capital and this will not be easy in a state that has only just begun to have a modern economy.

There are other states where a break-up might create more problems than solutions. Jammu and Kashmir is particularly difficult because Ladakh is Buddhist and Jammu has a large Hindu population, while the Valley is now almost entirely Muslim. Breaking up the state will be like Partition because it will be along religious lines. It is, therefore, unlikely that any government will want to experiment with a smaller state there.

For most other states, for instance UP and Maharashtra, the logic of the break-up is impeccable.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2013.

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COMMENTS (36)

gp65 | 8 years ago | Reply @Water Bottle: "Not everything. And I wouldn’t use the word control. But the Delhi politics is mostly dominated by UP and Bihar. Unfortunately, these two states also produces the worst kind of politicians in India : Greedy, ignorant, stupid, arrogant and most importantly communal." Since the 2 states control 120 out of 542 MP seats, they will always have a large influence consistent with their size. However they no longer have disproportionate influence. I think this was the case say 30 years back. I do not think UP Bihar have the same sway over national politics as they once did.
Pakistani Ostrich | 8 years ago | Reply

@Bhai Log Lets start with punjab first, it is long overdue, besides out national unity is being effected due to over-bearing/over-reaching control of punjab. We don't want any balkanization pakistan. Sindh can be worked on later. It is not a national issue!

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