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In India's Newest State, Signs of a Political Shakeup


India’s government officially got the ball rolling on the creation of the country’s 29th state this week. Telangana, “an impoverished, water-scarce area” around the thriving city of Hyderabad (where companies like Google and Microsoft have offices), has population of about 35 million (the same as Canada) and will be carved from the eastern state of Andhra Pradesh. It would be the first new state in India in more than a decade. Protests erupted promptly after the news.

“It is an act of political desperation by the Congress,” the editor of the Hindu told the FT. “There is no great conviction or political principle involved here other than an expedient response to a situation where the party is looking at major electoral losses in Andhra Pradesh.” Congress has been debating the creation of Telangana for several years, and it could be even longer before the new state becomes a reality. Alternatively, the political backlash could force Congress to abandon the plan entirely. Twenty-three lawmakers, including six from Congress, have already resigned from the Andhra Pradesh assembly, while many schools and businesses have closed in protest.

This story is just a sample of the problems India faces as different ethnic and language groups seek more control over their own futures. In a handful of other separatist-minded areas around the country, the Telangana decision immediately gave new urgency to similar calls to carve out other new states—such as, for example, the tea-producing region of the Himalayan foothills near Darjeeling from the awkwardly construed territory of West Bengal.

The days of power being tightly centralized in Delhi are over. India is in the midst of an age of weak, complicated coalition governments. In some ways, this is positive: more power is located at the grassroots. But as India’s democracy develops, the task of building a workable federalist system is getting tougher. The populations in these states are enormous, the territory vast, and the political priorities are often incompatible with those in Delhi and other parts of the country.

[Panorama of Hyderabad courtesy of Wikimedia]

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