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Jairam Ramesh: Lessons from reorganising India's states – and why Uttar Pradesh needs to be divided

25 17 387

Full text of the 34th CD Deshmukh Memorial Lecture, titled Deshmukh, the Reorganisation of states and thereafter, delivered at India International Centre, in New Delhi on January 14, 2019.

Chintaman Dwarkanath Deshmukh was one of India’s most distinguished economic administrators and public personalities. He had a brilliant scholastic career. He was the first Indian Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and was India’s third finance minister between 1950 and 1956. Deshmukh resigned from Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet in July 1956 over the report of the States Reorganisation Commission and the position taken by Nehru’s Cabinet on the issue of Bombay city. This evening I want to revisit this all-but-forgotten chapter of our nation’s political history, discuss its background and context and use that flashback to highlight some contemporary issues surrounding our present political geography.

In 1920 at its Nagpur session, when Mahatma Gandhi established his supremacy over our freedom movement, the Indian National Congress formally made a commitment to the linguistic reorganisation of what were then called provinces. But twenty years later on the eve of the Jaipur session of the Indian National Congress in December 1948, the Dar Commission set up by the Constituent Assembly submitted its report in which it came out strongly against the formation of provinces exclusively or even mainly along linguistic considerations. It highlighted that the nation faced larger national challenges of higher priority.

In this, the Dar Commission was echoing the strongly-held views of every single key personality of the Constituent Assembly, including Nehru Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Patel, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Dr BR Ambedkar. C Rajagopalachari who was then the governor general was also of the same opinion. At the Jaipur session, the Indian National Congress set up a three-member committee comprising Nehru, Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the incoming Congress President, to examine the Dar Commission report and make recommendations to the government. This has come to be known in history as the JVP Committee, after the first letter of the first name of the three members.

In the last days of March 1949, Nehru personally wrote up the JVP Committee report which, while not advocating large-scale linguistic reorganisation, made special mention only of Andhra and recommended its creation but on the condition that its protagonists abandon their claims to the city of Madras. In this, Nehru was undoubtedly mindful of the strong sentiments of Rajaji (as C Rajagopalachari was called) himself who was first governor general and later chief minister of Madras state. For almost three years there was protracted correspondence between Nehru and Rajaji who were then extremely close to each other not just personally but also politically.

Let me fast forward to October 19, 1952 when Potti Sriramulu an energetic follower of Mahatma Gandhi announced a fast-unto-death in Madras city for meeting two demands: carving out an Andhra state from the state of Madras comprising its Telugu-speaking areas and making Madras city the joint capital of the two states. The immediate background to Sriramulu’s fast appears to have been Rajaji’s proposal to divert the waters of the Krishna to Madras. Nehru turned down this proposal but Andhra leaders led by Tanguturi Prakasam were incensed by Rajaji’s attitude and actions.

To cut a long story, involving protracted exchanges between Nehru and Rajaji, short, Sriramulu made the ultimate sacrifice on December 15, 1952. Two days later Nehru made a formal statement conceding the first of Sriramulu’s demands and accepting Rajaji’s position on Madras city. A few months later on February 19, 1953 he wrote to Morarji Desai, then chief minister of Bombay:

After waiting for the Andhra State to be established and got it going, we should think carefully of a really high level commission which can go fully into this subject all over India keeping in mind all the various factors…

The President, Dr Rajendra Prasad had first put the idea of such a commission in Nehru’s mind. On October 1, 1953 the new Andhra state – the very first linguistic state in the country – came into being.

Two months later on December 23, 1953, Nehru made a statement in the Lok Sabha announcing the appointment of a States Reorganisation Commission to examine “objectively and dispassionately the question of the reorganisation of the States of the Indian Union so that the welfare of each constituent unit as well as the nation as a whole is promoted”. Members of the commission – Justice S Fazl Ali, HN Kunzru and KM Panikkar – were selected by Nehru personally and received detailed letters of invitation from him to serve on it. There was minor flutter when Fazl Ali in his letter of acceptance referred to the proposed body as “the Boundary Commission”. Nehru promptly corrected him and reminded him that he was accepting “the Chairmanship of the Commission on the reorganisation of states”.

The States Reorganisation Commission submitted its report on September 30, 1955. It pleased nobody and led to agitations in large parts of the country. Three of its recommendations were particularly controversial. First, the proposal to create a bilingual Bombay state; second, the proposal to continue with the separate state of Hyderabad; and third, the proposal to continue with Punjab as a bilingual state. I will deal with each of these in some detail.

The States Reorganisation Commission recommended the creation of a new bilingual state of Bombay comprising of today’s Maharashtra and Gujarat and also the creation of a separate state of Vidarbha. Both Nehru and Deshmukh supported the idea of a composite, bilingual state. Many Congress leaders of Maharashtra, however, opposed this recommendation vociferously and in deference to their demands, two months later the Congress Working Committee rejected the States Reorganisation Commission’s recommendation and suggested to the government that three states be created – first, Maharashtra that included Vidarbha, second Gujarat and third Bombay which would be centrally-administered with provision for a review after a period of five years.

On January 22, 1956, Deshmukh resigned as a protest against the Congress Working Committee resolution and its acceptance by the government, although the evidence suggests that he was party to the Cabinet’s decision. Deshmukh told Nehru that since he was not a Congressman, he was not bound by the mandate of the Congress Working Committee and that resignation was the only constitutional way open to him “of not being a party to a wrong and unjust decision”. Deshmukh was certainly not a Congressman in the strict sense of the term but had been elected as a Congress MP from Kolaba in Maharashtra. Very soon, Nehru persuaded him to withdraw his resignation assuring him that further consultations would take place. Deshmukh was particularly peeved with the attitude of the-then chief minister of Bombay and in a letter to Nehru on April 16, 1956 accused Morarji Desai of “overbearing and inequitable conduct of the present Bombay state during the past five years”. The very same day, Nehru wrote back and his reply is worth quoting:

Your reference to Morarji Desai distressed me. It is not necessary to agree with a person in everything in order to recognise the person’s worth. I do not agree with some of the views of Morarji Desai. But in my larger acquaintance in India I know of very few persons whom I respect so much for their rectitude, ability, efficiency and fairness as Morarji Desai.

On April 18, 1956 the States Reorganisation Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha and it was immediately referred to a Select Committee chaired by the home minister himself. Two days later Deshmukh once again sent in his resignation to Nehru since the Bill had not made changes regarding the status of Bombay city along the lines being demanded by him. The very same day Nehru replied and once again talked Deshmukh out of resigning asking him wait till the report of the Select Committee was submitted.

Finally, Deshmukh quit on July 24, 1956 and made a statement in the Lok Sabha the next day targeting Nehru for his stand on Bombay city. In the course of his reply, Nehru replied:

It is with deep regret that I have listened to the statement made by my honourable friend and my colleague in government till yesterday. I regret having to part company in the work of government from a valuable colleague. …..I am reluctant to enter into a controversy, which to some extent has a personal character. Since we are ending our close association as members of government, I should like this parting to be with goodwill.

Sadly, while Nehru and [Home Minister Govind Ballabh] Pant went out of their way to be gracious to him, Deshmukh did not........

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