Small State Syndrome

R.S. ToliaUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Munsyari.  ‘India, after the break-up of the Soviet Union,’ it has been argued by Sanjib Baruah, ‘is the world’s most multi-ethnic polity. The constitutional design of India’s democratic polity is federal in structure… It has 30 states-with elected legislative assemblies and state government and Governors appointed by the central government – and six Union Territories …( it is ) an ethnic federation; ( and ) most Indian states can be described as nation-provinces in the sense that particular nationalities constitute majorities and they define the public identity of these states. India’s nation-provinces, however, are far from mono-ethnic places. Yet the nation-province model, by and large, has been able to create legitimate units of governance in large parts of India.’ (Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India, p 161 ). Indian federalism, Sanjib adds further, is relatively weak and indeed the Constitution even shies away from describing the polity as federal and uses the term Union of India, emphasizing its centralized structure. In order to manage India’s diversity according to him has been a reason for this centralized design. Thus in order to accommodate sub-national demands the Indian Parliament has been given over-riding powers to redraw state boundaries – and the same has been done repeatedly, Uttarakhand itself being one such case of the four new sub-nations that have emerged since year 2000.

Under the Shadows of UP and Assam

Sanjib Baruah’s analysis of what he calls a state of ‘durable disorder’ that gets perceived in the politics of Northeast states flows from the repeated breaking down of a behemoth of a state, Assam, into as many as five smaller states, in post – colonial times. Out of the seven Northeast states ( Sikkim, merged with the Union of India ), five, according to him, were a ‘product of Government of India’s efforts to contain and pre-empt independentist insurgencies in the region.’ Sanjib’s analyses of the ‘durable disorder’ phenomenon of Northeast politics hereafter takes one to the independentist tendencies that get perceived from the Assamese point of view, a land long in association with the mainland India vis a vis those of the historically isolated Naga people. To conclude the allegory of Northeast states, particularly their political instability, rather lack of political durability, one has to necessary look to some other characteristics or specificities, when compared with a similar phenomenon found in other ‘smaller states’ e. g. Goa, Chattisgarh etc. One moot question that can very legitimately be asked is to what extent one could describe this emerging ‘political non-durability’ ascribed to Uttarakhand, even after fifteen years of existence as a sub-nation, being still under the ‘multi-faceted shadows of its parent state, UP’? Does one discern a continued hyphenation UP with Uttarakhand, as one still sees in several electronic channels ( UP-Uttarakhand News ), and its politics still being guided, as if by remote ? Or, is there something more to it, than just a political legacy? There certainly exists a case to understand better what this writer in few of his recent writings has termed as the Small State Syndrome?

Small State Syndrome ( SSS )

Division of bigger erstwhile Provinces or States, as these are now constitutionally called, certainly are driven by a strong central desire of addressing what Sanjib has aptly described as being essentially ‘ethnic in its basic character’ in most of the Northeast states –even to a large extent, in the case of Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and even lately in the case of Telangana. The case of Himachal Pradesh, with its scores of Thakurais and kingdoms, as also of Uttarakhand, with the kingdoms of Garhwal and Kumaon, can broadly be clubbed together with a polity identity akin to several smaller Northeast states. Easily, in these small state cases, it was equally a case of what has been termed in certain literature as a kind of ‘internal colonization’ practiced by the larger parent States or Provinces. (see Jack Ives and Bruno Messerli, Himalayan Dilemma, p. 223 ). In the case of several smaller states cases, besides the ethnic identity and a sense of sub-nationalism, now it is apparent now, was what has lately emerged as their ‘mountain specificities’ i.e. several common features basically induced by their mountainous features like ‘inaccessibility’, fragility etc. Their ‘ethnic specificity’ has surfaced lately, and now recognised almost universally.

Implications of ‘Internal Colonization’

In late 1980s when Jack Ives and Bruno Misserli introduced the concept of the Himalayan Dilemma, i.e. reconciling development and conservation, had undertaken a macro-analysis of the phenomenon and discussed some apparent crisis indicators from the wider region. Nepal, Indian and Chinese mountain regions were compared and they had argued that the Himalayan states of Northern India, or the mountain sections of northern Indian states ( such as Uttar Pradesh and  West Bengal ) were subject to ‘internal colonization’ on the part of the federal and/or state governments. This they had termed quite analogous to the neo-colonialism effected by ‘outside’ countries. Development in Nepal was then characterized as being under the influence of neo-colonialism at the hand of India; that of Himachal Pradesh and ‘northern Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand )’, as under the influence of ‘internal colonialism’. These processes were then, at least in part, were considered responsible for some of the political unrest ( say Chipko Movement of Raini ethnic group ) and by various levels of pressure of local autonomy of independent statehood ( Uttarakhand ) and Darjeeling district in West Bengal ( see Jack Ives and Bruno Misserli, pp. 223 – 224 ). The pertinent issue now, fifteen years down the lane, now needs to be asked very squarely whether the bitter lessons of ‘internal colonization’ have been understood properly, particularly by the various stake-holders, and if yes what steps have been or remain to be learned, based on a frank and forthright diagnosis of the ‘internal colonization period’ ?

The Current Political Crisis

This writer in a recent review of the progress made by this mountain state had presented a synoptic account of the past fifteen years ( 2000-2015 : Uttarakhand Ka Safar, Amar Ujala , Uttarakhand Udai, pp. 12-20 ) in which some of the parameters of this Small State Syndrome had been alluded to. Doubts had been expressed whether a smaller state induces proximity of the constituents with their representatives and this manifests itself in the latter, including the government of the day, becoming more accountable? Given the writer’s personal background more attention was paid towards the legacy of the administration, the peculiar texture of bureaucracy that gets transferred to the successor and invariably ‘smaller’ state, the role that was played by a majority of ‘officers on deputation’, voluntarily or involuntarily placed in the successor-state – mostly matters related to the so-called ‘permanent executives’. All these deserve to be analysed in greater detail and corrective action initiated, sooner than later.

What the current political crisis has unfolded, barely a few months thereafter, are issues related the legacy of political culture injected into the successor cum smaller state, including the very size of the assemblies, the role and nature of the major political parties, in dealing with such developments. No less important also are the roles of the constitutional entities like the Governors, the Speakers (as also even the Deputy Speakers, as illustrated in another case of a mountain state of the Northeast India) and so on. What is going to be under close scrutiny are the various moves that get made, both at the national level as well as the state level, by all active players, and the political implications that finally remain in the hands of the discerning voters, who are bound to define the long-journey that lies ahead for this new mountain state, by the way they deal with each one of them, barely a few months hence. It is high time that the various dimensions of the Small State Syndrome got discussed in its entirety and all major issues got addressed squarely rather than postponed for the future, Ostrich-like.

Tail-piece : During the Madhesi crisis in Nepal, many senior politicians of this mountain state were in quite a quandary, and majority were not sure whether they found themselves in sync with their respective Central Commands ! Demand for ‘counting of votes’ and the division of the House are going to be more frequent, both in India as well as in neighbouring Nepal, when sub-national entities start asserting themselves, based primarily more and more on grounds of ‘ethnicity’, and that is going to be the litmus test for the growing nature of Federalism, in these parts of South Asia.

  • R. S. Tolia writes from Munsyari on events and issues that confront this new mountain state and suggests possible action. His articles can be accessed at

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