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Thursday, November 17, 2011

(Published in Sify.com on 18 November, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/splitting-up-states-the-new-cartographers-of-india-news-columns-llsbucjjdgc.html)




(Photo Courtesy: Sify.com. Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)



Mayawati may have been the first Chief Minister to mark her territory by spreading out bronze and marble statues of herself across the state she has been chosen to rule, complete with a handbag about the size of her torso.
So, it may have come as a surprise to some that she wants to erase the state off the map of India, and install four smaller divisions – Purvanchal, Bundelkhand, Awadh Pradesh, and Paschim Pradesh. As she tries her best to charm Brahmins by rather schizophrenically spouting out the opposite of what she has said over the last four years, she seems to have decided simultaneously to appease those separatists who would ideally like a country carved out of their neighbourhoods.
With the Telangana demand paralysing life in that region of Andhra Pradesh, and the demand for Nagalim aggravating the economic blockade in that part of the North East, one wonders how many components India has to split up into to keep everyone happy.
And what will make people happy, anyway? When groups start speaking of domination by “elite tribes”, as they do in Nagaland, there’s clearly a problem.
It’s rather hard to appease everyone in India, because this nation is more like a continent than a country. The cartographers may have thought a linguistic division of states would resolve this anomaly; but then, people wanted ethnic division within those linguistic divisions.
And if we are to continue splitting up according to those, citing as implausible an excuse as ease of administration, chances are that yet another criterion for division will pop up. Forget classifications according to language, religion, and caste; there are plenty of factors that separate us from our neighbours, and even from other members of our families.
With politicians seeking to win over vote banks, at the cost of logic and principle, the focus of citizens has veered from macro-issues to micro-issues; and that of politicians has shifted from administration to ensuring another chance at administration.
A few years ago, it was names; as soon as ‘Madras’ was changed to ‘Chennai’ – the irrational argument of its ill-informed perpetrators being that the former was Anglicised, whereas Madrasapattinam and Chennaipattinam were, in fact, twin cities – the other metros followed suit. Bombay switched its name to ‘Mumbai’, and Calcutta to ‘Kolkata’, with little regard for the many deaths those three syllables would die on the tongues of non-Bengalis. No one is sure whether it’s ‘Bangalore’ or ‘Bengaluru’ anymore.
As for the states, they’ve kept at it too. Orissa became Odisha, and then Mamata Banerjee made the entire nation wonder whether she’d been experimenting with Google Translate when she decided to change ‘West Bengal’ to ‘Paschim Banga’.  The reason she came up with was rather more bizarre than the name change itself – to move higher up the pecking order, alphabetically. If that were the intention, wouldn’t it have been rather easier to dock off the ‘West’ and skip right up to ‘B’, in the context that there is no ‘East Bengal’?
Is it that our politicians have too much time on their hands? Or is it that they’re under the impression that the only way to write their names into the history of the nation – aside from getting involved in scams – is to change the names and boundaries of their territories?
The irony of it all is that every part of every town of every district of every state is so intricately divided that one usually has to visit three police stations in neighbouring streets to figure out who has jurisdiction over the area in which a crime has been committed.
So, do we really need to start dividing up our states? And do we really want to see a line of statues bearing handbags to mark out boundaries? And all this when we all claim to belong to a single nation? If that’s the case, we should probably switch the slogan ‘Unity in Diversity’ to its converse in school textbooks, just so we avoid confusing kids even more with their history lessons.

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