MOST NEW STATES IN INDIA have come into being—or failed to see the light of day—for political rather than administrative reasons, as the protracted Telangana imbroglio demonstrates. Yet one of the standard arguments that has been made in recent years for creating new smaller states is that they would provide improved administrative efficiency and better, more responsive governance. Despite the passion with which campaigns to create new states are contested in political life, there have been few empirical studies of the particular governance dividends that may follow from the creation of smaller states. My own research has focused on the politics of state creation in India’s three newest states—Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. These regions have mixed records when it comes to improved governance, and may hold lessons for regions such as Telangana and Vidarbha.
The only comprehensive exercise in post-independence India to consider the shape of states was the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) in the 1950s. Where possible, the SRC favoured creating large states, in order to produce economies of scale. For instance, the commission argued that the newly amalgamated state of Madhya Pradesh could become “one of the richest states in the Indian Union” precisely because its large borders encompassed diverse agricultural regions (both wheat- and rice-growing), and planned investments in industry, including the Bhilai Steel Plant (in what is now Chhattisgarh).
This general preference for large over small states has left its mark on India’s federal system; yet, even at the time, dissenters such as BR Ambedkar spoke about the merits of creating smaller states. Specifically, Ambedkar argued that large Hindi-speaking states should be divided in order to protect minorities from the crushing “weight” of majorities.