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The Story of Article 371

The making of the Indian union is a very interesting story. If the efforts of Sardar Patel and VP Menon in integrating princely states into India are the first chapters, the subsequent states (re)organization efforts and the pacts, impacts and outcomes of the States Reorganization Committee’s work were the later chapters which not only formed India as it is today but continue to impact how the relations between the Union and the States playout. 

The impacts of the subsequent chapters are much long-drawn and persistent. They can be as severe as the persistent rise and ebb of violent separatist activities like in Naga, Bodo or Maoist districts or even as mundane as the impact on how Power Distribution companies in States get disciplined by the Union government schemes or how farm sector reforms percolate to the State level.

One of the most important chapters in post-integration was Article 370, which after its abrogation on 5 August 2019, has gained a lot of media focus. It is argued that Article 370 created artificial conditions which prevented J&K’s development in line with the rest of India both economically and socially – these arguments are not unfounded in fact, even though it can be debated whether abrogation without the approval of J&K’s assembly was the correct way of abrogating the article.

But did you know that Article 370 has a close cousin, 371 (incl. 371A to 371 H) introduced for ‘regions’ in India with whom an injustice, albeit of a lower proportion, was committed similar to J&K. 

While Articles 370 and 371 were part of the Constitution at the time of its commencement on January 26, 1950; Articles 371A through 371J were incorporated subsequently. 

The majority of these subsequent ‘371 articles’ are related to north-eastern states of Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. These articles are meant to protect indigenous populations and their rights as well as their identities in the larger context of a homogenized Indian Union. The ones for Sikkim, Nagaland and Goa were inserted when these territories were integrated into India much after the creation of the Constitution and integration of rest of India. 371J is an exception because it was created to allow integrated development of Hyderabad to Bangalore belt, in spite of it being spread across (then) Andhra and Karnataka states.

But the original article 371 related to Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and was in contravention both to Dr Ambedkar’s position on states (re)organization as well as the subsequent State Reorganization Committee’s recommendations. When the principle of reorganizing States was being discussed, there were two approaches proposed:

  • One language - One state: Meaning all people’s who speak the same language would belong to only one state. This meant that if two culturally separate groups shared a common language, they would be part of the same state.
  • One state - One language: Meaning that one state should have one language but at the same time, there can be two or more separate states of one language, depending upon the need for efficient administration or for separate cultural representation.

Both, Dr Ambedkar and the SRC favoured the second approach but due to political reasons when the Constitution was prepared and subsequently in 1953 at the time of States reorganization the first principle applied. As a result, there were three regions with whom injustice was committed:
  1. Vidarbha: Both Dr Ambedkar and the SRC favoured a separate Vidarbha State with Nagpur as capital. This would be a derivative of the erstwhile region of 'Berar' (Varhad) which was a part of CP & Berar - of which Madhya Pradesh emerged (CP) while Berar was separated. 
  2. Saurashtra and Kutch: Upon independence, 217 princely states of Kathiawar, including the former Junagadh State, were merged to form the state of Saurashtra with Rajkot as its capital. Similarly, Kutch was created as a separate State in 1950. But subsequently, in 1956, Saurashtra and Kutch were merged into Bombay state, which then split into Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1960 again. Since the principle was One language - One state Saurashtra and Kutch were combined with Gujarat.
  3. Telangana and Rayalaseema: Both Telangana and Rayalaseema were part of the Hyderabad State under the Nizam prior to Independence. Since the Hyderabad state had to be acquired by force, both states were merged into India but the demand for both of these to be recognized as separate states arose immediately after being merged into India. Telangana finally got its due in 2014 when the new State was created out of Andhra Pradesh. But Rayalaseema is still looking for its statehood.
To be sure, the list of ‘wannabe’ States in India is long, the only reason for singling out the above 3 causes is their explicit inclusion in Article 371 of the Constitution. The explicit recognition of these states in the Constitution makes their case stronger.

The core issue here is the lack of political acknowledgement and acceptance of the fact that the One language - One state principle was wrong, and Dr Ambedkar and SRCC were correct. States' organization should have been based on administrative ease and cultural identities – this would not only have helped in keeping the cultural identities distinct but also helped in keeping the size of States smaller for administrative ease. Today with a Billion plus peoples India needs about 50 States rather than the current 28 States and 8 Union Territories. 

It is high time that the historical wrongs are corrected by abandoning the One language - One state principle; and new States are created recognizing the cultural identities of all indigenous people.
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