Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When Worlds Divide

So the governor of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh resigned after a fairly juicy sex scandal. Times Now has the details:

Breaking his silence, former Andhra Pradesh Governor N D Tiwari, who resigned in the wake of alleged sex scandal, today rubbished reports against him as "fabricated and false" and said he will continue to be in public life. On return to his home state, Uttarakhand, 86-year old Tiwari told reporters at the Jollygrant Airport near here that some people in Andhra Pradesh had hatched a conspiracy against him and levelled "false" allegations.

Declining to name anyone, he said some people associated with Telangana statehood agitation wanted to meet President Pratibha Patil during her proposed visit to Hyderabad, but he had refused to entertain their request. These people got angry with him and hatched a conspiracy against him, he claimed. Tiwari had resigned on Saturday on "health grounds" in the wake of a raging controversy after a sting operation by an Andhra TV channel purportedly showed him in a compromising position with three women in Raj Bhavan. The Raj Bhavan had dismissed the allegations as a "tissue of lies."

I confess I am a little embarrassed to set up a post this way, but stay with me. The interesting details are not those of the governor's energy (he is well into his 80s), but those of the state of Andhra Pradesh itself. Andhra was created out of a portion of the independence-era state of Madras, and merged years later with part of the state of Hyderabad to form Andhra Pradesh. In the last few weeks, there has been agitation to create a separate state out of portions of Andhra Pradesh, to look after the interests of some of the people who live there. The BBC has the latest.

This is not the first time India has broken states up. In fact, it has happened numerous times since independence. This is striking, because it has never happened in the United States, another very large country, since West Virginia split off from Virginia amid the turmoil over slavery.

Why so much jurisdictional fission? Some years ago I wrote a paper in Economic Development and Cultural Change arguing that since India at independence already had a series of ready-made pressure groups in the form of castes and tribes, it became very easy to organize on those principles when rent-seeking. It is much easier, in other words, to use caste and tribal identity to agitate for special privileges from the government than, for example, class identity. At independence, India correspondingly created a list of what were called the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which were given (by current American standards) extremely generous forms of affirmative action, or reservations as they are known there. Legislative seats, university positions, and jobs in state-owned enterprises were reserved for people on these lists.

The list was designed to clear up the residual discrimination of Hindu society (in the case of caste) and isolation (in the case of tribe). As a compromise, it was agreed that no castes or tribes would be added to the list once it was drafted. However, governors in each state got to create the list, and politicians soon learned that splitting up a state allowed the creation of new lists, which meant new groups of dependent voters. The ability to create such utterly dependent citizens was enhanced once Indian politicians came up with the impolitely named category of Other Backward Classes, which unlike scheduled castes and tribes could be expanded without limit.

And so in some states upwards of 80% of the population is now eligible reservations, which is absurd on its face. And reservations have become, election in and election out, the consistently most important issue across the nation in Indian politics. Even India's world-renowned technological institutes may soon be subject to them.

My article also contended that the desire to create new lists in order to gain votes was the primary incentive for breaking states up. Every time I have mentioned this in the past to Indian friends they have scoffed. But the journalistic description of the current Andhra Pradesh episode -- in particular of the alleged need to "protect" certain groups -- makes me believe more than ever that I am right.

This is the unavoidable outcome of state-mandated preferences on grounds of race, caste, sex, or other non-meritocratic categories. The original justification expands to cover more and more alleged sins and kinds of people, and the beneficiaries are never satisfied that the problem has been solved. (In the US the only obstacle has been direct referenda, and some of them, for example in California several years ago, might not pass in a few years given rapidly changing demographics.) Those who lose out in such preferences find either that their options are limited or that they must leave, as many Indians from non-protected groups have done. In the meantime, look for the number of Indian states to rise over time, and look for people to continue to hide the reasons why.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of that is true, but the one reason for all this jurisdictional fission in India is because the Indian constitution allows for easy break up and merging of the states within India. If it was that easy to do in the US you would see a lot more of it here.

Currently, breaking up a US state requires approval from all of the state governments involved. Thus no state will be broken up ever in the US outside of extremely unusual circumstances. The only reason West Virginia got away with it was because Virginia was considered to be "in rebellion" during the Civil War. What West Virginia did was illegal under American law but got forced through due to the Civil War and its aftermath.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

Interesting. Why do you suppose the designers of the Indian Constitution made it so easy to break states up?

2:07 PM  

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