India is the classic case of what Alfred Stepan refers to as a “holding together” federation. In contrast to “coming together” federations, where (more or less) sovereign states band together to create a common central government to which the states surrender some of their sovereignty,* in a holding-together federation, a larger polity is subdivided into various sub-units that enjoy sovereignty over certain policy areas. Typically holding together is a strategy used to cope with ethnic divisions, by giving groups that are minorities in the larger polity their own states in which they constitute a majority.
India is a classic holding together federation because many of its current states did not exist when the country became independent in 1947, but rather have been created over the years in efforts to resolve various conflicts.
Such is the setting in which Telangana is about to be created, from within the existing borders of the very large southern state of Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the current capital of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, is to be included in the new state. As the Hindustan Times reports:
After nearly four decades of struggle for a separate state, the Telangana issue has reached a flashpoint. Under the leadership of K Chandrasekhar Rao, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has pressurised the Centre government to set a deadline for the formation of a separate Telangana state.
The TRS is a regional party that is currently a component of the National Democratic Alliance, in which the large national party is the BJP. This alliance has been in opposition since the 2004 election and lost rather badly in federal elections earlier this year. However, the TRS was formerly part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (led by the Congress Party, and currently in power).
In 2004, the Congress party and the TRS had an electoral alliance in the Telangana region with the promise of a separate Telangana state. TRS joined the coalition government in 2004 and was successful in making a separate Telangana state a part of the common minimum program (CMP). In September 2006, TRS withdrew support from the Congress-led coalition government.
Protests and violence finally have led the UPA to accept the demands to divide Andhra Pradesh, a state that has existed since 1956.
The Hindustan Times story has some interesting detail on the history of the region. Another article discusses the political crisis that has now erupted in Andhra: 92 state legislators and several MPs are resigning in protest.
* The classic coming-together federation is, of course, the USA. Switzerland is another case. One of Stepan’s key points is that most federations are “holding together,” and thus theories of federalism based on the assumption that the units, rather than the central polity, are the original source of sovereignty (such as the classic work of William Riker) are inadequate to explain most federal countries in the world today, including newly federalizing cases such as Belgium, Iraq, and perhaps now Bolivia.