Rise And Fall Of The Coorg State
(Review by C.P. Belliappa)
The merger of Coorg with Karnataka in 1956 in accordance with the recommendations of the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), on linguistic basis, is an issue that evokes high passion amongst the Kodava community (Coorgs). With the call for smaller states becoming louder and louder in the country, many feel (and felt earlier) that the merger of Coorg State was a betrayal by those at the helm of affairs of the erstwhile Part ‘C’ State led by Chief Minister C.M. Poonacha . This is further accentuated by the fact that since merger Coorg has been neglected, and its precious ecosystem plundered.
P.T. Bopanna, in his well-researched book – “Rise and Fall of Coorg State, Kodagu’s Loss Karnataka’s Gain” presents an insight into the various events that took place since independence, and even during pre-independence era, that finally culminated in the 600-odd states inherited from the British Raj being reorganized into nineteen States and Union Territories on the basis of language. Coorg was one of the ten Part ‘C’ states to be affected. This book gives the reader sufficient inputs to make an educated assessment of the events that led to Coorg becoming part of Karnataka.
Many would want to know, if Coorg was referred to as the ‘Ram Rajya’, the ‘Model State’, etc., then why its status was abolished for the detriment of the land and people. Bopanna gives details about the population distribution during 1950s and the per capita income. However, he has not spelt out the fundamental philosophy behind States Reorganization. But one can infer that it was not the financial viability that was the main criterion, but the language spoken by the majority, population, and the size of the province in question. States’ reorganization was undertaken mainly for administrative convenience. It is also essential to acknowledge that Coorg was not an isolated case whose statehood was abolished.
The book includes a chapter by me in which I have raised a question: Could the merger of Coorg with Karnataka been prevented in 1956? In response, Bopanna gives two examples. Firstly, he quotes the opinion of some, that: had Pandiyanda Belliappa been the Chief Minister, Coorg would have remained an independent state. Secondly, had Field Marshall Cariappa not been posted at the time in Australia as High Commissioner, he would have prevented the merger. In my opinion, both these statements are outlandish claims. Pandiyanda Belliappa was a staunch Congressman, and would have toed the party line, as he in fact did in spite of being in the opposition, when the resolution for merger was placed before the Coorg Legislative Assembly. With due respects to Field Marshall Cariappa, it is surprising that he chose to write a letter to President Rajendra Prasad as belated as July 1956. However, the fact of the matter is none could have stopped the reorganization of the states as recommended by SRC. The states’ reorganization process was set in motion decades earlier. There was nothing clandestine or surreptitious as some ill-informed continue to suggest. It cannot get any transparent as an issue that is debated in the parliament.
The author does not highlight the fact that giving statehood to Coorg at the time would have prompted similar claims from several other provinces in India. The recent events in the country, has opened the proverbial can of worms. This was exactly what was prevented in 1956. Unless the states’ reorganization is viewed from a national perspective, only distorted conclusions can be drawn.
C.M. Poonacha has indeed drawn a great deal of flak especially from his own community for what is often referred to as ‘Sale of Coorg’. I often wonder, as many would, whether state boundaries within the Indian nation should make any difference. It should not if the administration is fair, efficient, and free of corruption. Any system will work if there is sincerity by those who are in power and authority. Sadly, in our country we are far from this ideal situation. One of the primary reasons for clamor for statehood all over the country is the opportunity to occupy positions of power. It is more self-interest than love for language, region, or regional aspirations. As mentioned by Bopanna, Autonomous Hill Council status may be the way forward to save Coorg from further depredation.
Bopanna should be congratulated for taking up a project no one did for more than five decades. Those interested in this subject, especially the younger generation will now have access to information that will help them in understanding and judging this contentious issue.