Posted by: Vikram | September 2, 2013

Why Mumbai should not be its own state

Over at his blog, Dr. Ajay Shah has speculated that being part of Maharashtra is one of the reasons for Mumbai’s decline. Some claim, that had Mumbai been a full fledged state like Delhi is, it would have been better governed. The example of Delhi is indeed tempting. Notwithstanding the grave problems of crime and sexual violence, Delhi’s infrastructure, its roads and the metro system are admirable. Also, the independent and influential nature of Delhi’s universities is nowhere to be seen in the universities of Mumbai. However, despite these pluses, one can argue that decoupling a state from its metro city can be fatal to its cultural life and also hinder overall development.

Contrary to what many of the Bombay-Delhi-Bangalore folks assume, the capital of an Indian state is not simply an administrative outpost of the ‘centre’. Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru have pivotal roles in creating modern cultures from pre-existing linguistic and relgious identities. Can one imagine an ‘EU governed’ Paris ? London as an ‘European Union territory’ ? It seems that India’s urban elite are acutely aware of how Paris makes France French, but refuse to acknowledge what Mumbai means to Maharashtrians. Creating a modern culture from the living traditions of the subcontinent requires the intersection of cultural and financial capital. And that intersection can only occur if these cities are tied to their states as their capitals.

Not only is such reasoning limited if one considers the cultural connection between a state and its capital, it is also flawed from the developmental point of view. For example, 70 % of the revenue of the state of Andhra Pradesh comes from the city of Hyderabad. The numbers will be similar for Mumbai and Maharashtra, Bengaluru and Karnataka and so on. Every state in India that has a major metro as its capital has a Human Development Index (HDI) above the national average. Or put in another way, every major state with no major metro area in it has a very low HDI. The biggest cities in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are less than half the size of even the smallest metro city. Some might point to Kerala, a state with no major metros but with relatively high living standards. However, Kerala is intimately tied with the middle Eastern metros like Dubai and Abu Dhabi via its massive Gulf diaspora. In 2003, this diaspora’s contribution to Kerala included,

remittances [which] were 1.74 times the revenue receipts of the state, 7 times of the transfers to the state from the Central Government and 1.8 times the annual expenditure of the Kerala Government and were 15 to 18 times the size of foreign exchange earned from the export of cashew and marine products.

Of course, the low HDI of the BIMARU states is a very complex issue. But the lack of a major metropolis tied intimately to the state could be one of the reasons for the enduring economic problems of those states.

Mumbai has more than twice the per capita income of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. But Hanoi is a far cleaner city with poverty almost absent. Obviously governance plays a big part in Mumbai’s pathetic state. But the roots of this governance failure might lie in the distance between the elites of Mumbai from the masses of Maharashtra’s hinterland. Bollywood is now mainly a vehicle of middle class jingoism and corporate advertising. Hardly any literature is produced by the elites that can bind them to the masses. They prefer to write for the Booker and Pulitzer. To attain the greatness that Mumbai surely deserves, it is Mumbai’s elites who have to end their secession from the real India, not get Mumbai to secede from Maharashtra.



  1. Have you considered that the causality could go the other way, i.e. that the high development index of certain states makes them more likely to sustain a net flow of people into the capital city, turning it into a metropolis? Just curious 🙂

    • Welcome Mathophile.

      It seems well established that most migration to urban areas occurs for economic reasons. Take Bengaluru for example, Karnataka was always better developed as a whole than Uttar Pradesh, but there was no major flow of people. But once the employment opportunities in Bengaluru increased, the migrant flows increased dramatically. In this case, sustaining the migrant inflow was dependent more on the connection with international capital via the various high tech industries.

      • Good observation. I am wondering if you know of any significant example in the last 30 years where injection of foreign capital (largely for work on hire) was /not/ the primary driver of job growth and resulting migration to urban India? On a related note, if all the major cities were excluded from their states’ GDP and HDI (via secession, say), could it have a positive effect in the longer run, because the woeful gap between Mumbai and Maharashtra would become more clear, and Mumbai could no longer be used to paper over Maharashtra?

  2. tp, I cant think of any. Cities like Pune, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore have relied heavily on IT. Cities in Gujarat have relied on the diamond trade. There really is very little manufacturing in India (on a per capita basis) so little chance of there being much migration driven by that. But I believe that this is a pattern repeated across the third world, migration and urbanization is driven heavily by trade and foreign capital.

    Regarding Mumbai and Maharashtra, I think for most of the voting public, the gap is pretty clear. The blow to the state’s exchequer would be devastating if the major city was separated from the state.

    • But perhaps such a blow would be so impractical as to never come about. Chances are, some formal revenue flow would be worked out, which would make the mutual dependencies between Mumbai and the rest of MH more transparent and more formal.

  3. […] on such earnings. This blog had earlier referred to Dubai and other Middle Eastern cities as the ‘metro’ of Kerala. Interestingly, remittances also constitute a significant portion of the GDPs of Goa (19%) and […]

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