Friday, April 3, 2009

The Rise of Regionalism – Logical or an Aberration

In my two previous posts, I first spoke of India being at crossroads and followed it by examining our concept of nationhood, more in a political form than as a cultural union of sorts that existed for multitude of centuries before that.

This young nation came into being with plenty of trauma associated with childbirth and seemed to be in a state of turmoil for a considerable period of time after that. A union of states was fused together into India. Things like a common constitution, rule of law, currency and a federal structure to follow, were right ideas to pass the common unifying thread through diverse lands, people, languages, cultures and religions.

Through this exquisite and colourful collage, what we witness is large homogenous groups coming together to constitute a great idea called India. The best part of this is this formation of a common platform was envisaged and came about not by surrendering individual cultures but by strengthening one’s own leanings.

Regionalism was and is the life of this collage. The existence of regionalism is a logical corollary to the idea of India. One cannot imagine a uniform and homogenous country like India. Regional vibrancy and its expression have a crucial role to play in this day and age.

This was, to my mind, further aided by the formation of states on a linguistic basis. This, of course, was not a smooth process and there was much violence and ill will at that time. Many experts also questioned the wisdom of forming states on a linguistic basis. Doomsday prophets were quick to dub this as a divisive move which would eventually disintegrate India.

I feel this was an erroneous and short sighted view taken by people. I remember even Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had once remarked that linguistic division of states was a mistake. I believe that states formed on linguistic basis has given each group in the country a social and cultural platform to express themselves, evolve and develop in a way they want. Further, some contentious and emotive areas were not the cause of prickly Centre – State relations.

When I reflect on all this and the current reality of a fractured polity referred to in my earlier post – The Concept of Nationhood, some pertinent questions arise in my mind

- Was social and cultural autonomy fuelling larger ambitions of people?

- Were the spill over of these ambitions into the political field inevitable?

- Is the desire for social, cultural and political hegemony responsible for the aggressive expression of regionalism?

- Have these attitudes of certain groups contributed to strident regionalism in other groups?

- Could there be other reasons which have contributed to regional insecurity and instigated those people to become extremist in thought, word and deed?

- Can economics reasons fuel an aggressive regional approach?

- Why do people feel safe with their own political dispensations in place?

I will try and examine some of these issues in my following posts. I believe that the rise of regional political aspirations, are an extension of our social and cultural evolution and, perhaps, aided by some other factors like mis-management, prejudice and short-sightedness which seem to have compounded matters.


Vinod_Sharma said...

Very important questions you have asked and there will as many answers as there are people.

I may be totally wrong, being an "Indian" and little else, my regional identity notwithstanding, but I feel that this rise of competitive regionalism and a fractured polity has more to to with the Parliamentary form of democracy than anything else. This system permits disproportionate power to a few whenever the mandate is fractured. Now that everyone has caught on to this lucrative and intoxicating possibility, they are all working, one way or another, to ensure that no party makes it on its own in the Centre. To ensure that, therefore, newer and newer fault lines have to be constantly created so that voters do not gravitate towards one or two "national" parties.

While this may be good for "empowering" the reps of small groups, it is ensuring that governance is sacrificed at the alter of petty politics 24/7. I am not sure that this is going to do the country and the people any good in the long run. I am sure there are far better ways of protecting and promoting our distinct identities.

Mavin said...


I was clearly looking at regionalism as a safety valve on the social and cultural front.

I have alluded to spilling of regional ambitions on to the political field as an instrument to establish some sort of dominance.

If you not carefully, the original motivation and message of such political outfits has long been lost and have now become victim to personality politics and furthering the interest of a few.

I hope to cover the reasons for all this. Yes...the current stance of regional satraps is extremely worrying as also the behaviour of the mainstream so-to-say national parties.

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manju said...

Mavin, what a thought-provoking post! And you have raised very pertinent questions.

I agree with you that formation of states on a linguistic basis has given various groups a platform to express themselves. It is a natural tendency for people to form groups of their particular denomination.

As long as these identities do not dwarf the identity of a person as an Indian, there is no harm done. Otherwise, of course, the greater good of the nation as a whole will be sacrificed so that smaller groups may profit.

Looking forward to futher posts from you...

Mavin said...

Hi Manju,

Thank you.

The current situation is a cause for worry as ambitions of the regional satraps can potentially derail the process of governance and addressing critical issues that need urgent attention.

Indyeah said...

Manju has said it all beautifully..I would second her thoughts

Indian Home Maker said...

Mavin I agree with Manju and Vinod Sharma both here.

I also agree with the linguistic division of states having been a mistake in a country like ours which needed more than anything to remain a stable, strong Nation, that is why we do not have dual citizen ship but any unity or stability looks impossible if we continue like this.
Does it look like linguistic divides have benefited anybody except the politicians? There is a village on Tamil Nadu and Kerala border where both the languages are spoken and one house is right on the border ...and the joke is that people in that house fight over which language is their mother tongue. It's just a joke, but does show how quick and eager we are to disintegrate.

But I also feel that cultures do change with time, they evolve, just like languages and also they change.

Sometimes I think if we put our Constitution above our religion or culture we will be a happier people... then we will be lesser likely to be misguided into violence and divides...

Mavin said...

Hello IHM,

I did not understand whether you supported state formation on linguistic basis or not.

Every state border has this phenomenon. Mah - Kar border has Kolhapur - Belgaum and Solapur - Bijapur divide where both languages are spoken and yes fields / houses are divided across states.

But, these states have helped absorb much of the problem that could have arisen on account of language, customs, festivals, culture, food habits. These are highly emotive issues and better if we do not have to address them.

But we end up having larger issues like sharing of water, trade, migration,...

For the constitution to be supreme and put religion / culture behind, one might need the Uniform Civil Code - which are very thorny issues.

Indian Home Maker said...

Hi Mavin, you are right about sharing of water, trade and migration :) I guess if we want to fight we will find some excuse - tolerance is more important then?

It is the Constitution that allows us to live free and equal enough, to demand a UCC :) I am sure we'll have it eventually :)

Smitha said...

Mavin, I have read and re-read your post.. It is extremely thought provoking and you have addressed a very prickly issue here.

1. Linguistic division of states. From what I had read of this, initially the Indian government had not wanted to divide on linguistic lines, but had to after an agitation in Andhra. Now to say whether it is right or not, is very difficult, given the diversity in India. Since each language in India has it's own literary traditions, linguistic dicisions were probably natural. Infact, there are a lot of analysis which says that it was because of the linguistic autonomy, that India has survived so far. If we look at Sri Lanka, Language has been a problem. And the same with the erstwhile East Pakistan. One of the grievances that East Pakistan had was that Urdu was imposed on them! So I really feel that linguistic division was necessary and has only helped India.

2. Rise of regional parties.. From what I have read, regional parties have sprung up in order to address issues which the 'national parties' donot seem to address. Perhaps, if our political system had been less corrupt, then maybe the regional parties might not have come up. This is not to say that the regional parties are not corrupt - but when they started, they might have had some ideology to start with...

So, I feel that we cannot really equate the rise of regional parties with the linguistic division. Regional parties would have come about, either way.

Anrosh said...

i think "india" was bundled up like twigs from different trees and all this while it was pretending to get unified ( i am thinking like russia -- all together and one day when the unifying element snapped - russia broke into different states --

will this happen to india - may be some day - some decades from now ?

a uniform formula for different sets of people -- is like working with a piece meals as long as we can get through with.

is "India" trying to be built on a weak foundation ?

Mavin said...

Hi Smitha,

You are right linguistic demarcation helped to channelise cultural and language aspirations in a productive and positive manner.

This is not to be equated with regional politics. I will come to that later. But you are right when you say that regional politics got a filip when national parties became less inclusive.

I am not for once saying that state formation on linguistic basis is the reason for regional parties. If you note the business of state formation was over many years back...probably forty years back. Except a little tinkering to Bihar, MP and UP about ten/twelve years back. Regional politics is a recent phenomenon.

Mavin said...


I am not so pessimistic. :-)

Russia as the main nation is united. Soviet Union disintegrated.

This would be like a union of India - Nepal - Sri Lanka - Myanmar - Bangladesh - Pak forcibly put together.

Fortunately it is not so. Plus the fact the Manju mentioned in her comment. India was one as a cultural entity and there was a common thread running through anyway.

You will realise this ancient glue of culture will keep India together and not modern thought or economics or force.

J P Joshi said...

You have raised a very pertinent issue in this post. Linguistic division is a fact and there is no merit in debating about something that is already a fact. The rise of regionalism is something that interests me too. I agree with you that this is the safety valve that ensures that democracy gives representation to every citizen and their dreams. Regional parties best represent the fringe elements that would be denied representation if we had only national parties operating.

Having lived through two full terms of coalition politics, it seems Indian democracy is experimenting with how to balance regional aspirations with national development, which generally implies growth and development in the cities, as the rural areas lack the basic infrastructure in every way, including education, to support the manufacturing or the service industry. This experiment will continue, I believe, until we have a semblance of parity between most parts of India in terms of infrastructure and opportunities.

Vikram said...

Mavin, someone needs to step up and call for the following changes in our federal structure.

1) More states. This is extremely important, not only from the point of view of people being represented, but also for better development.

2) Changing the structure of the Rajya Sabha, so that there are an equal number of representatives from each state.

3) Fiscal Decentralization, allowing states to levy income tax and other taxes.

4) Administrative Decentralization, ensuring that states give more and more power to the districts and municipal corporations.

L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

I think regionalism has always been a problem in India. Infact it was more so earlier. Now there is an acceptance that people from other states can also be like us. Earlier everyone was looked at using stereotypical images.

Indian Home Maker said...


Krishnan said...

Good article Mavin. Linguistic division of states could have been good idea in those days but definitely it has not worked out well, thanks to the mismanagement and one-upmanship of our politicians. Competitive chauvinism is on the rise.

Mavin said...


You are right. Any body from south of the Vindhyas was a "madrasi" and anybody from north was a "bhaiyya" or a "sardar".

Awareness has spread and so has a semblance of acceptance.

Mavin said...


The mis-management and corruption part is the only pan-Indian reality.

My point is - linguistic division of states helped move many emotive issues out from the centrestage.

Else, we could have faced serious internal disturbances.

If you read about the anti-Hindi riots in TN in the mid-sixties, calls were given to consider secession from the Indian union.

Ajit Singh said...

hi i read ur views
mine are...

Isn’t it strange that ‘Regionalism’ has suddenly started gaining more prominence lately?

Don’t you feel that regional parties have become more powerful in holding the UNION at ransom?

Why is this happening so often?
Answer: I believe that it is human nature to follow what others do (if they are successful in achieving what they want).

My reasoning:
The congress didn’t take any action against the MNS till the elections were over, why?
Because the MNS was nullifying the Sena and so the Congress was at profit without doing something outrageous.
As soon as the elections are over, Congress wakes up and acts (suspension of the MNS MLA’s from the legislature) portraying that they are against any violence. Where was the Congress when there was far bigger violence happening on the streets of Mumbai (thrashing of the poor and the helpless)? Where was the ‘action’ then? So an example was set that one could get away by talking Regionalism.

The issue of Telangana has a long history of over 40 years. But why has the regional party TRS become so aggressive in pursuing it lately even though it was formed in 2001?

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