Saturday, May 2, 2009

Regionalism – Spilling over to Politics

In my previous post, I argued that –

“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 all fine till regionalism was restricted to all matters outside the sphere of politics. The leadership of the day after independence had to give a direction to this young new-born nation and set a broad framework to facilitate this.

The consensus that formed was to give to ourselves a written constitution. A group of political statesmen and men of colossal intellect and integrity came together to put on a piece of paper the hows and the why’s of governing this vast sub-continent.

It is interesting to note that even before states were formed on linguistic basis and regionalism was recognized as existing, these wise men thought that a “Federal” structure of government structure would suit India the best. Unknowingly, were sowed seeds of regionalism and partial autonomy in governance for different regions, whilst the Centre would play a strong and decisive role in matters more national in nature.

Politically, regionalism did not surface till about twenty years after independence. Infact, though there were many political parties, it always seemed as a single party rule in almost all the States of India. The carving of states on linguistic basis had been largely completed by the early sixties.

The Indian National Congress was the prime political party with a pan-India identity and presence. All other parties were small bit groups with little political support. The Communists were the first to capture power in Kerala in 1959 but the government was dismissed before completing its term.

What then contributed to the slow and steady rise of regional political parties? The States were definitely giving enough scope for regional groups to do their own thing within the ambit of the Constitution. Then what was triggering this need for a separate political group that would have done better than the INC in that state.

An analysis reveals that

Inner party democracy became one of the first casualties within the Congress and the Central High Command became very powerful. The irony of the situation was probably never appreciated. We prided ourselves on being the largest democracy in the world but our main political party showed scant respect to the concept and practice of inner party democracy.

This in many ways led to much disgruntlement at the ground level. Leaders were hauled to Delhi for flimsy reasons and were replaced arbitrarily. Much of the newer crop of politicians learned fast and focused on money and muscle power as the means to get the High Command attention. This was a great way to attract all lumpen elements to politics. After all, the perks of power and position far outweighed any possible punishment.

Genuine regional aspirations seem to have been brutally brushed aside. Regional fears were never dealt with to generate confidence, instead we had attempts to divide the people and create problems that ultimately became Frankenstein monsters. Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Assam are mute witnesses to this game.

This has been one long story of endless mis-management, men of straw and doubtful integrity at the helm of affairs, blatant abuse of power, instituionalised corruption, open prejudice, devious games, politics being kept as an exclusive preserve of a few classes to the exclusion of the vast majority, over centralisation, politics of appeasement, imposing social hegemony through language…etc., crony capitalism are just some of the reasons.

The Congress, being the major organized all-India political party has to take much of the blame for this. That is not all. We as a nation also have been mute witnesses to the wanton destruction of our cultural ethos and its utter degradation. Indian society – and that means all of us – has also to be blamed for keeping quiet and worse still conniving in this social downfall.

In my next post, I hope to examine a few such instances and policies which have suddenly made regional political parties appear as saviours.


Vinod_Sharma said...

Mavin, I think you have brilliantly put together the major reasons for regionalism becoming a bane rather than the boon it was meant to be for flowering of regional aspirations.

Yes, it is the death of inner party democracy in the Congress and the concentration of arrogant and absolute power in the High Command that led to the elimination of powerful and respected leaders at the state levels. That in turn stoked negative, political regionalism to begin with. And, as the Congress grew weaker as a result, it led to greater fragmentation in the political space.

That is why today we find the sorry spectacle of politicians trying to divide people along more and more dimensions of caste etc. This is also what has given rise to the politics of appeasement, as you have mentioned, and an unprincipled race to get the Muslim vote across the whole of India in the garb of secularism.

I am waiting for the next post in this very important series.

Kislay said...

Interesting post . And I think the rise of regional parties is not something which would do us good in the long run . As you said, they appear as saviours .

BK Chowla said...

Mavins,yes you have analysised it very well.My fear is that the regionlism will grow further because regional parties would not like to be left behind.Congress has ruled(not governed)for almost 45 yrs.What we we acheived in absolute terms?Whatever we have acheivedhas been despite them.Dr Manmohan Singh,by a hitorical accident,is the PM.I accept he is a good person.In the congress party,do you see anyone else except a Gandhi being the PM?Nothing wrong in having one from the family but then let us not scream about democracy.Accept the situation till we can help the change...can we?

Sraboney (Bones) said...

Very well analysed...Regional parties may have started out with good intentions but they too have fallen prey to the power of money and political clout...These parties will continue to divide to get votes and the whole mess will continue...

The Congress has got it wrong...It thinks by saying it is secular it will automatically get Muslim votes but I think the Muslims have realized that it is as secular as the BJP...They too are now interested in regional parties because they want change...If the Congress acted more secular, it might win back some of its lost sheen...

Mavin said...

Thanks Vinod!

Congress was in a position to shape the destiny of this nation. Instead it squandered it and instead presided over a declining and depressive phase in our history.

They have no local giants who are respected and followed. Their place is taken by goons like the Andhra CM or incompetent buffons like Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan.

Mavin said...

Hello Kislay!

Welcome to "My Voice".

Regional parties have an agenda to further interests of a small group. In Maharashtra, we have the Maratha community that has controlled power and the lucky few are obscenely rich agriculturists, landlords and control the political levers.

I guess it is a process and they will eventually die out as they are essentially based on personalities.

Mavin said...

Hello Mr. Chowla,

Welcome to "My Voice"

Most of these regional parties owe their existence to their charismatic leader or a small group at the top.

These will eventually die out unless there is a cadre and a party organisation and also an ideology to back their beliefs. This evolution may take time but happen it will.

Congress is a pale shadow of itself and I believe History shall judge Indira Gandhi very harshly for setting in and accelerating this decay.

Mavin said...

Hello Sraboney,

On the contrary, regional parties unite regional votes for an agenda they believe in.

The so-called national parties that seem weak in some states have to resort to all sorts of tactics.

BJP mastered this game allowing the regional ally to be locally powerful and take help at the Centre where BJP would call the shots. Alas....Orissa bucked the trend and have parted ways. This election shall settle that question also - one way or the other.

The next is this problem of being "secular". I am not sure that Congress is secular. They have used Muslims under the garb of being secular and hurt Hindus over a period and are now in danger of losing support of all groups.

Indyeah said...

Interesting post this one..made me think from a new perspective..
never thought of the Congress and the reasons that could contribute to the rise of regionalism..I agree with your answer to Sraboney and also BK Chowla's point that the Congress ia nything but secular...I dont know if a more pseudo secular party exists n India today...the Congress is the one eating this nation hollow..

Mavin said...

Hi is wordpress..and do you recommend that?

Yes if you are an impartial observer, then a lot of what we see can be traced to the acts of commission and omission by the Congress.

The best way is to confuse, indulge in disinformation and be very smart in media management and try and give the impression that Congress is the only alternative.

Our friend Vinod has been pointing this out right at the outset. The tragedy is there are many people who lap this up and actually believe that Congress is the only national party capable of ruling the country.

manju said...

Mavin- Great post!

Very logical analysis of how the autocratic way of functioning of the Congress party contributed to the emergence and growth of regional parties.

Sraboney (bones) said...

I know Congress is not secular and that's the reason I said saying secular is the not the same as being secular...If they want votes, they should 'act' secular and stop appeasing Muslims...

Solilo said...

You have well analyzed and presented the views here.

The need for regional parties arose because of the lack of attention towards a lot of states. Whether we like it or not, it is very difficult to tie such a diverse group together. Their needs are different and they needed voices which were their own.

Sadly! regional parties too had their own agendas and fell into the same divisive politics trap. So some ask votes in the name of caste, some language and some religion. The positive side of regional parties is that some good MPs have successfully addressed and tackled some issues their states faced.

I still am in favor or just two major parties but unfortunately that is just not possible in a diverse country like India.

Mavin said...

Hi Sraboney, are very right there.

To be genuinely secular, it will take a lot for any party and for that matter even for ordinary people.

Prejudice runs deep and though people do not say it openly, very many are deeply against Muslims and what they see as appeasement.

To get a sense of what I has to become a Muslim for a day and try to buy / rent a house in Mumbai. You will never get it and I am sure many of them vote for Congress.

Mavin said...

Thanks Manju.

Hi Solilo

We began as a one party system and then splintered to a million parties in sixty years....

There are many reasons why this has happened but some are key as mentioned in my post.

Sraboney said...

Yes Mavin, it does take a lot to be secular because all human beings are prejudiced...The trick is to have laws to correct these prejudices at least legally...

Mavin said...


The best part is...we have all the laws. The worst is...nobody takes them seriously.

J P Joshi said...

Very logically argued. Agree with you "This has been one long story of endless mis-management, men of straw and doubtful integrity at the helm of affairs, blatant abuse of power, instituionalised corruption, open prejudice, devious games, politics being kept as an exclusive preserve of a few classes to the exclusion of the vast majority, over centralisation, politics of appeasement, imposing social hegemony through language…etc., crony capitalism are just some of the reasons." Though personally I do not believe that regionalism is a bad thing for such a diverse country, and so early in our evolution. Regional parties play the role of moderators, and help the benefits of development reach into corners it would not, if there were only large national parties at the helm.

I believe effectively we have three major groupings comprising of many regional parties and a few national parties. The regional parties are going to decide which grouping comes into power at the centre. However, the manner in which some of the regional parties operate leaves much to be desired in some cases though.

Look forward to your next post on the subject.

Mavin said...

Hello JPJ,

Regional parties have to set their agenda in a way that helps meet regional aspirations and these dovetail within the national goals.

Surely, it does not mean banning English, computers and going back to the stone ages as Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav would like us to.

Anrosh said...

regionalism is part of everyone's identity --

it has crept into office politics and promotions now --
it was only a matter of time that it would sit front and centre on any table - like the political glass.

that is what divides societys -- right here in the US too --

during obama's time -- even his "indonasian step sister campaigned to the asian community. -- which explains the density by "countries/continents in the US.

To a euro american one asks so what is your ancestry and some would say - they are scandinavian, or polish, or french or indian or middle eastern or chinese --

( that was a great post mavin -- actually all of your posts are

Smitha said...

Brilliant Analysis, Mavin,
The reasons you have highlighted are spot on!

The main issue I have with regional parties is that they cater to a very small section of people - a very pure 'votebank' - so though they play a very important factor in the numbers game - they might be serious impediments in coalition govts.. Although, how India could come out of this - is something that I just cannot even begin to understand..
And you are very right when you say that Congress is certainly responsible for the state of affairs today.. There was a time when the CMs of states were changed/dismissed on the High Command's whim.. All this has definitely contributed in the rise of regional parties... I think things will not change as far as any part of India feels alienated or isolated - in any degree...

Waiting for the next part!

Mavin said...

Hi Smitha,

Regional parties have a wide appeal e.g., Tamil Nadu where regional parties are in power for over 40 years now. The administration is probably one of the best in India and they have governed the state quite admirably.

TN ranks in the top 3 - 5 states in almost every criteria that you could think.

Chandrababu Naidu has done a great job in AP and Nitish Kumar seems to be getting Bihar on the right track after around two decades.

On the contrary, West Bengal is in a self destructive mode. Assam's GP lost a historic opportunity after having been given a historic mandate. Maharashtra, inspite of Congress rule for the last ten years, is a disaster and a case study of how to destroy progressive states.