Regionalism in India appears to be a consequence of rising Cultural Assertiveness

Mahatma Gandhi famously said. “ I am a proud Gujarati and a proud Indian and I don’t see any difference between the two.”

4 min read
Regionalism in India appears to be a consequence of rising Cultural Assertiveness

Regionalism is a feeling or an ideology among a section of people residing in a particular geographical space characterized by unique language, culture, etc., that they are the sons of the soil and every opportunity in their land must be given to them first but not to the outsiders. It is a sort of Parochialism. In most cases, it is raised for expedient political gains but not necessarily. Regionalism puts the regional priority above the national priority, thus impairing national development. The roots of regional consciousness in India can be found in the colonial policies. Differential attitudes and treatment by the British towards princely states and those of the presidencies developed regionalist tendencies among them. British exploitative economic policies completely neglected some regions, giving way to economic disparities and regional imbalances.

On the other side, the Indian national movement furthered a pluralistic idea of India. The history of regional movements in India can be traced back to the 1940s Dravida Movement or the Non-Brahmin movement that started in present-day Tamil Nadu. Later, the movement resulted in the demand for a separate and independent Tamil state. This, in turn, led to several other parties like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) springing up in the Andhra region, with the demands of separate statehood. In 1954, the revolt for the separate state of Andhra for Telugu - speaking people spearheaded by Potti Sri Ramulu and his eventual death triggered the wave of political regionalism in India with many princely states and other states making a demand for a separate state. With the enactment of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, linguistic states became a reality. During the 1970s and 1980s, owing to the intensification of tribal insurgency for separation and statehood, the Union government passed the North-eastern States Reorganisation Act, 1971. It upgraded the Union Territories of Manipur and Tripura, and the Sub-State of Meghalaya to full statehood, and Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh (then Tribal Districts) to Union Territories which became states in 1986. The decade of the 2000s witnessed vigorous movements for the creation of separate states due to a rising sense of regional deprivation.

The political scenario with the BJP emerging as the single largest party in most parts of the country has threatened small and regional parties. Hence, the feeling that a national party may not understand the regional sentiments of a smaller state is strong. BJP is a party that has traditionally been dominated by upper-caste men from the cow belt and Maharashtra. This reverberates in the party ethos and doesn’t strike a chord with the regional parties. Also, measures such as the GST have left little for the states to plan their economy. Under the guise of one nation one tax, the financial autonomy of states is under threat. States like Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal are seeing this as a sort of war against a more powerful New Delhi. A sort of cultural domination of a Hindu-Hindi party is threatening other states and could be seen in protests against Hindi in 2017 in the Bengaluru Metro episode and the National Highways in Tamil Nadu. Politically, the emergence of a few power centers and a top-down approach which seems to have seeped into every program of the Government is denying space to other forms of Government.

Regional movements often result in violent agitations, disturbs not only the law and order situation but also have negative implications on the economy of the state as well as the nation. Regionalism sometimes undercuts the national interest by being a hurdle in international diplomacy. For instance- the opposition of regional/state parties of Tamil against the stand of the central government had a direct implication on the relation of India with Sri Lanka. The disagreement of political leadership in West Bengal with the central government over the Land Boundary Agreement and Teesta River Water sharing treaty with Bangladesh resulted in increased tensions between the two nations. Regionalism can become a shield for militancy, extremism to create an internal security threat. Kashmir militancy is an example of this type of regionalism. Certain actions of the Government such as the decision of the Finance Commission to use the 2011 Census data instead of the older 1971 data are one of many. States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal feel that they are being penalized for enforcing population control strategies and for empowering women as compared to states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Parochial regionalism poses a threat to the sovereignty of the nation. The anti-migrant or anti-Bihari stance of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena which opposed the employment and residence of non-Maharashtrian people in the state of Maharashtra is a prime example of negative regionalism. Regionalism beyond a point can lead to secessionism, such as strong regionalism in Punjab ultimately resulted in the growth of Khalistani terrorism and often promotes Vote- Bank politics, thereby weakening the national integration. Regionalism can weaken the time tested fabric of 'Unity in Diversity' if promoted in an ultra manner, but positive regionalism promotes a sense of pride in connecting to one’s roots and culture. It has been noticed that often regional movements have helped the art and culture of many neglected regions to flourish by increasing their exposure through local emphasis. Therefore, in principle, regionalism need not be regarded as an unhealthy or anti-national phenomenon, unless it takes a militant, aggressive turn to encourage the growth of secessionist tendencies. Asymmetric development between states needs to be looked into and Unity in Diversity ethos needs to be preserved for the pluralistic character of the Indian nation-state while accommodating multiple aspirations of a diverse population. The need of the hour is to develop each region of India, through devolution of power to local governments and empowering people for their participation in decision-making. The governments at the State level need to find out the alternative resources of energy, source of employment for local people, use of technology in governance, planning, and agriculture development.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said. “ I am a proud Gujarati and a proud Indian and I don’t see any difference between the two.” If regionalism promotes art and cultural ethos without going out of hand, it will unify the nation and be a strengthening factor. India’s unity lies in its diversity, which should be shielded and promoted at all costs, for only then can inclusive development take place and India can grow as a whole. The boundaries of the state that divide people linguistically or administratively are united by one nation, one constitution, and one spirit and this is India that is united by its people of all colors, all religions, and all regions.



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