Regionalism

Previous Year Questions

  • Growing feeling of regionalism is an important factor in the generation of demand for a separate state. Discuss. (2013)
  • What is the basis of regionalism? Is it that unequal distribution of benefits of development on regional basis eventually promotes regionalism? Substantiate your answer. (2016)

A region is a territory set apart, over a period of time develops a common geography, topography, religion, language, usages and customs, socio-economic and political stages of development, common historical traditions and experiences, a common way of living and more than anything else, a widely prevalent sentiment of togetherness (‘we’ feeling, which differentiates a people from ‘them’). At the international level, regionalism refers to transnational cooperation to achieve a common goal or resolve a shared problem between regions that are linked by geography, history or economic features. Used in this sense, regionalism refers to attempts to reinforce the links between these countries. Today, the foremost example of such an attempt is the European Union (EU).

Historic roots of Regionalism in India:

Regionalism is rooted in India’s manifold diversity of languages, cultures, tribes, communities, religions and so on, and encouraged by the regional concentration of these identities and fuelled by a sense of togetherness and regional deprivation.

Growth in Indian nationalism against British colonialism since the nineteenth century gave birth to intense awakening among various region-based linguistic nationalities for identity and self-determination. To mobilise people from all over India, leaders of mainstream nationalism has to recognise and mobilise the local leaders, they had to reach out to the people in local languages. The mass mobilisation was only possible, when people became aware about their regional needs and its importance. From then the mainstream Indian nationalism had continuously to grapple with regional nationalism.

To some Scholars, regionalism in Indian politics in generally has been regarded as something that is anti-system, anti-federal and against basic interest of a well-integrated nation. It has often expressed itself against the idea of nation, fuelled as it is by the sense of continuing deprivation due to long- term neglect in development and resource allocation. Regionalism has often articulated itself in terms challenging the legitimacy of the state.

Whatever may be the connotations, the concept of regionalism has now become a separatist movement in different parts of India in various forms. India is now infected with regional upsurge of different kinds like geographical regionalism, linguistic regionalism, cultural regionalism, ethnic regionalism and so on.

Causes of regionalism in India:

  1. Geographical factor: The territorial orientation based on geographical boundaries relate to the inhabitants of a particular region with a linguistic distribution along geographical boundaries. The topographic and climatic variations along with differences in the settlement pattern induce in people the concept of regionalism.
  2. Historical and cultural factors: In the Indian scenario, the historical and cultural factors assume greater significance. The historical and cultural components interpret regionalism by way of cultural heritage, folklore, myths, symbolism and historical traditions. People of a particular cultural group also derive inspirations from the noble deeds and glorious achievements of the local heroes.
  3. Caste and religion: When caste is combined with language conflicts or religious fundamentalism, it breeds regional feeling. It leads to dogmatism and orthodoxy.
  4. Economic factors: Uneven development in many parts of the country may be construed as the prime reason of regionalism and separatism. There are certain regions in the country where industries and factories have been concentrated, educational and health facilities are adequately provided, communication network has been developed, rapid agricultural development has been made possible. But there are also certain areas where the worth of independence is yet to be realized in terms of socio-economic development. This disparity has caused the feeling of relative deprivation among the inhabitants of economically neglected regions. It has manifested itself in the demand for separate states such as Bodoland, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh, Telangana, and so on.
  5. Politico-administrative factors: Political parties, especially the regional political parties as well as local leaders, exploit the regional sentiments, regional deprivation and convert them to solidify their factional support bases. They give place to the regional problems in their election manifesto and promise for political and regional development.

Characteristics of regionalism:

  1. Regionalism is conditioned by economic, social, political and cultural disparities.
  2. Regionalism at times is a psychic phenomenon.
  3. Regionalism is built around as an expression of group identity as well as loyalty to the region.
  4. Regionalism presupposes the concept of development of one’s own region without taking into consideration the interest of other regions.
  5. Regionalism prohibits people from other regions to be benefited by a particular region.

Types of regionalism:

  1. Supra-state regionalism: is an expression of group identity of several states. In this type of regionalism, the group of states joins hands to take common stand on the issue of mutual interest vis-à-vis another group of states or at times against the union. The group identity thus forged is negative in character and based on specific issue/s. Even at times of intergroup rivalries, tensions and conflicts may tend to persist, simultaneously along with their cooperation. North-eastern states in India may be said to have possessed the supra-state regionalism.
  2. Inter-state regionalism: is coterminous with provincial territories and involves juxtaposing of the identities of one or more states against another. It is also issue-specific. Disputes between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the distribution of Kaveri water may be construed as interstate regionalism.
  3. Intra-state regionalism: indicates that wherein a part of the state strives for self-identity and self-development and therefore, it is taken in a positive sense. In negative terms, it militates against the collective interest of the state as well as the nation. As for instance there is often a feeling of coastal region and western region in Odisha, coastal region and Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh, and so on.

Reasons for regional disparity still in India:

Low rate of economic growth: The economic growth of India has been fluctuating since independence. But with respect to High population growth, the economic growth has been not enough to catch the development with full speed. In the last decade, the economic growth was progressive, but now they are reeling under the influence of world economic crisis and other bottlenecks at domestic level.

Socio-economic and political organisation of states: The states have been unable to do the adequate land reforms and the feudal mentality still persists. Bhoodan and Gramdaan movements, after independence, were not enthusiastically carried and even land under land Banks were not efficiently distributed. The political activities in the backward states were limited to vote bank politics and scams.

Lower level of infrastructural facilities in backward states: The level of infrastructural development, such as power distribution, irrigation facilities, roads, modern markets for agricultural produce has been at back stage. All these are state list subjects.

Low level of social expenditure by states on education, health and sanitation: These subjects are core for human resource development. The states which have invested heavily on these subjects, fall under the developed and advanced states, for example Tamil Nadu, where health care services in Primary health centre is bench mark for other states.

Political and administration failure: This is source of tension and gives birth to sub-regional movements for separate states. Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttrakhand and recently Telangana are result of these failures only. Many such demands are in pipeline such as- Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Darjeeling and Bodoland, etc. These failures also weaken the confidence of private players and do not attract investors in the states.

Clashes in India having colours of regionalism:

Linguistic Reorganization of States: It was the demand of Potti Sriramulu, a freedom fighter and a devoted follower of Mahatma Gandhi, that led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh state and linguistic recognition of the states in India. To achieve this end, he died in 1952 after not eating for 52 days in support of a Telugu-speaking state. Sriramulu’s death forced Jawahar Lal Nehru to agree to the various demands from other parts of the country with similar demands. Consequently, in 1954, a States Reorganisation Committee was formed with Fazal Ali as its head, which recommended the formation of 16 new states and 3 Union Territories based on the language.

Demand for Dravidian Nadu: Going back to the journey of Regionalism in India, it is well noticeable that it emerged with Dravidian Movement, which started in Tamil Nadu in 1925. This movement, also known as ‘Self-Respect Movement’ initially focused on empowering Dalits, non-Brahmins, and poor people. Later it stood against imposition of Hindi as sole official language on non-Hindi speaking areas. But it was the demand of carving out their own Dravidastan or Dravida Nadu, which made it a secessionist movement. As early as 1960s the DMK and the Non-Tamil organized a joint campaign throughout Madras state demanding its secession from India and making it an independent sovereign state of Tamil land. DMK proposed that the states of Madras, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Mysore should secede from the Indian union and form an independent “Republic of Dravida Nadu”.

Telangana Movement: In the years after the formation of Andhra Pradesh state, people of Telangana expressed dissatisfaction over how the agreements and guarantees were implemented. In 1969, student agitation for the continuation of the agreement began at Osmania University in Hyderabad and spread to other parts of the region. Government employees and opposition members of the state legislative assembly threatened “direct action” in support of the students. This movement since then finally resulted in the separate state of Telangana. It should be noted that roots of disparity in two regions was in colonial rule. Andhra was under direct rule of crown while Telangana was ruled by Nizam of Hyderabad, who was not so efficient ruler. So over time Andhra got more developed in comparison to Telangana.

Shiv Sena against Kannadigas: In 1966, Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra, launched its agitation against Kannadigas in the name of Marathi pride. The first targets of its agitation were South Indians who were the workers of Udupi hotels in Mumbai. This agitation was labelled to be a retaliation of the lathi-charge on Marathi speaking people in the border areas.

Bodoland Demand within Assam: The Bodo agitation is led by the Assam Bodo Students Union is demanding a separate because of the expansion of education, particularly higher education, but not industrialization and other job creating institutions is increasing the army of educated youths in the backward regions. These frustrated young men are allured by the movements against the inflow of people from other countries and states.

Attacks on Bihar Labourers by the ULFA: ULFA continues to attempt ambushes and sporadic attacks on government security forces. In 2003, the ULFA was accused of killing labourers from Bihar in response to molestation and raping of many Assamese girls in a train in Bihar. This incident sparked off anti-Bihar sentiment in Assam, which withered away after some months though. On August 15, 2004, an explosion occurred in Assam in which 10-15 people died, including some school children. This explosion was reportedly carried out by ULFA. The ULFA has obliquely accepted responsibility for the blast. This appears to be the first instance of ULFA admitting to public killings with an incendiary device. In January 2007, the ULFA once again struck in Assam killing approximately 62 Hindi speaking migrant workers mostly from Bihar. On March 15, 2007, ULFA triggered a blast in Guwahati, injuring six persons as it celebrated its ‘army day’.

MNS Targeting North Indians: It was in 2008 that Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers began their violent agitation against North Indians. Bhojpuri films were not allowed to run on theatres in Maharashtra. The targets were vendors and shopkeepers from North India in various parts of Maharashtra.

Inter-State Disputes in Present times: Another form of regionalism in India has found expression in the form of interstate disputes. There are disputes boundary disputes for example between Karnataka and Maharashtra on Belgaum, between Kerala and Karnataka on Kasargod, between Assam and Nagaland on Rengma reserved forests.

The first important dispute regarding the use of water source was over the use of water resources of three rivers mainly Narmada, Krishna and Cauvery in which states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra were involved. Disputes also arose between use of Cauvery waters among the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Another dispute arose among the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh over the use and distribution of waters of the Krishna River. Disputes between Punjab, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh overt the use of waters of Ravi River. The Electricity sharing issue between Punjab and Delhi is another example of this.

Positives and Negatives of Regionalism:

  • Scholars believe that regionalism plays important role in building of the nation, if the demands of the regions are accommodated by the political system of the country.
  •  Regional recognition in terms of state hood or state autonomy gives self-determination to the people of that particular region and they feel empowered. Internal self-determination of community, whether linguistic, tribal, religious, regional, or their combinations, has remained the predominant form in which regionalism in India has sought to express itself, historically as well as at present time.

Negative Regionalism is often seen as a serious threat to the development, progress and unity of the nation. It gives internal security challenges by the insurgent groups, who propagate the feelings of regionalism against the mainstream politico administrative setup of the country.

Federalism and Regionalism:

The role played by Indian federalism in ensuring India’s unity, stability and survival as a polity in the face of persistent regionalism, often verging on separation, rooted in manifold and complex social and cultural diversity, and mass poverty, illiteracy, extreme regional unevenness in development, and widespread inequality. The need for federalism is enhanced in countries with ethnically distinct regions where the territorial accommodation of distinct groups of people is of paramount importance. For those countries, a combination of shared rule (for general purposes of unity) and some kind of self-rule (for regional/local purposes of diversity) is a must if unity and integrity are to be maintained. Indian federalism is seen as a method of accommodation of regionalism in India. Federalism is seen here as a political equilibrium, which results from the appropriate balance between shared rule and self-rule. India’s rich diversity sometimes looks like an obstacle to unity. But recent times has proved that a commitment to resolving differences peacefully and democratically can transform diversity into a source of strength.

Suggestive measures to combat regionalism:

  1. Doing away with regional imbalance
  2. Top priority to the economic development of deprived zones
  3. Acculturation
  4. Developed means of transport and communication
  5. Proper education
  6. Appeal through mass media
  7. Create enough employment opportunity
  8. Provide Special Packages to backward states  
  9. Improve National Integration.

Regional parties and regionalism:

Most of the national patties have even failed to live up to the people’s expectations. That explains why more State-based parties have been formed in various regions and is quite successful in their aims. Regional parties are not a new phenomenon. Several parties have been existing in the country for the last many decades. They have held power, or are still holding power, in many states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Pondicherry, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and other States in the North-Eastern region. People repose confidence in regional parties because they believe that they alone can safeguard the interests of the State concerned and can fight for the legitimate rights and powers of the States without being hamstring by their association with a national party.

Among the causes of the growth of regionalism is prolonged maladministration and neglect of an area or State by the Central Government. There has been a creeping disillusionment against Central rule. Regional symbols, regional culture, history and in many cases a common language, all promote regionalism. The Centre’s indifference to the development of certain regions has created imbalances. Some areas particularly in the North, are well developed, with adequate infrastructure while others are way behind. This explains why there is Telegu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Jharkhand Movement in Bihar. There is much concern among the Centre about the growth of regionalism in the country which is largely unwarranted; Regionalism will come into conflict with nationalism only when it becomes aggressive and when members of the various regional parties tend to forget that they are Indians first and last, citizens of the same country. Inter-regional or centre-region disputes have never created a serious explosion unlike communal clashes.

The differences of approach and policy have hindered the formation of an effective, durable and viable combination of regional parties so as to facilitate the emergence of a national alternative to the ruling party at the centre. The growth of regional parties in itself is nor incompatible with the process of nation-building. In a democracy, ideological options are open in the sense that any individual or group can adopt any ideology, provided, of course, it is within the legal framework. Political parties have the freedom to compete for power and pursue their respective ideologies. Since ideologies are no respecters of geographical boundaries, they also check the exclusiveness of regional identities. In fact, it has been the decline of the party system in recent years that has inflated the role of regionalism in the country.

As for the cures, three suggestions may be made.

  • First, there should be a greater spirit of accommodation on the part of the Central authorities. This implies a reversal of the process of concentration of power which has admittedly been much in evidence in the country, causing resentment among the opposition-governed State. Power and authority must be shared on an equitable basis between the Centre and the constituent units, of the Indian Federation.
  • Harmonious, balanced growth should be the administrations aim, not suppression of local desires and demands. Regionalism must not be allowed to become a shield for militancy, extremism, establishing a reign of terror and carrying on other anti-national activities.
  • The regional parties’ patriotism should not be suspected, regionalism does not weaken India. The majority groups should not become arrogant or obsessed with power. They should be generous towards the minorities, religious, cultural and linguistic Suppression of regional aspirations is not the right remedy.