Regionalism in India – History, Causes, Effects & Measures Taken

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India is a country with a vast and diverse geography. The nation is an integration of many sub nationalities that have own distinct culture. The tendency of regionalism is, hence, an important facet of India’s sociopolitical landscape. The democratic setup of our country has given a distinct flavor to the various trends of regionalism.

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What is meant by Regionalism?

Regionalism is an ideology that advances a regional identity. It is having a strong bond with one’s region. The region may be a village, district, state or a part consisting of many countries.

Within a country, this region is often a federal unit or subpart of a federal unit.

The people of a region identify with the special geographical, political, social or economic aspects of that region and take pride in belonging to that region. This identity stemming from being of a particular region is known as an idea of regionalism.

India and regionalism

India being a continental nation, consists of various geographical, political, social, cultural subunits. Each unit has a distinct history and evolution. The history of regionalism in India is very interesting as it stems from various reasons socio-political-military churnings.

History of Regionalism

  • India, though saw rulers from ancient and medieval trying to bring the whole land under one rule, has seen a political unity from Kashmir to Kanyakumari very few times.
  • Even the great rulers of Maurya, Gupta, Mughal dynasty could not retain political unity for long. So, despite being an undercurrent of unity and national feeling, its subunits have aspired for autonomy.
  • South and North-East India has most of the time retained its autonomy and distinctiveness from the Plains of North India despite being many cultural commonalities of religion, lifestyle, etc.
  • The British rule, under which India finally saw political unity that could sustain, too was not able to devise a centralized and uniform polity. India under British rule too was divided between British India and Princely states.
  • The polity of both was different such as Governor’s provinces, Chief commissioner’s provinces, Princely states, etc.
  • Hence it can be said that India is a nation of many regional identities woven together as a nation as a result of culture, history, geography among others.
  • It is interesting to understand why this is the case

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What are the reasons of Regionalism?

  • Geography
  1. Very diverse landmass
  2. Huge variation in climate, soil, landforms.
  3. Cut across by large rivers like Ganga, Brahmaputra, Godavari, Kaveri providing natural boundaries to different regions.
  4. These geographical differences created diversity in lifestyle, food and clothing habits etc.
  5. These factors led to a unity of geographical regions.
  • History
  1. Only during Ashoka’s rule, this vast nation was a single political entity.
  2. Otherwise, different regions were ruled by different regional rulers

ancient times- Satvahanas, Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas, Gangas etc.

Medieval times- Sultanates, Mughals, Rajputs, Marathas, Ahoms etc.

  1. The British rule too could not devise a single political structure and divided it between British provinces, Princely states and did not interfere much in some northeastern areas.
  2. Rather, the British created these differences to suit their regime. They gave different concessions and autonomy to different provinces, created enmity among regions to win over their loyalties.
  3. The India Independence Act, 1947 gave the regions the choice to chose their future. Besides joining India or Pakistan they also had a choice to be independent. This feature is largely responsible for many current secessionist, separatist and regional autonomy movements that we are witnessing now.
  • Linguistic factors
  1. India has thousands of local languages. The Census of 2011 states that we have as many as 1635 mother tongues.
  2. The 8th schedule of the Indian constitution contains 22 official languages.
  3. Language creates a profound impact on one’s being and is a strong identity of oneself. India after independence has seen reorganization of the union based on linguistic grounds.
  4. It started with the demand of separate Andhra state for Telugu speaking people. After successful agitation of Andhra state, there were many similar demands leading to the States Reorganization Act, 1956.
  5. The attempts to impose Hindi as the national language creates linguistic opposition in the south.
  • Religious factors
  1. India was partitioned based on religious demands.
  2. The demands for Sikh homeland gave birth to the violent Khalistan movement which is still alive though not active.
  • Ethnic Factors
  1. There are demands in the Northeast based on ethnic factors.
  2. The Gorkha people want a different Gorkhaland, Bodo people want Bodoland.
  3. The insurgent Naga movement demands separate greater Nagalim.
  4. Some elements in these Scheduled tribes want to create separate states based on tribal cultural identity.
  • Cultural factors
  1. India is a multicultural society. Various regions have strong cultural identities.
  2. The people of Maharashtra bond over the Varkari movement, the Maratha rule, Marathi language.
  3. South India has a distinct culture. The Dravidian movement which started in the pre-independence era has maintained a separate Dravidian identity.
  4. The East has its own cultural identity around religion, geography and language. The Bengali identity is as strong as the Punjabi identity.
  5. Ladakh in Kashmir has long been demanding autonomy based on cultural and developmental needs. Jammu and Kashmir state itself was holding a special status till recently on account of regional uniqueness and accommodative provisions while accession to India.
  • Developmental factors
  1. Different regions of India have developed in different degrees.
  2. There are various reasons like colonial legacy, geography, the model of centralized development, neglect, etc.
  3. The Area around Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Telangana has been left behind in the developmental path. They demanded and got separate states.
  4. There are still demands by Vidarbha in Maharashtra based on the developmental gap.
  5. There is intrastate regionalism in Maharashtra, Karnataka, UP, Gujarat based on developmental gaps.
  • Economic factors
  1. The developmental gap creates a migration issue.
  2. The unavailability of employment and better living condition has made the people of northern states migrate to better-off states like Maharashtra, Karnataka.
  3. The surge of migration eats into host regions’ jobs, resources and lands.
  4. The cultural differences also create insecurities.
  5. The competition in economy, geography and culture creates the son of soil theory that demands the first claim of locals over the resources.
  6. The Son of soil movements in developed states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra has sometimes become violent regional movements.
  • Political Factors
  1. The above all reasons create a breeding ground for movements for regional demands.
  2. Though most of the time, the demands are legitimate, petty political calculations raise the amount of dissatisfaction through propaganda creating illogical demands.
  3. Secondly, the political structure of India is of federalism with a strong centre. The power division is highly biased towards the central government.
  4. The developmental divide has created demands of more autonomy.
  5. Whenever a state gets a strong regional leadership, its demands of autonomy increases. This has increased since the strengthening of regional political parties.

What are the effects of regionalism?

Regionalism has become a potent ideology in recent times. It has many effects, positive and negative.

  • Negative effects
  1. Regionalism has created many challenges to the development and integration of India.
  2. The legitimate demands remain hostages to the selfish politics of division.
  3. It has created strong internal security challenges in the country. Examples being insurgency in the northeast, violent son of soil agitations in different parts of the country.
  4. It creates enmity and divides between different states of India. The Water issue has driven a wedge between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, The Belgavi issue between Maharashtra and Karnataka etc.
  5. The divisive politics over region, language, culture has a negative effect on democratic processes as the selfish motives of politicians take over the overall development of the region and country as a whole.
  6. When leaders with strong regional outlook take over important portfolios, the developmental divide is enlarged due to favoritism.
  7. Regionalism also impacts international relations as can be seen from the Teesta water dispute with Bangladesh, Tamil question and LTTE episode.
  • Positive impacts
  1. Regionalism has many positive impacts as the identity and pride encourages the development of the region.
  2. Regionalism makes policymakers focus on regional issues.
  3. There is a development of healthy competition between the states giving rise to competitive cooperative federalism.
  4. Regional identities create regional political parties focused on local needs.
  5. The strong regional parties are important in a federation with a centralizing tendency.
  6. The growth of regional parties creates a condition for a coalition of regional parties at the center making union government a truly representative government. It negates the hegemony of one party that would lead to highly elite and centralized policymaking otherwise.
  7. Strong regional identities only strengthen India’s identity of being a vibrant multicultural nation.

How India has accommodated regionalism?

India has accommodated regionalism within its constitutional framework largely. the accommodative nature that celebrates diversity, our constitution has made every possible effort to make sure regional demands are met with.

  • The initial four-fold division of states in Groups A to D was sought to continue till stabilization.
  • After the enactment of the States Reorganization Act 1956, the different demands of state formation were met with. The initial number of 14 states and 6 UTs, has now grown to 28 states and 9 UTs.
  • The fifth and sixth schedule of the constitution protects the unique nature of tribal states and gives them requisite autonomy.
  • Despite the two aforementioned provisions, different demands of autonomy have met with innovative provisions like the Hill Area committee, and territorial administration in the Northeast.
  • The constitutional provisions of the Interstate council and Interstate River water dispute are important in solving interstate disputes.
  • Article 350-A provides for the promotion of mother tongue and education in the local language.
  • The articles 371 to 371K are very novel need-based provisions to provide for regional needs.
  • The Special category status was created under the planning commission to bridge the developmental divide.
  • The Finance Commission has substantively increased states’ share in the revenue.
  • India has strictly dealt with secessionist tendencies while promoting integration with local characteristics.
  • NITI Aayog has been an important improvement over the Planning commission. NITI Aayog works in a framework of cooperative federalism with the Team India Approach.
  • The schemes like EK BHARAT SHRESHTHA BHARAT celebrate diversity while upholding the larger integrity of the nation.

Way forward

Despite the availability of many accommodating factors, regionalism grows. The demands of autonomy are raised now and then. Parochial tendencies create law and order challenges. The demands of Northeastern states are still unmet. There is still much that needs to be done.

The future course of action can be

  • Political parties should try to avoid parochialism. The electoral laws can be made stricter to accommodate regional aggressiveness.
  • The economic deprivation and developmental gap must be removed.
  • The social expenditure on health, education and other sectors can remove peripheral supporting elements of regionalism.
  • The Naga Accord must be brought to its logical conclusion and similar actions must be taken with other regional movements.
  • The media, especially Bollywood, which has the largest reach can help build unifying consciousness and also can be an important promoter of legitimate regional issues.
  • The National integration council must be brought to life from its dormant state.
  • The interstate council must be utilized to reduce tensions between the states.
  • The schemes like EK BHARAT SHRESHTHA BHARAT, DEKHO APNA DESH can bring the countrymen together by making them realize the rich cultural heritage and the underlying unity of the Indian nation.

Practice Question for Mains

Despite many accommodating provisions, regionalism is still a strong force in India. Do you think India has been unsuccessful in its integration? (250 words)