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Regionalism In India


Regionalism is defined as a feeling of loyalty to a particular part of a country and a wish for it to be more politically independent. It is not just a territorial unit but a culmination of socio-economic and political factors.

What is Regionalism?

  • Regionalism can be a positive force, bringing people together based on a shared identity and goals within a specific area.
  • It fosters a sense of brotherhood and unity, encouraging people to work together for the well-being and progress of their region.
  • People feel motivated to safeguard the interests of their region, contributing to the overall welfare and development of the state and its residents.
  • On the downside, regionalism can become problematic when there is an exaggerated loyalty to one’s own region.
  • If taken to extremes, this excessive attachment poses a significant threat to the unity and integrity of the entire country.
  • In India, the term ‘regionalism’ is often used in a negative context, referring to situations where loyalty to one’s region surpasses the broader national identity.

History of Regional Movements in India

Colonial Roots of Regional Identity:
  • The seeds of regional consciousness in India can be traced back to the colonial era. British policies and differential treatment of princely states versus presidencies fueled regionalist tendencies.
  • Economic neglect of certain regions by the British led to significant economic disparities and regional imbalances.
Southern India Movements:
  • The Dravida Movement, starting in the 1940s in present-day Tamil Nadu, marked the beginning of regional movements.
  • This movement eventually evolved into the demand for a separate Tamil state. Similar sentiments arose in the Andhra region.
  • Potti Sri Ramulu’s leadership in the 1954 revolt for a separate Andhra state and his subsequent death sparked widespread political regionalism.
Establishment of States Reorganisation Committee:
  • The surge in demands for separate states across India led to the formation of the States Reorganisation Committee, headed by Faisal Ali.
  • The committee recommended the reorganisation of Indian states along linguistic lines, solidifying regionalist tendencies.
  • The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 turned linguistic states into a reality.
Insurgencies in North East India:
  • In the 1970s and 80s, tribal insurgencies in the northeastern region intensified, leading to the North-eastern States Reorganisation Act of 1971.
  • This act declared Manipur and Tripura as states, and Meghalaya as a Sub-State. Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh initially became Union Territories, later attaining statehood in 1986.
Major Changes in the 21st Century:
  • The 2000s saw robust movements for the creation of separate states due to a growing sense of regional deprivation.
  • This resulted in the formation of three new states: Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand from Bihar, and Uttarakhand from Uttar Pradesh.
  • In 2014, Telangana was created by the division of Andhra Pradesh.

Different Types of Regional Movements have Occurred in India

Secessionism – Extreme Regionalism:
  • Some groups, like Isac Muivah’s NSCN-IM, Islamic fundamentalists in J&K, and ULFA in Assam, advocate forcefully separating from India based on ethnicity or other factors.
  • Examples include demands for Bodoland in Assam, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, and a Bundelkhand state covering parts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Separatism – Seeking Separate Statehood:
  • Groups within states unite for separate statehood within the Indian Union.Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana were formed due to such demands.
  • Ongoing demands include Bodoland for Bodo-speakers, Gorkhaland for Gorkhas, and a separate Bundelkhand state.
Demand for Full Statehood:
  • Union territories, like the NCT of Delhi, have sought and obtained full statehood.
  • Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim achieved full statehood in the past.
Autonomy Demands:
  • Regional parties since the 1960s demand more state autonomy to reduce central interference.
  • States like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal seek increased powers.
Regional Autonomy within a State:
  • In response to regional imbalances from inefficient planning, some states demand recognition of regional identities.
  • In J&K, Ladakhis, for example, have sought regional status.

Impacts of Regionalism on Indian Polity

Positive Impacts:
  • When people support regional parties, it ensures that individuals from their own region have a say in the government, strengthening democratic values.
  • Regional parties limit the dominance of a single political entity, fostering diversity in political representation.
  • Leaders with local roots are more likely to understand and address the concerns of their community, fostering a sense of empathy.
  • Regionalism directs attention to specific local problems, encouraging policymakers to address and resolve issues that may be overlooked on a national scale.
  • A regional perspective promotes better planning, resulting in improved transit, efficient infrastructure, and enhanced delivery of goods and services.
  • Positive regionalism instills a sense of pride in one’s cultural heritage, connecting people to their roots.
  • Regional movements often boost the art and culture of neglected areas, providing exposure through local emphasis.
Negative Impacts:
  • Regional movements can lead to violent protests, disrupting law and order and negatively impacting the economy.
  • Regionalism may serve as a cover for extremism and militancy, posing internal security risks.
  • Disagreements between regional and national interests can complicate international relations, as seen in disputes over treaties like the Land Boundary Agreement and Teesta River Water sharing.
  • Extreme regionalism may lead to secessionist movements, threatening the sovereignty of the nation, exemplified by past issues in Punjab.
  • Regionalism can fuel animosity between states, creating tensions that spill over into broader conflicts.
  • Some regions exhibit resistance to migrants seeking job opportunities, creating tensions and opposition from regional leaders.
  • Exploitative use of regionalism in politics weakens national unity, as leaders prioritize gaining votes over broader national integration.
  • Taken to an extreme, regionalism challenges the harmonious concept of ‘Unity in Diversity’ that has been a cornerstone of the nation’s fabric.

Causes of Growing Regionalism

  • Historical and geographical isolation, insider-outsider complex that nurturers nativism and son-of-the-soil ideology.
  • Uneven development, continuous neglect of a region and internal colonialism, despite being rich in natural resources some regions remain economically underdeveloped.
  • Ill-conceived top-down approach for development or survival of one region at the cost of the other region.
  • Imposition of an ideology that might be in conflict with the ideology that people of a particular have been possessing for a long time.
  • Linguistic aspirations and expression of ethnicity have long remained a formidable basis of regionalism.

Way Forward

  • Unity in Diversity is crucial for India’s unique identity. We must maintain this ethos to embrace our diverse population’s various aspirations.
  • Investing more in education, health, and sanitation is essential for developing our human resources. States should allocate more funds for social expenditure in these core areas.
  • The creation of NITI Aayog is a positive move to promote cooperative federalism. It involves state governments in economic policy-making, adopting a bottom-up approach.
  • While the government has taken steps like launching schemes and offering incentives for development, effective implementation is key for inclusive development.
  • Introducing a national education system can help overcome regional divides, fostering a stronger attachment to the nation. This could be a long-term solution to sub-nationalism.
  • Having pride in one’s language and culture does not undermine national unity. Regionalism is not inherently anti-national unless it turns militant, encouraging secessionist tendencies.

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