India – Exemplary in Dealing With Regionalism


Regionalism as an ideology and as a concept is universal and refers to the natural affinity that people feel towards their region. It is often confused with another related but fundamentally different ideology of sub-nationalism. Often, even in many newspaper articles and academic journals too, these terms are used interchangeably. The word ‘region’ in regionalism is more broad in meaning as it is also includes connotations of language, culture, religion,etc.

Regionalism originates from diversity, which is present in every nation and is reflected in various forms like language, food habits, beliefs etc. On the other hand, sub-nationalism is more closely linked with the concept of “son of the soil” and is generally based on feelings of chauvinism or superiority complex regarding one’s own race,language,religion, culture, etc, over others’ way of life. Thus, while regionalism has both positive and negative impacts, sub-nationalism is essentially “bad” in character as it perpetuates conflicts leading to divisions and infighting.

Regionalism in India
India is an age old civilization. What we today call India, is a composite mixture of various traditions, cultures, religions, belief systems and practices. It is enriched by the presence of diversity of all sorts. It is this diversity which when celebrated leads to the growth of regionalism. Fortunately, due to it’s rich heritage and civilization values, India has always not only recognized the presence of regionalism but has also encouraged it. It is important to understand that when legitimate or genuine regionalism is not recognized or is tried to be suppressed, then it leads to social strife and chaos. India’s neighboring countries namely Sri Lanka and Pakistan are exemplary of such monumental failures.

Non-acceptance of legitimate demands for regional autonomy and assertion in both these countries have lead them plunging either into a state of civil war or perpetual sectarian conflicts. In Pakistan’s case, the country has suffered an irreparable damage due to its non-recognition of regional aspirations, as it led to the historical bifurcation of the country in 1971(the creation of Bangladesh). Similarly, in Sri Lanka, disregard of legitimate claims of an ethnic minority has hampered the socio-economic growth of the country. Contrary to these two disastrous experiences, India has an enviable record when it comes to dealing with regional assertions.

In modern India regionalism traces its genesis to late 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the main causes of rising tide of regionalism have been : (1) the decline of congress party from 1970s onwards ; (2) inequal or imbalanced development leading to pockets of developed and under-developed areas ; and (3) fears of outnumbering of indigenous populations. For the first 20 years after independence Congress party ruled at both the central level as well as in almost all of the states, hence tensions even when they existed were resolved behind closed doors, but this changed after 1967 elections as non congress governments were formed in at least 9 states.

The 1967 elections results were no less than a political shock for Congress as for the first time since independence, smaller non congress opposition parties had come to wield significant power at the provincial level. Also in the post- 1967 era, in a bid to consolidate her position, Indira Gandhi began to interfere with the functioning of various State-level Congress Working Committees (she even chose CMs of her liking). This led to many regional leaders breaking away from congress and forming there own regional parties. This is how parties like Biju Janta Dal in Orissa, and later Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, etc came into being.

Thus it is from 1970s onwards that we see the rise of various regional and often caste-based political mobilizations. The newly formed regional parties had arrived on the political scene and they were spurring the demands for greater regional autonomy. However, to the credit of Indian democracy and political leadership, the rising aspirations of various regions were accommodated and even those who claimed to secede from the Indian union were mainstreamed into electoral politics. Rajiv Gandhi – Longowal Accord which brought normalcy to Punjab and the Rajiv Gandhi – Laldenga Accord which ended secession in Mizoram in 1980s are examples where even sub-nationalist movements were resolved by converting them into demands of regional autonomy. Dialogue and compromise have always triumphed.

Impact of Regionalism
Regionalism has had several positive as well as negative impact on Indian society and politics. On the positive side, it has strengthened Indian federalism by giving greater autonomy to state governments. By fulfilling regional aspirations, it has also contributed in the process of nation-building and development. For instance, a 2005 survey highlighted that the growth rate in newly carved out states in 2000, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand has been better than their parent states.

Similarly, on the negative side, regionalism has led to the federalization of India’s foreign policy. This has at times acted as detrimental to national interests. Also, due to some regional movements, growth and developmental activities have suffered, for example, the recent losses in Darjeeling due to the movement for a separate state.

Finally, it must be said that regionalism is a natural consequence of the process of deepening and widening of democracy in any country. The way a country deals with regionalism also reflects the maturity of its political system and leadership. Therefore, in a bid to make a more democratic and inclusive India, it is quintessential that regionalism is viewed as a constructive force and not disruptive for the nation.

-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh

Picture Credits: youthincmag.com

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