On 15th of December 1953, when Potti Sriramulu succumbed to death not able to sustain 52 days of marathon fast that was undertaken to demand a separate state for Telugu speaking people, little did he realize that his death would become a launch pad for the dawn of Political Regionalism in India – that would in course of time alter the landscape of India.
But the brand of regionalism that evolved after Potti Sriramulu’s death was legitimate, genuine and logical. It reflected the aspirations of people at that time. It stood for fulfilling the longstanding want of people to have their own linguistic state. Thus, Andhra Pradesh became the first linguistic state of India. Today, Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh is renamed as Potti Sriramulu.
After the death of Sriramulu, reluctant Nehru was forced to agree to various cries from other parts of the country with similar demands. In 1954, a States Reorganization 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 people spoke in those respective regions. This heralded a new phase in the Indian politics.
The later movements for separate states and territories gave birth to a slew of regional parties which eventually became prominent at the national level becoming crucial in the formation of governments – heralding a ‘coalition culture’ in Indian politics.
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 of the cases it is raised for expedient political gains but not necessarily.
Growth and Development
Regionalism in India can be traced back to Dravida Movement started in Tamil Nadu. The movement initially focused on empowering Dalits, non-Brahmins, and poor people. Later it turned against imposition of Hindi as sole official language on non-Hindi speaking areas. Finally, the movement for some time focused on seceding from India to carve out their own Dravidastan or Dravida Nadu. The movement slowly declined and today they have become prominent regional parties after many splits and factionalism.
Throughout India regionalism persisted. In Maharashtra Shiv Sena against Kannadigas in the name of Marathi pride and recently MNS activists against Biharis; in Punjab against non-Punjabis that gave rise to Khalistan Movement and earlier Akali Movement; in Andhra, Telangana Movement with an aim of separate state; in Assam ULFA militants against migrant Biharis and Bengalis; in North-East against other Indians.
It can be traced that regionalism slowly turned from non violent means to violent means to achieve their goals. From Potti Sriramulu’s non violent means of fatsing to Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena (MNS) and ULFA’s violent means, regionalism has come a long way.
Regionalism in contemporary India is readily used for political gains by petty politicians and secessionist organizations. Economic reasons are exploited for political dividends.
When violence is used against people in the name of regionalism it is a criminal act and is punishable. Article 19 of the Constitution of India provides a citizen of India to move freely throughout the territory of India, to live and settle in any part, and to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. When ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) militants or MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) activists used violence against poor migrant workers, they clearly violated the law of the land and also the Constitution which is above all, even above the Parliament.
Do we need to fear Regionalism?
No. Regionalism in India is only a short cut to meet the political ambitions by emotionally exploiting the sentiments of the people. The fear of Balkanization is void of any logic. India is bound by a common culture that has flourished on this land many thousand years ago. I may be Kannadiga or Tamil but I am an Indian first. My identity outside India is that of an Indian.
The states which fought for complete independence are now part of Indian Union and they have renounced violence to some extent ; they include Mizoram, Nagaland, Kashmir, Bodoland, Tamli Nadu. India is too big for these states to fight against and win.
Today regional parties define how the governments are formed and conducted both at the Centre and the state level. Indeed it is a good development as some political entities such as RJD, BSP, LJP, DMK, AIADMK, BJD have to some extent represented those people who were neglected in the political process for a long time. As long as they thrive for regional development without discriminating against outsiders, regionalism is good for India.
Every Indian is son of this soil. A Bihari becomes Mumbaikar when a bomb explodes in Mumbai and a Mumbaikar becomes Bihari when Kosi wrecks havoc in the plains of Bihar. We are united by an idea called India and that unity is imperative if we want to realize the dream of becoming a superpower.