Regionalism in India

Regionalism is a pre-independence phenomenon. It became predominant in post-independence period The politics of regionalism started with the implementation of constitutional reform under government of India Acts of 1909, 1919 and 1935. The establishment and role ofJustice Party in Madras, and to a lesser extent, of Akali Dal in Punjab in pre-independence period are examples of emerging regionalism in India.

After independence there are four major landmarks in the development of regional politics.
  1. After independence democratic form of government was established Its main aim was nation building on the principles of democracy, secularism, national unity and social justice. All parts of the country wanted a fair deal in nation-building. They started competing with each other for their development. Anything short of expectation led to disenchantment and it resulted in the emergence of regional politics.
  2. There was integration of the Princely States. Small states were integrated with the big states. People continued to nurse loyalties to old territorial units. This was the most important factor for the success of Princes in elections. The Princes often received overwhelming support in their former territories in the newly created states and relatively much less in other parts of the same state.
  3. Reorganization of states on linguistic basis also played a very vital role in the development of regional politics. Twenty eight states were reshaped and reduced to 14 states along with centrally administered territories. Later new states were created then for example Bombay was divided into Gujarat and Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana. But these states were not constituted entirely on linguistic basis. Many other factors like ethnic-cum-economic considerations: (Nagaland Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura), (Haryana and Punjab), language-cum-culture, (Maharashtra and Gujarat); historical and political factor, (U.P. and Bihar); integration of princely states in and need for viable groupings (M. P. and Rajasthan); language and social distinctiveness (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Mysore, Bengal and Orissa), have played a decisive role in the composition of the Indian federation.
  4. In spite of all these considerations, language remained the most important factor in the reorganization of states. It became such an important force in the context of regionalism that linguistic regionalism gained ground in Indian politics.
  5. Another factor which gave rise to regional and parochial tendencies in the country was the personal and selfish ends of politicians. Immediately, after independence the struggle for power started among some parties. For enhancing their own authority and prestige, the regional and state leaders did not hesitate to weaken the authority of the centre or in some cases of states. The creation of more states meant more governors, chief ministers, M.L.A.’s etc. The professional politicians explored the narrow and sectarian sentiments of ignorant masses for fulfilling their personal and selfish ends. Keeping these landmarks in mind let us now examine the bases or regional and state politics.

Basis of Regionalism

Regionalism is a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Its bases are varied Here we well discuss the geographical historical cultural economic and politico-administrative bases of regionalism.

  1. Geographical Basis : Usually people relate their regional identity of certain specific geographical boundaries. After independence integration of Princely States resulted in the merger of small states into new big states. The loyalties of citizens were torn between old territorial boundaries and new territorial structures. As pointed our earlier this was the major factor responsible for the success of princes in elections particularly when they contested from their former territories in the newly created states. However, it would be wrong to over estimate the importance of geographical boundaries. It is true that memories of old geographical boundaries of princely states still haunt the people and are exploited by political leaders but it can hardly be denied that they are yielding place to new and bigger territorial identities like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.
  2. Historical and Social Bases : Historical and social bases constitute the bedrock of the politics of regionalism. Several components in this category are not only important individually but also in conjunction with each other.
    • History supported regionalism with cultural heritage, folklore, myths and symbolism. The most striking example is that of Dravida Kazhagam and the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. But history cannot be considered as the most important basis of regionalism. Economic and political factors have combined with history to generate regionalism. This can again be seen in the change in the stand of DMK from secession to one of autonomy within the federal framework of the Constitution.
    • Language is perhaps the most important mark of group identification. Language expresses the shared life, thought structure and value patterns of people. It has the capacity to unite the people together and make them work to improve their common destiny. In this sense linguistic homogeneity strengthens a positive movement
    • Establishment of State Reorganization Commission in 1955 was the result of demand for formation of regional units based in linguistic regionalism. SRC could not completely follow the principle of one language one state. This could not be treated as the sole criteria for the demarcation of state boundaries. Bilingual states like Bombay, Punjab, etc., were created However, splitting up of Bombay in 1960, Punjab in 1966, and Assam since mid-sixties into linguistically more homogeneous states gave further impetus to linguistic regionalism in Indian politics.
    • If language had been synonymous with region, the political aspiration of every linguistic group would have been satisfied or the formation of separate states.This, however, is neither a reality nor a foreseeable possibility. The first reason being that Hindi speaking people are distributed over a very large territory. Their number is over 200 million. One state cannot be created for them. They have been divided into six states U.P. Bihar, M.P. Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and a couple of Union territories. There has rarely been a demand for the formation of single state of Hindi-speaking people. On the contrary there have been demands for separate states comprising languages or dialects within this wider linguistic group. This can be found in the occasional demand for a Maithili or for recognition of Rajasthani, Haryanvi, etc., as scheduled languages in the Constitution.
    • Thus regionalism is closely associated with language but is not synonymous with linguism. Regionalism can take place inside a linguistic state for example creation of Marathi-speaking Maharashtra. The seven states of North East India refer to themselves as seven sisters. They have tided to form common bonds on the basis of their problems of development They have also tried to develop a regional identity. These seven states include Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. In other words language is not the sole generator of regionalism. It is one of the several bases of regionalism in India.In most cases of linguistic regionalism many inter-related factors are usually found to be working together.
  3. Caste : An important example of the caste factor providing impetus to linguistic regionalism can be seen in the case of Tamil Nadu. Tamil regionalism gained ground as a result of non-Brahmin movement Non-Brahmin castes of Tamil speaking region had been able to provide a powerful united thrust against Brahmins who had enjoyed unquestioned dominance in economy, society and polity.
  4. Religion :
    • Religion like caste does not play a significant role except when it is combined with dominance and linguistic homogeneity as in Punjab fed on a sense of religious orthodoxy and economic deprivation as in Jammu and Kashmir.
    • If casteism reinforced and propelled linguistic regionalism in case of Tamil Nadu, the demand for the formation of Punjabi Suba though presented in linguistic garb had religious overtones. They were mainly responsible for evoking people’s political loyalties on massive scale rather than their love for their mother tongue. It is difficult to qualify the mix of communalism and linguism in this particular case. But some studies make it very clear that demand for Punjabi language state was certainly reinforced by regular invocation of Punjab-speaking masses loyalty towards Sikh religion.
    • Taking into account these three factors i.e.language, caste and religion one can say that the study of regionalism in Punjab and Tamil Nadu makes it very clear that political movements for regional demands were carried out formally in the name of language but in reality they had substantive non-linguistic bases too.
  5. Economic Basis : Economic factor is the crux of regional politics.India is a developing country.The resources are limited while the demand for resources for the development of various regions is unlimited or disproportionate to resources. Economic policies have led to regional imbalances and wide economic disparities among various regions resulting in discontentment among them. It may be recalled that most of the demands for constituting new states were primarily based on allegedly unfair and unequal distribution of development benefits and expenditure in multilingual states. Movement for a separate Uttarakhand state in the hill districts of U.P., a Jharkhand state carved out of parts of Bihar, Orissa and a state of Bodo land comprising a part of Assam are examples of this type.The demands for separate states in these instances are mainly on the belief that these regions have been economically deprived by their respective states. Economic factors have usually assumed prime importance in regional politics.
  6. Politico-administrative Basis : The politico-administrative basis of regionalism is also important but politics as such does not create regionalism. It only accentuates regionalism. Politicians take advantage of the situation of regional discontentment and unrest. They convert it into movements for strengthening their individual and factional support bases. It is a known fact that fighting within Congress gave rise to Telangana agitation. Shiv Sena was able to flourish in Maharashtra because of the support of Congress bosses. Regional political parties like DMK (Tamil Nadu), Akali Dal (Punjab), and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (Jharkhand) are surviving because of regional sentiments. Border disputes like the one between Maharashtra and Karnataka is also based on regional sentiments. Another important fact of politics of regionalism is the real or assumed charges of political discrimination among various regions by the central ruling elite.

Forms of regionalism in India :

Regional Politics has taken mainly four forms namely :

  1. Demand for state autonomy
  2. Supra-state regionalism
  3. Inter-state regionalism, and
  4. Intra-state regionalism.

Demand for State Autonomy :

The First and the most challenging form of regional politics was in the demand of people in certain states or regions to Indian Union and become independent sovereign states.Such demands occurred soon after independence but they are non-existent now.The important examples in this context are that of the plebiscite by National Front (Kashmir),Akali (not the present parties) in Punjab, Mizo National Front (Lushei Hills of Assam), Nagaland socialist Conference (Naga Hills District of Assam) etc.

Supra-state Regionalism :

  1. This implies that more than one state involved in the issue of regionalism. It is an expression of group identity of some states. They take a common stand on the issues of mutual interest vis-a-vis another group of states.The group identity is usually in relation to certain specific issues. It does not in any way imply the total and permanent merger of identity of the states into the identity of group, rivalries, tensions and even conflicts to take place among a few belonging to a group. For example, the rivalry existing between south and north India on such issues as language or location of steel plants illustrates the point The grouping of the North Eastern States for greater access to economic development is another instance.
  2. South India is separated from North along several differentials. Geographically south is composed of peninsular uplands or Deccan, the mountain ranges of Eastern and Western Ghats and coastal plains. In terms of political history too, south has never been incorporated into the empires of the North. This was done for the first time during the British regime.
  3. After independence a major rift was caused over the issue of the official language for India. The Constitution envisaged the replacement of English by Hindi for official purpose of the Union as the language of communication between the centre and the states and between states. The state legislatures of Indian Union were given authority to adopt one or more languages including Hindi for use as the state language.The Constitution provides that the official language of the union should be Hindi with Devanagari script, with international numerals for a period of 15 years from the commencement of the Constitution. However, Parliament could by law extends the use of English as the link language.The attempt to introduce the provision regarding the official language has generated more intense language rivalry than unity.
  4. The opposition to Hindi found its strongest political expression in the southern states. Most of the people in these states as well as those in the non-Hindi speaking areas of Eastern India objected to the imposition of Hindi. It was feared that their own languages would be ultimately replaced by Hindi, which they considered inferior. The adoption of Hindi as an official language and as a compulsory subject in schools was seen as imposition of a comparatively underdeveloped language upon those whose language contains a richness of thousands of years.
  5. In the 1950s and 60s several movements to oppose the imposition of Hindi sprang up. In 1956, the Academy of Tamil culture convened in Madras the Union Language Convention which stated in a resolution that it would be greatly unjust to make any other language (meaning Hindi) take the place of English when a population of 100 million are totally unacquainted with that language. Significantly this Convention included representatives from different political organizations i.e. Rajagopalachari (Swatantra), Ramaswami Naickar (D.K.), Rajan (Justice Party), Annadurai (DMK) and many others. At a National Conference held on 8th March 1958, Rajagopalachari declared that ‘Hindi is as much foreign to non-Hindi speaking people as, English to protagonists of Hindi.”

Inter-state Regionalism :

It is related with state boundaries and involves overlapping of one or more state identities which threaten their interests. River water disputes, in general and other issues like the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute, in particular can be cited as examples.

Intra-state Regional Politics or Sub-regionalism :

This refers to regionalism which exists within a state of the Indian Union.It embodies the desire of a part of a state for the identity and self-development It may also reflect a notion of deprivation or exploitation of a part of the state at the expense of another. This type of regionalism can be found in many parts of India. The important examples of this kind of sub-regionalism are a Vidharbha in Maharashtra, a Saurashtra in Gujarat, a Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, an East U.P in Utter Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in Madhya Pradesh.

Significance of regionalism for Indian politics

Regionalism is not significant merely as disintegrating force. Regionalism is not opposed to national
integration. Both can exist together in a creative partnership. Both are in favour of development.

  1. Regionalism stresses the development of a region and national integration for the development of the nation as a whole. If we want to reconcile the competing claims of regionalism and national integration the political system of the country should remain federal and democratic.
  2. Regionalism is not disruptive of national solidarity. The important condition for national solidarity is that nationalism should be able to hold the different types of regional sub-nationalities together. In other words, there should be healthy reconciliation between regionalism and nationalism.
  3. Regionalism can make federalism a greater success. In this aspect the accentuation of regional identities should not become problematic. It is quite natural that regional communities, who are conscious of their distinctive culture, should interact with federal government on the basis of more equal partnership. It will reduce the centralizing tendencies in a nation and power will shift from the centre to the states.

Conceived in any form, regionalism and sub-regionalism are unavoidable in a country as vast and diverse as India.Their existence is not only an important condition for the expression of genuine national sentiment, but it is logically generated because of the establishment of the nation state. Nothing is, therefore, more basic to the concept of federalism than regionalism and sub-regionalism.

Decentralization in India

Decentralization means sharing of decision- making authority with the lower levels in institutions and organization. It is called democratic as this sharing is based on the basic principle of democracy and democratization. It is argued that decentralization is essential for the functioning of a democratic system at different levels.

States in India are as large as independent countries of Europe. In terms of population, Uttar Pradesh is bigger than Russia; Maharashtra is about as big as Germany. Many of these States are internally very diverse.There is thus a need for power sharing within these States. Federal power sharing in India needs another tier of government, below that of the State governments. This is the rationale for decentraliasation of power. Thus, resulted a third-tier of government, called local government.

When power is taken away from Central and State governments and given to local government, it is called decentralisation.The basic idea behind decentralization is that

  1. There are a large number of problems and issues which are best settled at the local level
  2. People have better knowledge of problems in their localities.
  3. They also have better ideas on where to spend money and how to manage things more efficiently.
  4. Besides, at the local level it is possible for the people to directly participate in decision- making.This helps to inculcate a habit of democratic participation.
  5. Local government is the best way to realize one important principle of democracy, namely local self government.

According to Lord Bryce, “the best school of democracy and the best guarantee for its success is the practice of local self-govt” The gross root level of democracy is the modern version of direct democracy. It bring the govt down to the people. In big countries like India with large population and regional variations, democracy to be meaningful and welfare-oriented implies decentralization. Devolution of power from the higher to lower levels is a necessary and desirable method in a democratic polity. In a democracy, sovereignty should percolate from the apex authority to the lower rungs of power. That how it can become, what Sidney and Beatrice Webb called a ‘multi-form democracy’.

Panchayati Raj System

Balwant Rai Mehta Committee recommended : Three-tier-system:

Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat :

Gram Sabha : General body of all eligible voters in the village/group of villages.
Gram Panchayat : Executive Committee of Gram Sabha

Main Functions :
  • Administrative: Maintenance of budget and accounts, registration of birth, death and marriages, etc.
  • Law and Order: Maintenance of watch and ward service.
  • Commercial: Supervision of Panchayat enterprises, community orchards and fisheries.
  • Civic: Upkeep of roads and streets, culverts and bridges, maintenance of drainage and sanitation, wells and tanks, supervision of street lighting etc.
  • Welfare: Famine and flood relief work, welfare programmes for women, youth, children and for backward classes, maintenance of Panchayat schools and holding of village fairs.
  • Developmental: Preparation and execution of the village agricultural and irrigational plans as well as plans for the promotion of cooperatives, cottage and small scale industries.

Panchayat Samiti (at block level) :

Chairman : Pradhan or Pramukh

Functions :
  • Delegated: to implement and coordinate the policy directives of the state govt with regard to development
  • Community Development: all related functions of CDP.
  • Supervisory: to supervise the work of Gram Panchayat, examine and modify the budget of GP.

Zila Parishad : The apex body of PRI.

Functions :
  • Advisory : to govt towards developmental activities.
  • Financial : examine and approve the budgets of Panchayat samitis and distribution of funds.
  • Coordinative and Supervisory: Function of the developmental plans of the Block.
  • Developmental : Execution of developmental plans and projects in the Blocks.
  • Civic : construct and maintain public roads, bridges, culverts, parks, water supply and building etc.
  • Welfare : establish markets, hold fairs and festivals run libraries, dispensaries, public health and family planning centres, etc.

73rd Amendment Act (Art. 243 to 243-0/Part IX)

  • A 3-tier system in all states except those having a population of 20 lakh or less.
  • Members to be chosen by direct election
  • Reservation: l/3rd seats reserved for SC/ST and women also for OBC on the willingness of the state.
  • Duration: 5 years (on dissolution of Panchayat-elections mandatory within 6 months).
  • Provision of an Independent Election Commission
  • Provision of an Independent Finance Commission

Both at State level

  • 11th Schedule : enumerated 29 items on which the power and responsibility of the Panchayat would extend.

A Case Study (Dr. Rajvir S. Dhaka)

State : Haryana
District : Rohtak (3 blocks and 450 respondents chosen for study)

Major Findings :
  1. Prior to this act, there were just 45 women Sarpanch their present strength is over 2000. Cases of husband proxing for the elected wives are not scarce. However, the situation should be treated as transitory; the cases of women asserting their rights and brooking no interference from husbands have started sneaking in.
  2. Lack of awareness of powers and functions on the part of the elected representatives, does come in the way of active participation of the people in the PR affairs and confidence building to shoulder leadership responsibilities
  3. Reservation of seats for SC/ST has made a serious dent in the traditional upper caste leadership. Even though their voice is still feeble, the process of mobilization of weaker section has begun.
  4. Meetings of the Gram Panchayat are not held regularly. In many cases, meetings take place only on paper.
  5. Gram Sabha’s role almost obsolete. It seldom meets to discuss village problems. And if it does meet, it is mainly to solve social problems or feuds among the villagers.
  6. A close nexus between Sarpanches of G.P.and Chairpersons of the Block Samiti on the one hand and Block Level officials on the other has developed for usurping development resources. This has resulted in development schemes not getting implemented as per norms on being implemented only on paper.
  7. Even after being accorded the constitutional status there has been a continuous interference from the side of MPs, MLAs, other local leaders and officials.

Achievements :

  1. First time it has provided organizational infrastructure at the local level throughout the country.
  2. It is a link between people and local officials and between people and govt
  3. It has provided a young leadership with broader vision and enthusiasm.
  4. It has made the people more conscious of their rights.
  5. PRIs have encouraged the people to take responsibilities on their own shoulders.
  6. It has encouraged people to make collective efforts for village development
  7. Women and oppressed people are well represented and protected
  8. It has brought down the level of corruption.
  9. A new pattern of leadership consisting of all sections.
  10. Political education and training for future leadership.
  11. Process of grass root planning has been enhanced

Some Novel Experiment to Boost PRIs :

  1. Concept of Mini Secretariat: Adopted in Rajasthan wherein all the concerned officers would gather in the meeting and the villagers would their problems solved without hassles. Later on it was adopted by M.P., A.P. and other states. People have now more beliefs in PRIs then ever.
  2. Gram Swaraj: Adopted in M.P. and then in other states. Its objective is to make villages autonomous and more participative. Such experiments would definitely strength PRIs greatly.

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