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7.1] Regionalism

1. What is Regionalism.

In a subcontinental size polity like India, regional politics is natural. Regionalism is also an example of the politics of identity. The term region denotes a geographical space. However, the way region and regionalism are understood in politics, is not just a physical entity. It is always mixed with some socio-cultural identity like Culture, Language, religion etc. e.g. Tamil regionalism has been expressed in linguistic sense.

Since regional movements have territorial base, there is always chance that they become ‘sub-national’ movements. They may challenge the territorial integrity and hence become a cause of concern.

To what extent a regional movement can become a threat to territorial integrity depends on the location. In case of India, Gurharpal Singh has given core-periphery model. Regional aspirations emerging from the core regions is not a cause of concern but regional movements emerging from peripheries becomes a serious concern.

2. Expressions of Regional Movements

In India, there have been different types of regional movements at different times.

1] Secessionist movement which aimed at separation e.g. Kashmir, Khalistan, ULFA, Nagas.

2] The movements for creation of separate statehood. e.g. Gorkhaland, Bodoland

3] Movements for greater regional autonomy – these demands keep on emerging in case the ruling party at state and center are different.

4] Bhoomiputra (son of soil) movements. MNS (Maharashtra Navanirman Sena), Shivsena, Asam Gana Parishad, Bodo and are examples of such movements.

5] Linguistic movements – Tamil sub nationalism.

Like any other -ism, regionalism is also a way of mobilizing people to gain power. Thus, the nature of power sharing in the country has huge influence on the future of regional politics. If secularism in the constitution was included to counter communalism, federalism was included to accommodate regional aspirations. Hence Indian model of federalism is called as ‘holding together’ model.

It is also the reason why India preferred asymmetrical model. It accommodates the demand of different sections. There are special provisions with respect to different states.

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Reasons for Regionalism

Following theories are given for the cause of regionalism.

  1. Modernization theory by Rudolph and Rudolph – According to this, when democracy is introduced in a traditional society, people will go for identity-based mobilization.
  2. Culture of poverty/scarcity by Marc Jurgensmear – This theory suggests that economic deprivation and persistent poverty create a distinct cultural mindset. This mindset, characterized by a sense of hopelessness, dependency, and powerlessness, perpetuates itself across generations. In regions facing economic scarcity, the population might develop a strong regional identity as a means of coping with their situation. This regional identity can lead to demands for greater autonomy or resources from the central government, which they perceive as neglecting their needs. The situation in India’s North East can be cited as an example of this theory.
  3. Culture of affluence by Thomas Jannuzzi – Similar to ‘culture of poverty,’ the ‘culture of affluence’ examines the impact of wealth and abundance on individuals and communities. Such a culture breeds distinct values like materialism, individualism, stratification etc. Consequently, the affluent regions may develop distinct identities and political demands aimed at preserving their prosperity. The Khalistan movement in Punjab can be cited as an example of this phenomenon.
  4. Uneven development theory by Robert Hardgrave – This theory suggests that when development is not uniformly distributed, and it results in significant regional disparities, that can fuel regionalist sentiments and movements. This was also the reason behind creation of Telangana and behind the demand of Vidarbha (eastern Maharashtra).
  5. Son of Soil theory by Myron Weiner – This theory examines regionalism through the lens of nativist sentiments and conflicts between indigenous populations and migrants. According to this theory, the native population (referred to as “sons of the soil”) in a region develops a strong sense of entitlement to the resources, opportunities, and political power in their homeland. Conflicts arise when there is an influx of migrants who compete for these same resources and opportunities. The protests against North Indians by Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) some years back can be cited as an example of this. This was also the rhetoric of Shivsena chief Bal Thakray in founding years of his party.
  6. Politics of opposition. As suggested by Prof. Iqbal Narain, at some places the demand of regionalism is just for sake of opposition. Such demands are politically motivated.
  7. According to Sanjeev Baruah, our ethnic identity as Bengali or Punjabi is centuries old whereas our identity as Indian is just 75 years old. Hence regionalism is going to be a natural phenomenon.
  8. According to Paul Brass, nationalism is a short-term trend, regionalism is a permanent feature of Indian politics.
  9. Last but not least, we cannot just look at Indigenous factors while analysing regionalism. We also have to look at the role of external players. Sometimes, there can be vested interests of players outside our nation and that can also fuel regional sentiments.

Is Regionalism Good or Bad?

There are two schools of thought.

  1. Regionalism is a threat; it is a territorial in expression.
  2. Regionalism in itself is not threat, it depends how we manage regionalism. According to study by Dr. Prerna Singh, in her work ‘How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India’, she has compared the development in North and South India. There is a better development in South because of regional movements. These states develop more bargaining power. On the other hand, UP and Bihar lacks any regional identity and so they have also suffered in terms of development.

India’s Record while Dealing with Regionalism

The record of India in handling regional challenges is many times better than other countries. Not only of the developing world but even from the advanced countries.

Former USSR disintegrated; Yugoslavia disintegrated under the pressure of regional /ethnic challenges. Within South Asia, the neighboring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka has one of the worst records of handling regional aspirations. While Pakistan was disintegrated in 1971, Sri Lanka came on the verge of disintegration.

In case of India, with the exception of regional challenge in Kashmir, the other movements do not threaten the territorial integrity. Managing Kashmir becomes complicated because of the excessive involvement of external powers considering its strategic location. It does not mean that there have been no flaws in New Delhi’s approach in handling the regional challenge in Kashmir. The main demand in Kashmir is the restoration of autonomy (As mentioned in the report of interlocuters, appointed by Manmohan Singh govt). With abolition of Art 370, there is fear of new challenges emerging from the region.

Government’s Policy on Regionalism

There is no formal policy. We can find out the elements of the policy by analyzing the case studies of different regional movements. We can observe following trends.

  1. Government is ready for accepting any imaginative solution/out of box thinking. The asymmetrical federalism of India provides huge scope for accommodation of such demands. However, there is a rider (restriction). All solution has to be within the framework of the constitution.
  2. The government is ready for dialogue, but no talks with arms. If the opposite party uses force, government will use bigger force.
  3. The usual pattern is to offer political and economic packages.
  4. According to Atul Kohli, regional movements in India have shown inverted U curve. Movement arises, reaches to the peak and then fades. The height of the curve will depend on how much support the demand gets from the public or external powers.

What should be the approach to deal with regional movements?

According to Atul Kohli, democracy is one of the factors for ethnic movements but only democracy has solutions. Hence ‘more democracy’ rather than ‘less democracy’ is needed. Regional movements reflect the aspirations of people for power sharing. Hence by devolution of powers, creating institutions where people can be co-opted in the decision-making structure is a way forward.

According to Prof. N P Singh, there is a need to strengthen Panchayati Raj institutions.

Sarkaria Commission also suggested that strengthening of local self-governments is the best way to deal with such challenges.

It is to be noted that Gandhi had proposed the ideal of ‘village republics’. Thus, democratic decentralization is the key to handle India’s diversity.

It is also suggested that regional movements should not be seen as ‘crisis of nation building’. It should be seen as the ‘crisis of development’. Balanced regional development, inclusive growth and cooperative federalism is also an important measure.

We should not forget Ambedkar who held that primacy has to be given to the interest of the nation over the interest of the party.

Posted in PSIR NOTES

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