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Regionalism in India

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 is understood in politics, it 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, they may become ‘sub-national’ movements. They may challenge the territorial integrity and hence 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.

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 movements (Son of soil). 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. Hence the nature of power sharing in the country will determine 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 we preferred asymmetrical model. It accommodates the demand of different sections. There are special provisions with respect to different states.

Reasons for regionalism.

Following theories are given for the cause of regionalism.
1] Modernization theory. Rudolph and Rudolph. 
When democracy is introduced in a traditional society, people will go for identity based mobilization.
2] Culture of poverty /scarcity. The theory is given by Marc Jurgensmear.
e.g. Regionalism in North East.
3] Culture of affluence. Thomas Jannuzzi.
e.g. Punjab – Khalistan movement.
4] Uneven development theory. Robert Hardgrave.
e.g. Telangana, Vidarbha.
5] Son of Soil theory. Myron Weiner.
e.g. Shivsena.
6] Politics of opposition. Prof. Iqbal Narain. At some places it is just for opposition. Politically motivated.
7] According to Sanjeev Baruah, our identity as Bengali or Punjabi is centuries old whereas our identity as Indian is just 70 years old. Hence it 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.
We cannot just look at Indigenous factors, we also have to look at the role of external players.

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. Study by Dr. Prerna Singh, HOW SOLIDARITY WORKS FOR WELFARE: SUBNATIONALISM AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA. She has compared the development in North and South. 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 also suffered in terms of development.

Record of Govt. of India in 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. Pakistan was disintegrated in 71 and 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. One of the major grievance of the people has been that New Delhi has not implemented Art 370 either in letter or spirit. 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] Govt. 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 have to be within the framework of the constitution.
2] Govt. 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 factor 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’. 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.

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