What is regionalism?
Regionalism is a strong attachment to one’s own region. For Example, in India people identify themselves based on their states like a Tamilian, a Bengali, a Bihari etc, more than the identity of an ‘Indian’.
Regionalism can be narrowed down to a smaller unit like a village. For example, in India, villages have remained with their own identity for many centuries. Every person of a village identify themselves with their village more than their district, state or their country.
Regionalism is an ideology and political movement that seeks to advance the causes of regions. As a process it plays role within the nation as well as outside the nation i.e. at international level. Both types of regionalism have different meaning and have positive as well as negative impact on society, polity, diplomacy, economy, security, culture, development, negotiations, etc.
At the international level, regionalism refers to transnational cooperation to meet a common goal or to resolve a shared problem or it refers to a group of countries such as-Western Europe, or Southeast Asia, linked by geography, history or economic features. Used in this sense, regionalism refers to attempts made to reinforce the links between the countries’ economic features.
The second meaning of the term is regionalism at national level, which refers to a process in which sub-state actors become increasingly powerful and power devolves from central level to regional governments. These are the regions within the country, distinguished in culture, language and other socio-cultural factors. Now, we will discuss in detail about regionalism within nation w.r.t. India.
Factors responsible for Regionalism in India
India is a country with wide diversity and plurality. No other country in the world had existed with a broad unity, peace and tolerance as India does. This unity in diversity of India is praised by many countries around the world. Despite this unity there are sources of regional conflict. The following factors explain the factors that cause regionalism.
- India has a very diverse geographical landmass. As a result of geographical differences, there is a huge variation in climate. These differences in climate cause changes in lifestyle and food habits. For example, North India is very cold during winter and very hot during summer. This is not the case in South India which is hot and humid all throughout the year. Thus people’s clothing and lifestyle are varied due to this fact.
- People belonging to hilly region of Himalayas have adopted themselves with high altitude and cold conditions. People living in forests (For example, tribes) depend on it for food, shelter and other needs. Thus they have a lifestyle that is significantly different from the rest of the population.
- During Ancient phase of history, it was only during the time of Ashoka’s rule that India became a single political entity. In the other phases, India was largely ruled by regional kingdoms, for instance, by Cholas and Pandyas of South India and Satavahanas of Andhra.
- During Medieval India, India was ruled by kings who belonged to various sections of Islam. It was only during Akbar’s rule, India again became united. Even though his rule had a central government like character, there were numerous governors who ruled the smaller provinces and had their own autonomy and culture. For example, the Rajputs.
- India once again become politically united during the British rule. The British however due to their policy of divide and rule, encouraged the regional differences. They gave autonomy and concessions to numerous princely states. They fought wars by pitching one king against another, for example, the Carnatic Wars. This prevented the formation of a unified country.
- India has 22 official languages that are recognised by the Constitution. But there are around 1635 mother tongues as per 2001 census. Further, there are 29 languages with more than 10 Lakh native speakers. The mother tongue of a person creates a profound attachment to one’s own language and hence the identity of belonging also develops. The change of names of Bombay to Mumbai, Bangalore to Bengaluru, Madras to Chennai shows the affinity of people towards their language.
- This linguistic unity has been a major factor in the formation of states during post independent India. Apart from emotional attachment, it also created ease in communication for day to day activities, administration and establishment of a business.
- Hindi has been envisaged by the constitution to be promoted as a Lingua Franca (connecting language or a common language). Indian Government after independence has made efforts to promote Hindi. But there has been widespread agitation against this move from non-Hindi speaking states.
- In the present day, the unity of our country is threatened due to differences in languages. Linguistic differences discourage people to travel from one area to another. Residing and settling in any part of India is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution but linguistic differences create discomfort and confusion for taking up jobs and make a living. Thus people prefer more to work and settle in their respective regions. This prevents the intermingling of people from different states.
- Language also plays a role in exposure to a set of ideas and upbringing. For example Bollywood and Hindi TV channels are mostly followed by Hindi speaking states whereas movies, music and shows based on regional languages are followed by people belonging to that region.
- Regionalism in India also has a religious dimension. India was united with Pakistan before independence. The differences based on religion have led to the creation of Pakistan. Similarly, the violent demand for an independent country of Khalistan in the 1980s was raised by Sikhs.
- India’s politics and its political parties showcase the regionalism present in our country. They are broadly divided into: National Parties and Regional Parties.
National parties have a strong hold in many states. Their work is based on an all India agenda. For Example, The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
On the other hand, the Regional parties are mostly confined to a single state. They work based on the interest of the state. For Example, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
Political aspirations of leaders remain a major source of regionalism. For example, regional political parties have used the regional and linguistic identities to secure votes. They have created an imaginary threat from outsiders and promise their vote bank for securing their land for themselves and to eliminate outsiders. Regional parties and fringe elements in various states have campaigned for this agenda.
- Economic factors also contribute to the development of regionalism. For example, some states and regions are better in terms of development like infrastructure, healthcare, job opportunities etc. These economic factors cause inequality problems between regions. For example, the formation of states like Jharkhand and Telangana were based on lack of development. The problem of Naxalism has its roots in economic deprivation of people belonging to this region.
- India has many ethnic differences. This has been proven by anthropological research. India is home to as many as 645 Scheduled tribes as recognised by the constitution. These ethnic differences formed the base for demands for political autonomy and secession. For instance, the Nagas of Nagaland are demanding a nation based on their ethnic identity. Some demands have taken the form of violent armed struggle with established governments. All these factors pose a threat to India’s unity.
- Culture of Indian population varies with respect to region. When a citizen from another cultural group offends these traditions or shows cultural insensitivity, there arises conflict.
- Caste system attributed differing social status to different sections of the population. It has also promoted sectarian and sometimes regional aspirations. For example, the Vanniyars of North Tamil Nadu are demanding a separate nation based on caste identity.
- Rituals and Festivals: Festivals of both religious and secular nature are celebrated in India. But they are numerous and vary according to the region Hinduism is followed by a majority of people in India. Even within Hinduism, festivals and rituals vary widely based on region. There are numerous tribal festivals that showcase the tribal way of life. For example, Hornbill festival in Nagaland.
- Past Traditions: Cultural unity of a group of people also depends on noble deeds, myths and folklores of local heroes. For example, Shivaji in Maharashtra, Maharana Pratap in Rajasthan, Lachit Borphukan of Assam are revered by the local people.
Impact of Regionalism in India
Scholars believe that regionalism plays important role in building of the nation, if the demands of the regions are accommodated by the political system of the country. Regional recognition in terms of statehood or state autonomy gives self-determination to the people of that particular region and they feel empowered and happy.
Internal self-determination of community, whether linguistic, tribal, religious, regional, or their combinations, has remained the predominant form in which regionalism in India has sought to express itself, historically as well as at present time.
Regional identities in India have not always defined themselves in opposition to and at the expense of, the national identity, noticed a democratic effect of such process in that India’s representative democracy has moved close to the people who feel more involved and show greater concern for institutions of local and regional governance.
For example, Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTADC), formed in 1985, has served to protect an otherwise endangered tribal identity in the state by providing a democratic platform for former separatists to become a party of governance, and thereby reduced significantly the basis of political extremism in the state.
In such political setup, there always remains a scope of balanced regional development. The socio-cultural diversity is given due respect and it helps the regional people to practise their own culture too.
Regionalism is often seen as a serious threat to the development, progress and unity of the nation. It gives internal security challenges by the insurgent groups, who propagate the feelings of regionalism against the mainstream politico-administrative setup of the country.
Regionalism definitely impacts politics as days of coalition government and alliances are taking place. Regional demands become national demands, policies are launched to satisfy regional demands and generally those are extended to all pockets of country, hence national policies are now dominated by regional demands. Example, MSP given to sugarcane, it was helpful for farmers in Maharashtra but it was implemented across all states resulting agitations of farmers belonging to UP, Punjab and Haryana.
Some regional leaders play politics of vote bank based on language, culture, etc., this is certainly against healthy democratic procedures. This always leads to demand for separate state and it has been observed that after creating small states only few political leaders could run efficient government else alliances run government which ultimately makes administration machinery ineffective.
Development plans are implemented unevenly focusing on regions to which heavy weight leaders are benefitted, hence unrest is generated among rest of the regions. Law and order is disturbed, agitations with massive violence take place and ultimately government is compelled to take harsh steps; emitting wrong signals about the government authorities.
Regionalism, also becomes hurdle in the international diplomacy, as in 2013 we saw how Tamil Nadu regional parties were against the Prime Minister of India, attending the Commonwealth heads meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka. These actions have their direct implication on the relation of India with Sri Lanka or other countries of the forums or in case of Mamata Banerjee not agreeing to Land Boundary agreement and Teesta River Water sharing, when the leaders at centre level were ready to do it.
The regionalism induced violence disturbs the whole society, people are killed, students cannot attend the schools & colleges, tourism cannot be promoted, etc. This impacts the development of human resource, governments need to deploy extra forces to control the situation and it has direct implication on the economy of the nation. Impacted societies remain aloof from the mainstream development creating further gulf. On the broader front, it harms India’s status in global arena and becomes a hurdle in becoming global power or world leader.
Solutions to contain Regionalism
- Political parties should try to avoid partisanship. The appeals made to electorate based on regional identity must be stopped. They should aim at bringing a national unity besides all sectarian interests.
- Economic Development of our country must be uniform and measures must be taken to ensure it. The development of underdeveloped, backward regions and Naxal hit areas must become a priority to avoid discontent among people.
- Games like cricket have seen national unity based on common emotions. Similarly, reviving our national game Hockey, can become a symbol of unity.
- Cultural sensitization programs must be taken up in colleges to avoid hatred based on regions and promote friendship among students.
- Fairs and festivals can be conducted to promote national identity. For example, the setting up of food stalls from all states in Delhi during Independence Day celebrations. Similar attempts can be done throughout the country to promote national brotherhood.
- The role of National Integration Council must be revamped to solve conflicting regional aspirations.
- Developing Hindi as a lingua franca among all Indians should be achieved in a peaceful and non-coercive manner.
We have seen how regionalism could be good or bad for a nation. Constitution of India under Article 19, gives every citizen a fundamental right to move around and settle down peacefully in any part of the country. And as citizen of India everyone should respect this fundamental right of every person, avoiding clashes like Shiv Sena does in Maharashtra.
The need of the hour is to develop each region of India, through devolution of power to local governments and empowering people for their participation in decision-making.
The governments at State level need to find out the alternative resources of energy, source of employment for local people, use of technology in governance, planning and for agriculture development. The 12th five year targets for “Faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth” will be instrumental for balanced regional growth.