Regionalism: Reasons and Impacts Explained

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Relevance: G.S Paper I- Salient Features of Indian Society, Regionalism

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’.
  • Let us reaffirm here that it is perfectly all right in taking pride in belonging to Tamil Nadu, Punjab or Maharashtra but it is anti-national to disrespect other states and harbour stereotypes and discriminate against people from other regions.
  • Mahatma Gandhi said, “I am a proud Gujarati and a proud India and I do not see any difference between the two”.

Manifestations

  • In recent times, we have seen anti-migrant sentiments being exhibited in states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. Many states have also implemented laws to curb employment opportunities for people outside the given state. This is yet again a failure of governance. It is the government’s duty to increase employment opportunities for all citizens. When they fail to do so, they indulge in the politics of hate and enforce reservation for the local population.
  • Some states have genuine issues related to their economic development and their actions of reserving jobs for the local population may be justified. 
  • States such as Sikkim and certain other North-East states and Ladakh have put in place such mechanisms.
  • Larger and more advanced states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra cannot justify their actions.
  • The second manifestation is a visceral hatred towards other communities based on inter-state disputes or even instigated by political parties.
  • We see this in the form of anti-North Indian sentiments in Maharashtra and a few South Indian states.
  • There are also issues based on interstate disputes between Karnataka Maharashtra and Karnataka- Tamil Nadu
  • Often these disputes are used by the political parties to yet again divert attention from the real developmental issues and focus on irrelevant issues, thereby upsetting regional harmony.
  • The third manifestation can be seen in the form of linguistic issues.
  • India is a diverse country and doesn’t have a single national language. 
  • However, in recent times, political parties and governments have focused on the imposition of Hindi in non-Hindi states.
  • The non-Hindi states have right reacted to this by guarding their language, but in the process, some have also instigated hatred against Hindi and Hindi speaking people.
  • The Union Government needs to recalibrate its policy and understand the futility of language imposition.
Factors Responsible for Promoting Regionalism
  • India is a country with a 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 the 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.

Geographical Factors:

  • 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 the hilly region of the Himalayas have adapted themselves to high altitude and cold conditions. People living in forests (For Example, Tribes) depend on them for food, shelter and other needs. Thus they have a lifestyle that is significantly different from the rest of the population.
  • Internal colonialism: Despite being rich in natural resources some regions remain economically underdeveloped.

Historical Factors:

  • During the Ancient phase of history, It was only during the time of Ashoka’s rule, India became a single political entity. In the other phases, India was largely ruled by regional kingdoms, For Example, 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 again becomes politically united during 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 using one king against another. For Example, Carnatic wars. This prevented the formation of a unified country.

Linguistic Factor:

  • India has 22 official languages that are recognised by the constitution. But there are around 1635 mother tongues as per the 2001 census.
  • There are 29 languages with more than 10 Lakh native speakers. The mother tongue of a person creates a profound attachment to his 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.

Religious Factors:

  • Regionalism in India also has a religious dimension. India was united with Pakistan before its independence. The differences based on religion has led to the creation of Pakistan.
  • The violent demand for an independent country of Khalistan in the 1980s was based on the Sikh religion.

Political Factors: 

  • India’s politics and its political parties showcase the regionalism present in our country. They are broadly divided into National Parties Regional Parties
  • National parties have a stronghold in many states. They work based on an all India agenda.  For Example, The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
  • In many states, the national parties like BJP and Congress are not able to get a stronghold in many states due to the predominance of regional parties
  • 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.
  • The political aspirations of leaders remains a major source of regionalism. For example, regional political parties have used 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:

  • 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 problems between regions. For example, the formation of states like Jharkhand and Telangana were based on a lack of development.
  • The problem of Naxalism has its roots in the economic deprivation of people belonging to this region.

Ethnic Factors

  • 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 example, 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.

Cultural Factors: 

  • The culture of the Indian population varies with respect to region. When a citizen from another cultural group offends these traditions or shows cultural insensitivity, there arise the seeds of conflict.

Caste system:

  • The 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, the Hornbill festival in Nagaland
  • Thus regional differences also produce variations in the festivals and their observances

Past Traditions: 

  • The cultural unity of a group of people also depends on the noble deeds, myths and folklores of local heroes. For example, Shivaji in Maharashtra, Maha Rana Pratap in Rajasthan, Lachit Borphukan of Assam are revered by the local people.

Is regionalism a threat to national unity and integrity?

  • Parochial regionalism poses a threat to the sovereignty of the nation.
  • The anti-migrant or anti-Bihari stance of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) opposes the employment and residence of non-Maharashtrian people in the state of Maharashtra is a prime example of negative regionalism.
  • Regionalism beyond a point can lead to secessionism, such as strong regionalism in Punjab ultimately resulted in the growth of Khalistani terrorism.
  • Regionalism often promotes Vote- Bank politics, thereby weakens national integration.
  • Regionalism can weaken the time tested fabric of 'Unity in Diversity' if promoted in an ultra manner.
  • Positive regionalism promotes a sense of pride in connecting to one’s roots and culture.
  • It has been noticed that often regional movements have helped the art and culture of many neglected regions to flourish by increasing their exposure through local emphasis.
  • Therefore, in principle, regionalism need not be regarded as an unhealthy or anti-national phenomenon, unless it takes a militant, aggressive turn to encourage the growth of secessionist tendencies.
Impact of Regionalism in India

Positive

  • Scholars believe that regionalism plays important role in building 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 closed 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 bases of political extremism in the state.
  • In such a 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.

Negative

  • Regionalism is often seen as a serious threat to the development, progress and unity of the nation. It gives internal security challenges to 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 the country, hence national policies are now dominated by regional demands. E.g. MSP given to sugarcane was helpful for farmers in Maharashtra but it was implemented across all states resulting in agitations of farmers belonging to UP, Punjab and Haryana. 
  • Some regional leaders play politics of vote bank based on language, culture, this is certainly against healthy democratic procedures. This always leads to demand for a separate state and it has observed that after creating small states only a few political leaders could run efficient government else alliances run government which ultimately makes administration machinery ineffective.
  • Developmental plans are implemented unevenly focusing on regions to which heavyweight leaders belong are benefitted, hence unrest is generated among the rest regions. Law and order are disturbed, agitations with massive violence take place ultimately government is compelled to take harsh steps; hence wrong signals are emitted about government authorities.
  • Regionalism also becomes a hurdle in international diplomacy, like in the case of Mamata Banerjee not agreeing to the Land Boundary Agreement and Teesta River Water sharing when the leaders at a 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 a direct implication on the economy of the nation. Impacted societies remain aloof from the mainstream development and then the regional variations and backwardness are clearly reflected.
  • On the broader front, it harms India’s status in the global arena and becomes a hurdle in becoming global power or world leader.

How to tackle Regionalism

  • Political parties should try to avoid partisanship. The appeals made to the electorate based on regional identity must be stopped. They should aim at bringing national unity besides all sectarian interests.
  • The 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 of people.
  • Games like cricket have seen a national unity based on shared emotion. Similarly reviving our National games like 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 a National brotherhood
  • The role of the National Integration council must be revamped to solve conflicting regional aspirations

Way Forward:

  • We have seen how regionalism could be good or bad for a nation as well as for a group of nations. The 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 a citizen of India, everyone should respect this fundamental right of every person.
  • 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 the state level need to find out the alternative resources of energy, source of employment for local people, use of technology in governance, planning and agriculture development.
  • Introducing a system of national education that would help people to overcome regional feelings and develop an attachment towards the nation can act as a long-term solution to the problem of sub-nationalism.
  • While the National Integration Council was set up in 1961, there is a need to utilise its potential more effectively.
  • Schemes like “Ek Bharat-Shreshtha Bharat” have been launched by the GOI to celebrate unity in the diverse culture of the nation and to strengthen sentiment for National Unity between the citizens of states, which is a welcomed step.

Conclusion:

  • National unity is not impaired if the people of a region have genuine pride in their language and culture.
  • Unity in Diversity ethos needs to be preserved for the pluralistic character of the Indian nation-state.
  • The accommodation of multiple aspirations of a diverse population is necessary. 



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