Essay on the Growth of Regionalism and Regional Parties in India
In India regionalism is a heavy weight on the political system. Even prior to independence, regionalism was used as a tool by the imperialists to promote their policy of keeping India divided.
Regionalism was deliberately encouraged by many with the result that the people of each region thought more in terms of their region rather than of India as a whole after independence efforts were made to make the people realise that they belonged to India as a whole.
Development of Thought:
India is perhaps the most diverse nation in the world in terms of language, culture, religion and caste. These diversities for ages now are so deep-rooted in the Indian psyche that they have done more harm than good to the nation.
However, when the struggle for Independence was on, there was a stroll sense of patriotism which kept the regional chauvinism under check and height and national consciousness.
It gave people a new identity of being an India first and then anything else. This was mainly due to the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi who had successfully sowed the seeds of national identity in the minds of the otherwise fragmented masses. His contribution in this respect is even
More laudable keeping in view the British rulers ‘policy of divide and rule which was pursued to ensure that India did not emerge as a formidable force.
On one hand Gandhi was trying to unite the different groups while on the other, there was a rise in the number of class conscious Communist revolutionaries who saw these divisions as a hindrance in their fight against British imperialism. Both these forces did further the cause of nationalism in their own way.
However, after Independence, efforts for national unification became gradually weak and the emphasis once again shifted onto regionalism with a rise in the number of parties projecting themselves as champions of regional interest.
A serious review of the Centre-State relations is needed correct some of the genuine grievances of states. A federal structure with more autonomy to the states can be the only solution to preserve India’s unity in the face of growing regionalism.
To understand regional politics in India, one has to observe the internal conflict inherent in the Indian society. The national movement negated these inherent regional tendencies.
The British rule was a blatant reminder of harsh racial dominance of outsiders and this was a vital factor which transformed the Indian masses and made them forget, at least temporarily, their mutual differences. But as soon as the Britishers left, the sense of unity evaporated.
The problem now was to keep these fragmented masses together. The national identity, which crystallized during the freedom struggle and brought the heterogeneous groups under one national umbrella, got submerged with the resurgence of regional casteist identities.
Despite Gandhi’s untiring efforts, the gap between the Hindus and the Muslims could not be bridged and Pakistan became a reality. A section of the Sikhs had also raised the demand for a separate homeland then.
Though they gave up their demand which remained subdued for a few decades. It flared up again with the rise of Jar nail Singh Bhindranwala who demanded the creation of Khalistan.
The national identity took roots to the extent people were willing to compromise their regional, lingual and religious identities. The Congress derived Maximum mileage out of this and embarked upon a nationwide membership campaign.
This was the reason why it emerged a national party in the true sense with members drawn from diverse socio-cultural groups. The party was instrumental in bringing and making them a part of the national mainstream even while they retained their regional identities.
One reason why the Communists failed where the Congress succeeded was because the former failed to resolve the national and the regional dichotomy and hence could never make it big on the national scene.
All the political groups at the national level by and large represent loose groupings except for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has achieved the status of a national party because it claims to espouse the cause of the majority community. It is not that parties on the basis of other religions were not formed hut owing to their limited influence and confinement to certain pockets; they could not rise to the national level. The Muslim league in Kerala and the Akali Dal in Punjab are good examples of such parties. Muslim organizations in Kashmir also come under the same category.
Several regional parties were formed on the basis of either caste or regional issues. The Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (MDK), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Shiv Sena, Mizo National Front (MNF), Tripura Upjatiya Juva Samiti (TUJS) and the Kuki National Assembly (KNA) are basically casteist parties, whereas the ASOM Gana Parishad (AGP), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Kerala Congress, Manipur Peoples Party (MPP), Hill Peoples Union (HPU), Nagaland Peoples Council (NPC), and the Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) have strong regional overtones.
Besides, there are parties like the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) which are either influenced or controlled by the Marxist ideology. Because of their regional appeal their writ runs only in certain geographical pockets.
The growth of regional parties in India has been very complex. This can be attributed to the disillusionment that people have suffered at the hands of national parties.
Whenever the Centre has behaved in an irresponsible manner and takes decisions to suit its own interests, regional discontent has found expression through these parties.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), AGP, JMM, etc. never miss an opportunity to criticize the Centre for neglecting their interests. The grievances of the Muslim League or the Akali Dal basically stem from a feeling of alienation and neglect.
The JMM and the AGP accuse the Centre of neglecting their regions economically an showing indifference to their culture while the BSP charges it with working in the interest of the upper class.
Though all the demands raised by these parties may not be legitimate and could not be fulfilled on rational and pragmatic grounds, still there are a few which are genuine and deserve to be considered.
The basic reconciliatory character of the Congress gave way to authoritarianism and an element of short sightedness. With the party more concerned at the electoral gain than overall national interest, has come to dominate the party politics.
However, Indira Gandhi’s and the subsequent Congress regimes have manifested the change in the party’s approach. Though the Congress has played a key role in diffusing socio-politic tensions in different regions, the leaders at the helm of affairs have failed to work of a permanent solution to major issues.
Though the regional parties have continued to raise their not-so-justified demands the Center’s consistent Endeavour has been to bring them into the national mainstream.
To some extent its efforts did yield results and helped in containing the growing tide of regionalism, but, with the slowing down of nation building process and shrinking of the Congress base, these demands have again cropped up. Other non-Congress parties when they came to power, failed to deliver the goods as far as country’s integration was concerned.
The country today is facing a number of challenges. The building blocks of the nation’s political unity cultural assimilation and secularism are fast eroding unfortunately, the national parties, which were supposed to uphold these ideals above parochial interests, have been instrumental in bringing the country to a sorry pass.
The Congress, for instance, forged an alliance with the Muslim League in Kerala. All these acts of political chicaneries have added to the confusion over the basic values that the political system professes to uphold. That apart such dubious stance has legitimized religious and casteist approach in politics.
The other national parties too are equally responsible though at times they dubbed the regional demands as anti-national. This tendency has so harmed the national cause. Kashmir can be cited as an example.
The hydra-headed monster of secessionism, which has been haunting the country or long, is nothing but an acute form of regionalism which has grown in size owing to the Center’s inability to tackle it in the early stages.
Despite the Center’s efforts to curb secessionist activities in Jammu and Kashmir the situation in the state is far from satisfactory.
By and large, it can be said that the balance between the Central political forces and the regional groups is becoming more and more precarious. This not only poses serious problems for the administration but also stretches the nation’s resources beyond limits.
If the country is to be pulled out of the snow balling crises then the regional and central political forces will have to complement and supplement each other. But how can this be achieved? Being the predominant party in Indian politics, the congress will have to take the initiative.
To begin with, the national parties must stop calling the regional demands of language, region, caste, etc. as anti- national. This has been a major irritant in the Centre-state relations. This, however, does not mean that the demands of factionalism and separatism should be conceded.
The need today is to honour the genuine regional aspirations after assessing their pros and cons in the national perspective. The regional groups will then be able to identify themselves with the national mainstream.
The beginning of 20th century saw the emergence of two political trends in Tamil Nadu. One was set up by the Brahmins who were in tune with the national Mainstream and the other by the non-Brahmins who focused their attention on strengthening the regional movement.
During the same period, a large section of the non-Brahmins was also emerging as a parallel force which threatened the established dominance of the Brahmins. With an awareness that came with the spread of education, the nascent non-Brahmin elite began to assert and challenge the age-old dominance based on caste in the social hierarchy.
This created a rift between Brahmins and non- Brahmins and the two sections became antagonistic towards each other. The non- Brahmins found it expedient to organize themselves under one political banner. Thus the Nyaya Party was launched. By this time non-Brahmins had emerged as a parallel force.
The non-Brahmins who had grouped under the Nyaya Party umbrella, later split into three different political streams -Socialists, Conservatives (Jan Sangh, Muslim League) and the Indian National Congress. Likewise, the Brahmins were divided into two streams, one committed to upliftment of the downtrodden and the other to the restoration of Tamil culture and traditions.
The non-Brahmin parties that were launched to further the cause of downtrodden were Justice Party (1916), Atma Pratishuit Andolan (1925), Dravid Kazagham (1944), DMK (1949) and the Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazagham (1972).
Among the parties launched for the development of Tamil culture and language, the Tamil Andolan, Tamil Aarsu Kazagham and the Tamil Desam Katchi became the DMK was the main regional force in the South till 1972 when the AIADMK was launched.
In 1949 C. Annadurai, who was earlier associated with E.V.R. Nayakar’s Dravid Kazagham, launched his own party-the DMK. He linked regional issues like the plight of Tamil language and non-Brahmins to politics and thus pioneered the anti-Congress movement in Tamil Nadu.
The charisma of Annadurai and the DMK’s anti religious overtones provided the party a strong base. Nayakar’s party shrunk in size as it concentrated solely on opposing the Brahmins and demanding a separate Dravidsthan.
In a sharp contrast, Annadurai, who earlier had more or less similar stand on issues raised by Nayakar’s party, gained both in terms of stature and broadening of his political base by diluting his stand on these issues? In 1972, the AIADMK was formed as a direct consequence of infighting in the DMK.
Though Ramachandran was instrumental in making Karunanidhi the Chief Minister, differences between the two cropped up later. Ramachandran criticised Karunanidhi for banning the sale of liquor in the state. The Chief Minister finally retaliated by expelling Ramachandran from the party.
Just two days after the expulsion, Ramachandran launched his own party – AIADMK. The party gave a new lease of life to regional politics. It retained the ideology of the mother party and gained popularity by raising the slogan of North-South discrimination.
It also broadened its base by highlighting issues of mass appeal like Tamil identity, self-respect, social upliftment and people’s participation in politics. The party thrived on these pivotal issues and recorded a massive electoral victory in 1973 and since then has never looked back. Presently it is led by J. Jailalita and is in power in the state
In Kerala, a breakaway faction led by veteran Congress leader, K. karunakaran has formed a new regional party Congress Indira in 2005 following, altercation with C.M. Mr. A.K. Antony.
The Akali Dal was launched on November 14, 1920. In its earlier stages, it took up cudgels against priests who used to misuse the Gurudawaras and indulge in corrupt practices. In 1925, the Gurudwara Act was passed which trusted the task of maintaining Gurudwaras to the Shiromani Gurudwara prabhandhak Committee (SGPC).
Eventually it turned into a strong force which stood for a Sikhs cause and represented their political aspirations. The Congress and the Akali Dal were hand in glove with each other in the beginning but later the Akali Dal did not conform to the ideology of nonviolence preached by Gandhi.
Master Tara Singh opposed the no-war campaign of the Congress and resigned from the Congress Committee. After Independence many top Akali Dal leaders joined the Congress.
In 1948 the two parties merged. However in 1950, Master Tara Singh formed his own Akali party, started a movement in 1962 and fought elections promising a separate Sikh suba. However the party failed miserably. Later also some of the Akalis kept the demand of the suba alive.
The Akali’s demand for state autonomy was first voiced in the Anandpur Sahib resolution in 1973 and ratified by the All-India Akali Conference in Ludhiana in 1978. With the electoral debacle of the Janata Party in 1980, the Akali Dal too suffered a big blow. The Congress came to power at the Centre.
During this period, extremists stepped up their activities in Punjab pushing the moderates to the background. Sant Bhindranwala and his followers started calling the shots which forced the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to resort to operation Blue Star.
After Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister, he signed an accord with the moderate leader, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, which has notbeen implemented. Longowal was later assassinated. The 1985 elections were boycotted by the hardliners and it helped the Akalis gain power.
They won with a two-thirds majority and Surjit Singh Barnala became the Chief Minister state. However, the terrorist activities continued and the Centre used it as an excuse to dismiss the state government. President’s rule was imposed in 1987.
For the next five years elections could not be held for one reason or the other, elections were boycotted by all the Akali factions except the Akali Dal the Congress came to power and Beant Singh became the Chief Minister Today, terrorism has been contained.
Punjab is progressing by leaps and bound in leadership of Congress Chief Minister Capt. Amrinder Singh, the former scion of Patiala Royal family in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena led by Bal Thakre has emerged as a powerful regional party.
In Haryana, INLD led by Mr. Om prakash Chautala came to power in 2001. But in 2005, it lost to Congress, which is now led by Chief Minister Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Now the Akali Dal is a divided house with as many as nine factions-the Dal Mann), Akali Dal (Badal), Akali Dal (Baba Joginder singh), Babar Akali Dal, Kartar Singh (Narang faction), Master Tara Singh (Rachpal Singh), Akali Dal (Mahant Sewa Das), Feruman Akali Dal and the Rashtriya Akali Dal (Umaranangal).
The Telugu Desam Party was launched in 1983 when T. Anjaiyya was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. According to political pundits the TDP’s birth, was facilitated by the Congress. The fact that the state was being practically ruled from Delhi had irritated not only the common people but also the local Congressmen.
The situation was ripe for a regional party to take over. The elections to the state Assembly in 1983 saw the Telugu Desam record a landslide victory and under the chief ministership of N.T. Rama Rao the first non-Congress government was installed in the state.
The Centre later helped Vijay Bhaskar Rao a senior Congress leader to topple and replace Rama Rao. But the TDP stormed back to power in the 1985 Assembly poll. However when Rama Rao engaged himself in building his image as the President of the National Front his party began to lose ground in his own state.
As a result it fared badly in 1989 and 1991 Lok Sabha election and a faction broke away from it. In May 1992 the 10th Conference of the Party helped the TDP to redefine its role as a regional party. The party emerged to power under leadership of N. Chanderbabu Naidu but lost the last 2004 election to Congress led by Y. Raj Shekhar Reddy.
Regionalism is not a new phenomenon. The DMK in Tamil Nadu, the Akali Dal in Punjab, the Manipur People’s Party in Manipur, the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Asam Gana Parishad in Assam and the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh have existed for a long time.
In fact, as the Congress lost ground, the regional parties filled the vacuum. Several reasons can be attributed for their growth:
The failure of national parties helped the regional parties take roots. They gave the impression that they only could solve regional problems.
The tendencies of centralization on the part of the leadership made the regions apprehensive of the Centre. Indira Gandhi only helped reinforce this trend.
It had become almost mandatory to seek the high command’s permission before a person could take over as the president of the Pradesh Congress Committee in any state.
The country’s federal set-up was turned into a unitary one. The states are the revenue earners for the country but when the question of distribution of grants arises, the Centre behaves as if it is giving alms.
These, in a nutshell, are the factors which have given a fillip to regionalism. The regional parties ac also formed by the people. If they demand more autonomy what is the harm in it?
True, we need a strong Centre but weak states do not make a strong Centre. We must learn from the happenings in Yugoslavia and the erstwhile Soviet Union. We will have to decentralize if we are to a united country.
Regionalism or regional parties in themselves are no threat to the national unity. They keep the national parties alert and attentive to the regional demands. There is a need to review the Centre-state relations once again. If these improve, regionalism will fade away.