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The term region is difficult to define. It is understood in different ways in different contexts. However, it has been generally defined as “a homogeneous area with physical and cultural characteristics distinct from those of neighbouring areas”.

Regionalism: Regionalism can be defined as a phenomenon in which people’s political loyalties become focused upon a region. In other words, it implies people’s love of a particular region in preference to the country and in certain cases in preference to the state of which the region is apart. Thus the phenomenon of regionalism is centered around the concept of region.

Characteristics of regionalism

  •  Regionalism is conditioned by economic, social, political and cultural disparities.
  •  Regionalism is built around as an expression of group identity as well as loyalty to the region.
  •  Regionalism presupposes the concept of development of one’s own region without taking into consideration the interest of other regions.
  •  Regionalism prohibits people from other regions to be benefited by a particular region.

Regionalism in Indian Politics

  • After independence there are four major landmarks in the development of regional politics.
  •  After independence, democratic form of government was established. Its main aim was nation-building on the principles of democracy, secularism national unity and social justice. All parts of the country wanted a fair deal in nation-building. They started competing with each other for their development
  •  There was integration of the Princely States. People continued to nurse loyalties to old territorial units.
  •  Reorganization of states on linguistic basis also played a very vital role in the development of regional politics
  • In spite of all these considerations, language remained the most important factor in the reorganization of states. It became such an important force in the context of regionalism that linguistic regionalism gained ground in Indian politics.
  •  Another factor which gave rise to regional and parochial tendencies in the country was the personal and selfish ends of politicians. Immediately, after Independence the struggle for
  • power started among some parties which enhanced regionalism.

Bases of Regionalism

Regionalism is a multidimensional phenomenon. Its bases are varied. Here we will discuss the geographical, historical, cultural, economic and politico-administrative bases of regionalism.

Geographical Bases: Usually people relate their regional identity to certain specific geographical boundaries. After independence integration of Princely States resulted in the merger of small states into new big states. The loyalties of citizens were torn between old territorial boundaries and new territorial structures.

Historical and Social Bases: Historical and social bases constitute the bedrock of the politics of regionalism.

o History: It supported regionalism with cultural heritage, folklore, myths and symbolism. The most striking example is that of Dravida Kazhagam (DK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Telugu Desham (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh.

o Language: Language is perhaps the most important mark of group identification. Language expresses the shared life, thought structure and value patterns of people. It has the capacity to unite the people together and make them work to improve their common destiny. Regionalism is closely associated with language but is not synonymous with linguism. Regionalism can take place inside a linguistic state (for example creation of Marathi speaking Maharashtra).

o Caste: An important example of the caste factor providing impetus to linguistic regionalism can be seen in the case of Tamil Nadu. Tamil regionalism gained ground as a result of non-Brahmin movement. Non-Brahmin castes of Tamil speaking region had been able to provide a powerful united thrust against Brahmins who had earlier enjoyed unquestioned dominance in economy, society and polity.

Economic Bases: Economic factor is the crux of regional politics. India is a developing country. The resources are limited while the demand for resources for the development of various regions is unlimited or disproportionate to resources. Economic policies have led to regional imbalances and wide economic disparities among various regions resulting in discontentment among them. It may be recalled that most of the demands for constituting new states were primarily based on allegedly unfair and unequal distribution of development benefits and expenditure in multi-lingual states. The erstwhile movements for a separate Uttarkhand state in the hill districts of U.P may be counted as example of this type. Economic factors have usually assumed prime importance in regional politics.

Politico-Administrative Bases: The politico-administrative basis of regionalism is also important but politics as such does not create regionalism. It only accentuates regionalism. Politicians take advantage of the situation of regional discontentment and unrest. They convert it into movements for strengthening their individual and factional support bases. It is a known fact that fighting within Congress gave rise to Telangana agitation. Regional political parties like TDP (Andhra Pradesh), DMK (Tamil Nadu), Akali Dal (Punjab) have been surviving because of regional sentiments.

Forms of Regionalism

Supra-state Regionalism: This implies that more than one state is involved in the issue of regionalism. It is an expression of group identity of some states. They take a common stand on the issues of mutual interest vis-a-vis another group of states. The group identity is usually in relation to certain specific issues. For example, the rivalry existing between south and north India on such issues as language or location of steel plants illustrates the point.

Inter-state Regionalism: It is related with state boundaries and involves overlapping of one or more state identities, which threaten their interests. River water disputes, in general, and other issues like the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute in particular can be cited as examples.

Intra-state Regional Politics or Sub-regionalism: This refers to regionalism, which exists within a state of the Indian Union. The important examples of this kind of sub-regionalism are a Vidarbha in Maharashtra, a Saurashtra in Gujarat, a Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, an East U.P. in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in Madhya Pradesh.

Son of Soil theory: It ties people to their place of birth and confers some benefits, rights, roles and responsibilities on them, which may not apply to others. Examples of campaign for safeguard of interests of Maharashtrians by the Shiv Sena, clashes among Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam, among others.

Positive Impacts of Regionalism

• It can lead to inter-group solidarity in a particular region. People belonging to a region may feel the need to come together to protect their vested interests, setting aside their differences. eg. Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council that was formed in 1985 has served to protect an otherwise endangered tribal identity in the state

• Regionalism has become a source of identity among people. The accommodation of such identities is healthy for maintaining the socio-cultural fabric of India.

• It may induce competition among people of a region and propel them to do better to improve the status of their region. Eg. Competitive federalism in India and ensuing competition among states regarding resources, setting up of industries, infrastructural facilities, etc.

Negative Impacts of Regionalism

  •  It can have adverse impacts on national integration, as loyalty to a particular region remains stronger than loyalty to the nation.
  •  It can be exploited and used for political leverage in order to garner votes.
  •  Development plans can be implemented unevenly, Thus, it can lead to unbalanced development.
  •  When agitations to satisfy regional demands occur, law and order situation is disturbed. It can also result in violence.
  •  It can give a leeway to external factors (E.g. terrorist groups, extremist groups) to get involved in regional issues.

Is Regionalism a threat to National Integration?

  • Regionalism is not significant merely as a disintegrating force. Regionalism is not opposed to national integration. Both can exist together in a creative partnership. Both are in favour of development.
  • Regionalism stresses the development of a region and national integration for the development of the nation as a whole.
  • Regionalism is not disruptive of national solidarity. There should be healthy reconciliation between regionalism and nationalism.
  • Regionalism can make federalism a greater success. It is quite natural that regional communities, who are conscious of their distinctive culture, should interact with federal government on the basis of more equal partnership.
  • It will reduce the centralizing tendencies in a nation and power will shift from the centre to the states. Conceived in any form, regionalism and sub-regionalism are unavoidable in a country as vast and diverse as India. Their existence is not only an important condition for the expression of genuine national sentiment, but it is logically generated because of the establishment of the nation state.
June 2024