That Linguistic States Donot Have a Historical Basis is a Lie

In an article in, Mohan Guruswamy, columnist and commentator on economic policy and current affairs, says this about the composition of India as a union of linguistic states:
India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states, but a union of well governed and managed states. Thus, the demand for newer administrative units will be a continuous one, seeking to bring distant provincial governments in remote capitals closer to the people.
Talking further about linguistic states he questions their historical basis:
Similarly, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and other linguistic states have no historical basis. The yearning for linguistic sub-nationalism is a post-independence phenomenon. Often this linguistic sub-nationalism has been a fig leaf for secessionism, as we have seen in Tamil Nadu in the past.

Was India not meant to be composed of linguistic states?

On what basis does Mohan Guruswamy claim that India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states? In the initial years after India’s independence from British rule many leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, were against the idea of linguistic states for the fear that it may lead to disintegration of India. It is only because of the pressure of relentless protests from people of different linguistic groups that the leadership agreed to constitute a States Reorganization Commission, albeit reluctantly. Be it the demand for Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka or Punjab, the protests were so intense that the Indian Union had to give in to widespread protests.

So, in saying “India was never meant to be a union of linguistic states”, it is obvious that the author merely echoes the thoughts of some of the leaders of the Indian Union, and does not acknowledge people’s aspirations as was evident on the ground that witnessed wide-spread protests. Didn’t the Kannadigas, for example, then spread across several administrative provinces express their desire to come together under a single state? Didn’t the Marathis and the Gujaratis express their desire to have their respective states carved out of the Bombay Presidency?

The demand for linguistic organization of states is not a post-independence phenomenon

Yes, the demand for linguistic organization of states is not a post-independence phenomenon, unlike the author's claims.

The state of Odisha (Orissa) was formed in 1936 as a distinct linguistic province in British India. It involved the merger of Odia speaking regions of a few princely states and the British ruled Bihar and Madras presidencies. The movement to unite all the Odia speaking regions, itself began in 1895. It was at about the same time, ie., the late 19th century that several such linguistic movements started across India. The demand for a unified Karnataka, for example, soon gained ground after the establishment of the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, in Dharwad in 1890. Though Karnataka had to wait till 1956 to unite all the Kannada speaking regions, the movement continued all through the pre-independence days.

The Congress was instrumental in directing such linguistic yearning towards strengthening the forces of Indian nationalism fighting against the British. While the Congress leaders were in favour of linguistic organization of states before independence, post-independence they feared that it would lead to balkanization of India. Sankar Ghose, in his book ‘Jawaharlal Nehru, a Biography’ writes:
While the British favoured multi-lingual provinces in order to dissipate the forces of nationalism, the Congress reorganized itself on linguistic basis in the hope of making the party more acceptable to different regions. This helped, as Nehru claimed, to transform the Congress from a middle-class assembly to a mass organization; but as the States Reorganization Commission later commented, ‘the national movement was built up by harnessing the forces of regionalism’.
As Prime Minister, Nehru favoured the British policy of not having linguistic states but he hesitated to be firm in the matter because of the past commitments of the Congress.

Historical Basis of linguistic identities

In the subcontinent, speakers of a language, identifying themselves as one people and of one nation, despite being spread across several adjacent kingdoms or administrative units is quite ancient. Such identification, which Guruswamy disapproves of as ‘sub-nationalism’ is much more ancient than the idea of Indian nationalism itself.

Take for instance the identification of Kannada speakers as one people. In the ninth century Kannada work ‘Kavirajamarga’ written under the patronage of the Rashtrakuta emperor Amoghavarsha Nrupatunga, the boundaries of Kannada – the naadu (nation) – are defined. The poet defines the boundaries as the Godavari river to the north and the Kaveri to the south, and identifies the region between these as the naadu of Kannada people. He describes several qualities of the Kannada speaking people with immense pride. And this was about a millennium before the idea of Indian nationalism was seeded.

It should be noted that Kavirajamarga is the earliest fully available literary text in Kannada. So, the idea of Kannada speakers as one people must have been much older than what has been recorded in the earliest available literature, as evinced by several other indicators, like the army of Pulikeshi, who ruled two centuries before Amoghavarsha, was referred to as ‘Karnata Bala’. How can such a linguistic identity, known to have long existed in history, be dismissed as regionalism or sub-nationalism?

Bringing government closer to people

The argument that the state capitals are remote and that smaller administrative units need to be created to bring provincial governments closer to people does not hold much ground when you consider the fact that much of the power is centered in New Delhi, with the state capitals being mere ‘glorified’ municipal bodies that implement the Union Government’s schemes and projects. In the previous article in Karnatique we explored the imbalance of power owing to more than twice the number of subjects that New Delhi has jurisdiction over than what the state capitals do.

What is more interesting is that the number of subjects in the state list has gradually reduced from 66 to 61 over the years – these subjects were moved up to the concurrent and the union lists. And with a strong affinity towards centralization, the trend is sure to continue. Considering its enormous physical, linguistic and cultural remoteness from India’s diverse peoples, such accumulation of disproportionate powers at New Delhi is anything but bringing government closer to people.

But Guruswamy who is so desirous of bringing government closer to the people, advocates the idea only in the context of provincial governments and is deviously silent in the context of the all-powerful Union Government. As if to support this silence he claims “that the real concentration of power is not with the Central government but with the State governments” (we have shown in some of the previous articles in Karnatique that this is a completely baseless claim and infact the opposite is true: article1, article2, article3).

For this reason, when he talks of decentralization, citing examples from the corporate world, he only mentions decentralization from the state governments to the districts and further down. No mention is made of the current situation of the Union’s authority over the states and the need for devolution. So, his idea of small states seems to be the continuation of the Nehruvian idea of India, with states as weak administrative units under a strong Centre.

Considering the historical distinctness of linguistic identities, and the centralized nature of the Indian Union, demand from the states for more functional autonomy is genuine, and it does not necessarily have to be seen in the light of individual personalities like J Jayalalitha, Mamata Bannerjee or Mulayam Singh Yadav. Being leaders of state parties they are more answerable to the electorate that voted them to power than to a New Delhi high-command – a highly undemocratic culture prevalent in the so-called national parties, in the guise of national interests. So, the demands of states for more autonomy cannot be brushed aside as regional jingoism. It is because of the unfounded fear of disintegration that the Delhi establishment terms this as regionalism, and hence is less willing to devolve.

Division of the Telugu people, through undemocratic display of power and dominance, may have been successfully executed for now. But refusal to acknowledge genuine linguistic identities and condemning them as jingoism, and attempting to divide them citing reasons of regional economic imbalances and better manageability will backfire in the future. Finally, Guruswamy makes the statement that “small states are a must if we have to keep the Republic healthy and strong”. Given the surreptitious intentions behind the idea of smaller states, the claim that it leads to a healthy and strong republic is fictitious.

1 comment:

Anand said...

He does not know facts. If Linguistic states do not have historical basis, how about India? It has 60-70 year basis. So when someone says India has 2000 year history, need to correct them it was not India then. Concept only came as recently as 1947.

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