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Regionalism: biggest threat to national unity

New Delhi, Thu, 30 Oct 2008 M Shamsur Rabb Khan

With Mumbai seething with mindless hate campaign against the north Indian by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the politics of aggressive regionalism has once again attained centre stage in our country. Albeit the tirade against the migrants from Bihar and UP has been going on for sometime in Maharashtra, recent violent attacks against the students from north India appearing for the railway examination, in which a boy from Nalanda district of Bihar lost his life, is a reminder of what Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena had done in the late 1970s, as part of his "Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians" campaign.

Like uncle Thackeray, who threatened migrants from South India with harm unless they left Mumbai, Raj focuses on the politics of regional pride via violent means. Like Shiv Sena’s early objective to ensure job security for Maharashtrians against immigrants from South India and Gujaratis and Marwaris, Raj has upped the ante against people from Bihar and UP. Bal Thackeray’s comment published in an editorial titled, Ek Bihari, Sau Bimari (One Bihari, Hundred illnesses) on March 6, 2008 was the height regional hatred.

But Raj Thackery’s political campaign has elements of violence based on the logic that only Marathi Manoos will live in Mumbai, Gujaratis will live in Gujarat, Biharis in Bihar, and Tamilians in Tamil Nadu and so on. Going by the logic of migrants consuming the fruits of development of Maharashtra, people like Raj Thackeray must heed the contribution of migrants from north India in the overall development of the state.

In principle, Raj Thackeray seems to have based his whole political agenda on spreading regional chasm: whether outburst against Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan's loyalty towards his native place, i.e. UP, strong retaliation to Jaya Bachchan’s remark of speaking in Hindi, or vehement opposition to the celebration of Chhath Puja in Maharashtra, or the Shiv Sena's statement targetting Shah Rukh Khan as a Dilli wallah, both Thackerays have left no stone unturned in creating an environment of great regional divide.

Mumbai, the business capital of India and the most sought after destination for job seekers, fortune setters, and dream realisers is turning out be a terror hub that has resulted in a severe animosity between the natives and the migrants. Not only Raj Thackeray’s regional hate campaign will affect the great Indian ethos, .e. unity in diversity, but also will have serious reactions from other parts of the country, as is evident from the large scale protests at various places in Bihar.

Growth and Development

Regionalism as a violent ideology started among the Telugu-speaking residents of the erstwhile Madras Presidency in which protests were marked with attacks on state property and the fast-unto-death strategy. For example, Potti Sriramulu, a freedom fighter and a devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, who died in 1952 after not eating for 52 days in support of a Telugu-speaking state, was the foremost advocate of the creation of Andhra Pradesh state and an initiator of division of states on linguistic lines. Sriramulu’s death forced Jawahar Lal Nehru to accede to the various demands from other parts of the country with similar demands. In 1954, a States Reorganisation Committee was formed with Fazal Ali as its head, which recommended the formation of 16 new states and 3 Union Territories based on the language.

However, vigorous regionalism in India can be traced back to Dravida Movement started in Tamil Nadu which was initially focused on empowering Dalits, non-Brahmins, and the poor. Later, it turned out to be anti-Hindi agitation in 1965, which finally culminated into a demand for seceding from India to carve out their own Dravidastan or Dravida Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the result of regional campaign, became the first regional political party to win elections in 1967.

Other states followed the suit, for example, the Akali Dal in Punjab, the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal, and the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam, and won state elections with the claim that they stood for the rights of their regions against the hegemonic domination of the Centre. However, the demand for statehood also carried regional scent. The logic for creation of Uttaranchal out of hilly districts of Uttar Pradesh and the bifurcation of Bihar paved the way for the creation of a Jharkhand state based on the ill-treatment of centre towards the region.

Throughout India regionalism persisted. In Maharashtra, Shiv Sena against Kannadigas in the name of Marathi pride; in Punjab against non-Punjabis that gave rise to Khalistan Movement and earlier Akali Movement; in Andhra, Telangana Movement with an aim of separate state; in Assam ULFA militants against migrant Biharis and Bengalis etc But one thing is remarkable that regionalism slowly turned from non-violent means to violent means to achieve their goals. From Potti Sriramulu’s non violent means of fatsing to Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena (MNS) and ULFA’s violent means, regionalism has come a long way.

However, regionalism being propaged by MNS Mumbai seems very dangerous and unhealthy for India’s unity since it negates the very principle of our consitution. Article 19 of the Constitution of India provides a citizen of India to move freely throughout the territory of India, to reside and settle in any part, and to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. But the kind of regionalism by United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) militants or MNS activists will have far reachong consequences. The dangerous type of regionalism is based on the separation from the Republic of India to form a separate nation. Examples of this type of regionalism are Naga National Council, National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Hurriyat leadership in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the Sikh extremism in 1980s.

India as a nation has suffered enough losses of human lives and properties in the name of separatist movement in J&K, Punjab and northeast region. For example, about 60,000 lives have been lost in Kashmir alone (including militants, security personnel and innocent people). It is good for the nation that the Sikhs shunned the violent means and returned to mainstream politics, and we can hope the same in J&K and the northeast states as well.

In sum, it is said that regionalism can be healthy if it is based on certain genuine grievances based on negligence from the central government or apathy due to which development of the region has not been at par with other regions. But Raj Thackeray-led regional campaign will help open up a Pandora Box of hostilities between groups of people of various states, as is evident from the violent reactions in Bihar and Maharashtra. Such kind of regionalism is the biggest threat to national unity. An Indian is an Indian everywhere whether it is Kashmir or Kanyakumari and he has full right to flourish as a citizen of this country.

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