If there is one idea that we are reminded of ceaselessly, especially on ‘national’ days like August 15 and January 26, it’s got to be this: the country’s strength lies in its diversity. But unfortunately when it comes to dealing with the same idea and its natural extension — regional aspirations — at a political level, our national leaders are often caught on the wrong foot, as we had seen in the Telangana episode.
But the reality is that over the years, for various reasons, there has been a spurt in regional aspirations across the country and if the mood of the nation is anything to go by, such demands are set to grow. How efficiently the political class tackles the demands for a Bodoland, Gorkhaland or Harit Pradesh will have a deep impact on the health of our Nation-State in the long run.
While cynics will look at such demands as politically motivated — and this view is not entirely unfounded — it is also true that the demand for states along linguistic or ethnic lines has come up because there is a huge constituency that believes smaller states can meet the aspirations of its people better. Unsurprisingly, the growing belief has weakened the roots of major national parties and has strengthened the hands of regional parties and their leaders.
The presence of this strong undercurrent of regional spirit also comes out clearly in the 2013 HT-C Fore Survey that we have published today. To the question ‘What do you consider your primary identity?’ 61% of the respondents said ‘Indian’ and only 16% gave their regional identity as their main one. But to another question on whether sons of the soil (ie people native to a particular state) should be given preference when it comes to jobs and education, a whopping 55% said ‘yes’.
To another question, whether they are more comfortable with people from their own ethnic background, 52% said yes. So while the national parties don’t need to lose sleep over the over-arching idea of India going bust, there are enough indications that regional aspirations of the people — economic and social — and existing regional imbalances that are holding back some states have to be taken into account while drawing a charter for new India. Experts say that there are enough reasons for smaller states: they could be governed better (states like Jharkhand, of course, have not done the ‘small is beautiful’ idea proud), the people will have better access to resources and, as one columnist succinctly puts it: smaller states will not eliminate political or policy paralysis, but they will ensure that excess diversity is not the reason for such paralysis.
No matter which tag the world attaches to us — developing or emerging — the truth is India is a work in progress. And so instead of being scared of the regionalism genie and trying to put it back in the bottle, it’s time to fine-tune India’s federal structure to make room for regional aspirations.