Federalism and Regionalism in India: Institutional Strategies and Political Accommodation of Identity

Harihar Bhattacharyya
Regionalism has remained perhaps the most potent force in Indian politics ever since independence (1947), if not before. It has remained the main basis of many regional political parties which have been governing many states since the late 1960s. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which ruled at the federal level from 1999 to 2004, was but a medley of various region-based parties. Interestingly enough, regionalism has also remained the
more » ... basis of the communist movements in India which have grown in close identification with the regions, and are sustained therein. In the post-independence period, region is said to have often vied with the nation. The post-independence resurgence of regionalism in many parts of India baffled the observers of Indian politics, and offered as the basis of prediction of the country's "imminent balkanization" (Harrison 1960). The "crisis thesis" which was implicit in Harrison has been the theme of many subsequent accounts of Indian politics. The basic question that I seek to raise in this paper relates to the role played by Indian federalism in ensuring India's unity, stability and survival as a polity in the face of persistent regionalism, often verging on separation, rooted in manifold and complex social and cultural diversity, and mass poverty, illiteracy, extreme regional unevenness in development, and widespread inequality. The question has assumed special significance in the aftermath of the disintegration of the multi-ethnic and multi-national Soviet Union, and the split up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. India's record of relative unity and integrity stands in sharp contrast to many post-colonial federations, which have failed, or broken down. In the age of what Eric Hobsbawm has called "nation-splitting", India's relative unity and integrity, and survival as a state is remarkable indeed. To be sure, regionalism is rooted in India's manifold diversity of languages, cultures, tribes, communities, religions and so o [...]
doi:10.11588/hpsap.2005.27.2195 fatcat:jf7nrozu5zaqhi3nktymbp6r2a