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States - Autonomy Struggles

The main opposition to the national executive came from the states, in a variety of legal and extralegal struggles for regional autonomy. Most of the states have developed specific political identities based on forms of ethnicity that claim a long historical past. The most common identifying characteristic is language. Agitation in what became the state of Andhra Pradesh led the way in the 1950s, resulting in the reorganization of state boundaries along linguistic lines. Agitations in the state of Tamil Nadu in the 1960s resulted in domination of the state by parties dedicated officially to Tamil nationalism.

In the northeast, regional struggles have coalesced around tribal identities, leading to the formation of a number of small states based on dominant tribal groupings. Farther south, in Kerala and West Bengal, communist parties have upheld the banner of regionalism by capturing state assemblies and implementing radical socialist programs against the wishes of the central government.

The regional movements most threatening to national integration occurred in the northwest. The state of Punjab was divided by the Indian government twice after independence -- Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were sliced off -- before it achieved a Sikh majority population in what remained of Punjab. That majority allowed the Sikh-led Akali Dal (Eternal Party) to capture the state assembly in the early 1980s. By then radical separatist elements were determined to fight for an independent Sikh Punjab. The result was an army attack on Sikh militants occupying the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards, both in 1984, and a ten-year internal security struggle that has killed thousands. In India's state of Jammu and Kashmir (often referred to as Kashmir), where Muslims constitute the majority of the population, regional struggle takes a different religious form and has created intense security problems that keep bilateral relations with Pakistan, which also lays claim to Kashmir, in a tense mode.

The central government usually was able to defuse regional agitations by agreeing to redefinition of state boundaries or by guaranteeing differing degrees of regional autonomy, including acquiescence in the control of the state government by regional political parties. In December 1953, the States Reorganisation Commission was set up and it recommended the creation of linguistic States, at least for the major linguistic groups. In 1956, reorganisation of some States took place. This saw the beginning of the creation of linguistic States and the process is still continuing. Gujarat and Maharashtra were created in 1960; Punjab and Haryana were separated from each other in 1966. Later, the North Eastern region was reorganised and new States like Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh were created This strategy defused the original linguistic agitations through the 1970s, and led to the resolution of the destructive political and ethnic crises in Assam in the mid-1980s. When national security interests came into play, however, as in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, the central government did not hesitate to use force.

Though language was the basis of defining boundaries of the States, often border areas would have populations speaking more than one language. So, it is not easy to resolve this dispute merely on the basis of linguistic majority. One of the longstanding border disputes is the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over the city of Belgaum. Manipur and Nagaland too, have a long-standing border dispute. The carving out of Haryana from the erstwhile State of Punjab has led to dispute between the two States not only over border areas, but over the capital city of Chandigarh. This city today houses the capital of both these States. In 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi reached an understanding with the leadership of Punjab. According to this understanding, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab.

In 2000, some of the larger States were further divided both to meet the demands for a separate State as well as to meet the need for greater administrative efficiency. Thus Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were divided to create three new States. They are: Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand respectively. Some regions and linguistic groups are still struggling for separate Statehood like Vidarbha in Maharashtra.

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Page last modified: 23-02-2017 17:46:22 ZULU