Regional and Linguistic sub-nationalism in India in present context

With the recent news of Karnataka asking for its separate flag or demand of a separate state of Gorkhaland from West Bengal has raised the issue of growing sub-nationalism in India. Sub-nationalism on basis of region and language has been a vital part Indian socio-political history which formally started after formation of Andhra Pradesh which was the first state formed on the basis of language and even the separate status to Jammu and Kashmir has a certain hint of sub-nationalism. Sub-nationalism has been criticised a lot in the recent times, be it the Jat agitation in Haryana or the clash on  clash on the JNU campus between left-wing and right-wing student unions, and the arrest of a student leader, which have brought words like ‘nationalism’ and ‘sedition’ into the rhetoric of political debate.

In India, the concept of nationalism has always been undermined by sub-nationalism of regionalism and language and for some extent caste. It is often said that what is called India is inhibited by citizens who first call themselves Bengali, or Punjabi, or Tamil, or Gujarati, or whatever, and add Indian only as an afterthought of identity.

What is subnationalism?

Back then, the term ‘subnationalism’ was not a popular subject, but lately in the light of several incidents it has gained much limelight. Subnationalism is basically a manifestation of a search for a different community or identity from the one which is existing. It is generally perceived as a way of asserting ones religion or state or province, as separate from the nation’s interest. It is fed by the desire to create a world wherein unity for a particular community, group sharing same culture or history etc. can be established.

Is subnationalism an alien concept for a multicultural Indian setup?

The first instance in Indian history of sub-nationalism can be traced back to the year 1956 when Andhra Pradesh was formed out of Madras province on the basis of linguistic differences. Since then, subnationalism has been an important part of Indian democratic setup. Even the parliament has safeguarded it in some way by enacting laws such as State Reorganisation Act, 1956 and Official Languages Act, 1963. Furthermore, giving special state status to some of the backward status for alleviation has been a part of keeping the flame of subnationalism alive. Acts such as Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas or PESA also signals the positive nature of sub-nationalism. These examples show that the concept has been present multicultural Indian setup and is not new.

Whether subnationalism is good for a democratic setup like India?

Since its inception, India has been a pluralist society meaning that, it has always given equal freedom to all its different ethnic, religious or linguistic group so as to express their aspirations in whichever way possible. The same is also well reflected from the Constitutional provisions such as the fifth and sixth schedules, providing for special rights to the tribal people so as to enable them to preserve their own culture and traditions in the best way possible. Thus, sub-nationalism is nothing but the same old concept of promoting self-identity and solidarity. Moreover, it also adds to the competitive federalism which in a way leads to socio economic development of the states.

Sub-Nationalism is also a way to counter the aggressive nationalism. It has been regarded as a constitutive element of Indian democratic setup. A subcontinent like India which has been known as a cradle of human civilisation where there are many religions, cultures and languages, is being sustained as nation for 70 years now because of the concept of sub-nationalism. In a federal setup like India, it sub-nationalism that keeps the scope of expressing linguistic and cultural rights open. It allows the homogenous social system of India to be a successful pluralistic democracy.

What is the issues related to regional sub-nationalism?

It is always said that too much of anything is hazardous. Every social concept has to pass the test of reasonableness. As far as it does not lead to secessionism, subnationalism is an accepted norm in the Indian setup. For example, when Telangana was born in the year 2014, there were demands raised to bifurcate Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. If these demands are allowed India will soon be a pack of many states dissociated with each other.  Demands for getting a separate flag for the state cannot be termed as anti national as it symbolises the culture of a particular state and not a secessionist attitude.  Sub-nationalism is fundamental concept inseparable from democratic spirit until it touches unreasonableness which will lead to breaking the unity of this great nation.

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