Abhigyan IAS


To understand regionalism, we need to know various dimensions of the region. Region as a geographical unit, is delimited form each other. Region as a social system, reflects the relation between different human beings and groups. Regions are an organised cooperation in cultural, economic, political or military fields. Region acts as a subject with distinct identity, language, culture and tradition.

Regionalism is an ideology and political movement that seeks to advance the causes of regions. As a process it plays role within the nation as well as outside the nation i.e. at international level. Both types of regionalism have different meaning and have positive as well as negative impact on society, polity, diplomacy, economy, security, culture, development, negotiations, etc.

At the international level, regionalism refers to transnational cooperation to meet a common goal or to resolve a shared problem or it refers to a group of countries such as Western Europe, or Southeast Asia, linked by geography, history or economic features. Used in this sense, regionalism refers to attempts to reinforce the links between these countries’ economic features.

The second meaning of the term is regionalism at national level refers to a process in which sub-state actors become increasingly powerful, power devolves from central level to regional governments. These are the regions within country, distinguished in culture, language and other socio-cultural factors.

Now, we will discuss in detail about regionalism within nation w.r.t. INDIA only and then next we will discuss about regionalism at international level.

Regionalism in INDIA:

If the interest of one region or a state is asserted against the country as a whole or against another region/state in a hostile way, and if a conflict is promoted by such alleged interests, then it can be called as regionalism.

If someone is aspiring to or make special efforts to develop one’s state or region or to remove poverty & make social justice there, then that cannot be called as regionalism. Regionalism doesn’t means defending the federal features of the constitution. Any demand for separate state, autonomous region or for devolution of power below the state level is also, sometimes confused as regionalism.

Roots of regionalism is in India’s manifold diversity of languages, cultures, ethnic groups, communities, religions and so on, and encouraged by the regional concentration of those identity markers and fuelled by a sense of regional deprivation. For many centuries, India remained the land of many lands, regions, cultures and traditions.

For instance, southern India (the home of Dravidian cultures), which is itself a region of many regions, is evidently different from the north, the west, the central and the north-east. Even the east of India is different from the North-East of India comprising today seven constituent units of Indian federation with the largest concentration of tribal people.

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 governed many states since the late 1960s. Three clear patterns can be identified in the post-independence phases of accommodation of regional identity through statehood.

First, in the 1950s and 1960s, intense (ethnic) mass mobilisation, often taking on a violent character, was the main force behind the state’s response with an institutional package for statehood. Andhra Pradesh in India’s south showed the way. The fast unto death in 1952 of the legendary (Telugu) leader PottiSriramulu for a state for the Teleguspeakers out of the composite Madras Presidency moved an otherwise reluctant Jawaharlal Nehru, a top nationalist leader and it was followed by State reorganisation commission under Fazal Ali paving way for State Reorganization Act, 1956.

Second, in the 1970s and 1980s, the main focus of reorganization was India’s North-east. The basis of reorganization was tribal insurgency for separation and statehood. The main institutional response of the Union government was the North-eastern States Reorganisation Act, 1971 which upgraded the Union Territories of Manipur and Tripura, and the Sub-State of Meghalaya to full statehood, and Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh (then Tribal Districts) to Union Territories. The latter became states in 1986. Goa (based on Konkani language (8 Schedule)), which became a state in 1987, was the sole exception.

Third, the movements for the three new states (created in 2000)—Chhattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand out of Bihar and Uttaranchal out of Uttar Pradesh— were long-drawn but became vigorous in the 1990s. And the most recent one, we can see with the division of Andhra Pradesh, giving a separate Telangana, which started in 1950s.

Potential cause for regionalism:

Regionalism could have flourished in India, if any state/region had felt that it was being culturally dominated or discriminated against.

Regional economic inequality is a potent time bomb directed against national unity and political stability. But, this potential cause did not take shape of regionalism, because of government steps, which focussed on the balanced regional development and fulfilled the aspiration of states.

Few of them are – Industrial Policy, 1956, National Integration council, 1961. Transfer of financial resources to poorer states on the recommendation of Finance commission.

Planning became an important tool through Planning commission and Five year plans. But the new government is planning to devolve the planning power to the respective states, so that they can do planning with real-time approach of their respective needs and requirements.

The central government has categorized states on the basis of backwardness and accordingly gives grants and loans. In September 2013, Raghuram Rajan, recommended a new index of backwardness to determine- which state need special help from central government. It is composed of 10 equally weighted indicators. According to that, Orissa and Bihar are the most backward states.

Regular public investment by central government through centrally sponsored schemes have focussed on development of necessary infrastructure and poverty eradication, integrated rural development, education, health, family planning, etc. For example- Prdhan Mantri Gram sadka yojana, Mid-day meal, MGNREGA, etc.

Government at centre and states give incentives to private players to develop in backward states through subsidies, taxation, etc. Nationalisation of banks, granting new banking licences, making mandatory for banks to open rural branches are few other steps for inclusive development and balanced regional development.

There are certain discrepancies at the implementation part of these schemes. Few areas have been neglected like irrigation, which has created agricultural disparity. Rain fed and dry land agriculture also have been neglected, which became cause for suicide of farmers in various states (Coverage of P. Sainath, gives us more insights on such issues). In reality, the interstate industrial disparity, agricultural disparity, number of BPL, etc. are decreasing. But more actions are needed to completely eradicate the disparities.

Why regional disparity still persists?

  • Low rate of economic growth: The economic growth of India has been fluctuating since independence. But with respect to High population growth, the economic growth has been not enough to catch the development with full speed. In the last decade, the economic growth were progressive, but now they are reeling under the influence of world economic crisis and other bottlenecks at domestic level.

  • Socio-economic and political organisation of states: The states have been unable to do the adequate land reforms and the feudal mentality still persists. Bhoodan and Gramdaan movements, after independence, were not enthusiastically carried and even land under land Banks were not efficiently distributed. The political activities in the backward states were limited to vote bank politics and scams.

  • Lower level of infrastructural facilities in backward states: The level of infrastructural development, such as- power distribution, irrigation facilities, roads, modern markets for agricultural produce has been at back stage. All these are state list subjects.

  • Low level of social expenditure by states on education, health and sanitation: These subjects are core for human resource development. The sates which have invested heavily on these subjects, fall under the developed and advanced states, for example Tamil Nadu, where health care services in Primary health centre is bench mark for other states.

  • Political and administration failure: This is source of tension and gives birth to subregional movements for separate states. Jarkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttrakhand and recently Telangana are result of these failure only. Many such demands are in pipeline such as- Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Darjeeling and Bodoland, etc. These failures also weakens the confidence of private players and do not attract investors in the states.

  • Son of the soil” doctrine explains a form of regionalism, which is in discussion since 1950. According to it, a state specifically belongs to the main linguistic group inhabiting it or that the state constitutes the exclusive homeland of its main language speakers, whoare the sons of the soil or local residents.

Some of the regional movements:

Linguistic Reorganization of States:

It was the demand of PottiSriramulu, a freedom fighter and a devoted follower of Mahatma Gandhi, that led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh state and linguistic recognition of the states in India. To achieve this end, he died in 1952 after not eating for 52 days in support of a Telugu-speaking state. Sriramulu’s death forced Jawahar Lal Nehru to agree to the various demands from other parts of the country with similar demands. Consequently, 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.

Telangana Movement:

In the years after the formation of Andhra Pradesh state, people of Telangana expressed dissatisfaction over how the agreements and guarantees were implemented. Discontent with the 1956 Gentleman’s agreement intensified in January 1969, when the guarantees that had been agreed on were supposed to lapse. Student agitation for the continuation of the agreement began at Osmania University in Hyderabad and spread to other partsof the region. Government employees and opposition members of the state legislative assembly threatened “direct action” in support of the students. This movement since then finally resulted last year one separate state of Telangana.

It should be noted that roots of disparity in two regions was in colonial rule. Andhra was under direct rule of crown while Telangana was ruled by Nizam of Hyderabad, who was not so efficient ruler. So over time Andhra got more developed in comparison to Telangana.

Bodoland Demand within Assam:

The Bodo agitation is led by the Assam Bodo Students Union which is demanding a separate state and has resorted to wide scale violence and series of crippling bandhs to pursue their demand. One of the basic reason Assam agitations is because of the expansion of education, particularly higher education, but not industrialization and other job creating institutions is increasing the army of educated youths in the backward regions. These frustrated young men are allured by the movements against the inflow of people from other countries and states. On the other hand these unemployed youths are also attracted by the caste, communal and other sectional agitations fighting for the protection of rights on sectarian lines.

Khalistan Movement:

It was during the era of 1980s that Khalistan movement with its aim to create a Sikh homeland, often called Khalistan, cropped up in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. In fact, this demand has also the colours of communalism, as there demand is only for Sikhs.

Inter-State Disputes:

Another form of regionalism in India has found expression in the form of interstate disputes. There are disputes boundary disputes for example between Karnataka and Maharashtra on Belgaum where Marathi speaking population is surrounded by Kannada speaking people, between Kerala and Karnataka on Kasargod, between Assam and Nagaland on Rengma reserved forests. There is a dispute over Chandigarh in Punjab and Haryana.

The first important dispute regarding the use of water source was over the use of water resources of three rivers mainly Narmada, Krishna and Cauvery in which states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra were involved. Disputes also arose between use of Cauvery waters among the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Another dispute arose among the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh over the use and distribution of waters of the Krishna River. Disputes between Punjab, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh overt the use of waters of Ravi River. The Electricity sharing issue between Punjab and Delhi is another example of this.

Impact of Regionalism in India:

Positive impacts:

Scholars believe that regionalism plays important role in building of the nation, if the demands of the regions are accommodated by the political system of the country.

Regional recognition in terms of state hood or state autonomy gives self-determination to the people of that particular region and they feel empowered and happy. Internal self-determination of community, whether linguistic, tribal, religious, regional, or theircombinations, has remained the predominant form in which regionalism in India has sought to express itself, historically as well as at present time.

Regional identities in India have not always defined themselves in opposition to and at the expense of, the national identity, noticed a democratic effect of such process in that India’s representative democracy has moved closed to the people who feel more involved and show greater concern for institutions of local and regional governance.

For example- Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTADC), formed in 1985, has served to protect an otherwise endangered tribal identity in the state by providing a democratic platform for former separatists to become a party of governance, and thereby reduced significantly the bases of political extremism in the state.

In such political setup, there always remains a scope of balanced regional development. The socio-cultural diversity is given due respect and it helps the regional people to practise their own culture too.

Negative Impacts:

Regionalism is often seen as a serious threat to the development, progress and unity of the nation. It gives internal security challenges by the insurgent groups, who propagate the feelings of regionalism against the mainstream politico-administrative setup of the country.

Regionalism definitely impacts politics as days of collation government and alliances are taking place. Regional demands become national demands, policies are launched to satisfy regional demands and generally those are extended to all pockets of country, hence national policies are now dominated by regional demands. E.g. MSP given to sugarcane, it was helpful for farmers in Maharashtra but it was implemented across all states resulting agitations of farmers belonging to UP, Punjab and Haryana. Meanwhile it sowed seed of defection among ministers and targeting to corresponding minister.

Some regional leaders play politics of vote bank based on language, culture, this is certainly against healthy democratic procedures. This always leads to demand for separate state and it has observed that after creating small states only few political leaders could run efficient government else alliances run government which ultimately makes administration machinery ineffective.

Developmental plans are implemented unevenly focusing on regions to which heavy weight leaders belongs are benefitted, hence unrest is generated among rest regions. Law and order is disturbed, agitations with massive violence take place ultimately government is compelled to take harsh steps; hence wrong signals are emitted about government authorities.

Regionalism, also becomes hurdle in the international diplomacy, as in 2013 we saw how Tamil Nadu regional parties were against the Prime Minister of India, attending the Commonwealth heads meeting(CHOGM) in Sri Lanka. These actions have their directimplication on the relation of India with Sri Lanka or other countries of the forums or in case of Mamata Banerjee not agreeing to Land Boundary agreement and Teesta River Water sharing, when the leaders at centre level were ready to do it.

The regionalism induced violence disturbs the whole society, people are killed, students cannot attend the schools & colleges, tourism cannot be promoted, etc. This impacts the development of human resource, governments need to deploy extra forces to control the situation and it has direct implication on the economy of the nation. Impacted societies remain aloof from the mainstream development and then the regional variations and backwardness is clearly reflected.

On the broader front, it harms India’s status in global arena and becomes hurdle in becoming global power or world leader.

Other than the evolution of regionalism in India and its impact, it is also associated a discussed with the Nationalism and federalism. These two aspects are discussed below.

Impact of Regionalism on the World:

Regionalism is giving strength to the regions which were earlier neglected like Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia. The consequences of regionalization are in terms of security and development. For example, SAARC, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) and various other regional groups has been formed for the regional security and development with the cooperation of all the member nations.

It may offer solutions to development problems, which in fact could be seen as a form of conflict prevention, since many of the internal conflicts are rooted in development problems of different kinds.

It helps the regions and the countries within in achieving Self-reliance, with respect to their social development, economic needs, technological needs, etc.

With the help of regionalism economic policies may remain more stable and consistent. As it is, in practice in European Union, though Eurozone crisis is learning for the member nation to create an environment for more predictable and stable economic environment.

Regionalism gives collective bargaining on the level of the region could improve the economic position of marginalized countries in the world system. As in the case of WTO Bali meet, developed countries were hell-bent on Trade facilitation agreement and were pressurizing for doing away of subsidies in developing countries. Then the South Asian countries like China and India, resisted and projected their socio-economic conditions to continue with their present subsidy schemes to their farmers.

Regionalism can reinforce societal viability by including social security issues and an element of redistribution. Ecological and political borders rarely coincide. Few serious environmental problems could be solved within the framework of the nation state. For example conservation of Biodiversity is closely monitored, poaching and trade of endangered species is easy to check with regional cooperation. Check on emission of greenhouse gases and global warming under common but differentiated responsibilities.

Diversity may make the success of regional organizations problematic. Sometimes, ethnic clashes in some other country of the region causes security challenges in neighbouring countries and destabilize the region as a whole. For example Fundamentalist approach by ISIS or Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist outfit of the region has serious implication in countries like Iran, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. Even ethnic clashes in Myanmar, Pakistan disturbs the Indian society. As it was observed in case of violence in Assam due to clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

The growing regionalism is seen as a threat to the multilateral institutions like WTO and its existence and role is being questioned. The growing bilateralism, trilaterlism blocks have serious implication on the effectively of the WTO policies.

In fact, Regional conflicts could be resolved, with the help of regionalism and it eliminates distorted investment patterns, since the “security fund” (military expenditures ) can be tapped for more productive use and can give peaceful dividend to the nation as well as to the region.


We have seen how regionalism could be good or bad for a nation as well for group of nations. Constitution of India under Article-19, gives every citizen a fundamental right to move around and settle down peacefully any part of the country. And, as citizen of India everyone should respect this fundamental right of every person, avoiding clashes like Shiv Sena does in Maharashtra.

The need of the hour is to develop each region of India, through devolution of power to local governments and empowering people for their participation in decision-making. The governments at state level need to find out the alternative resources of energy, source of employment for local people, use of technology in governance, planning andfor agriculture development. The 12 five year targets for “Faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth“, which will be instrumental for balanced regional growth.

The regional blocks like BRICS, ASEAN are developing more negotiation capabilities for economic needs of the region, for climate change negotiations, etc. The dependency on World Bank, IMF for developmental projects is being complimented by the new commitments of the BRICS Bank, New Developmental Banks, etc.

In future, the further integration of the different regions will give every nation due respect and due importance to their needs. Their exotic and unique things are getting exposure at international level and no one will feel left out. The whole world will be a global village with unique regions within.

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