Republic Day Special: What Motivates Separatism?
Chhatisgarh. Jharkand. Uttaranchal.
And now, Telangana.
India seems to be splitting into even smaller and smaller states. Separatist forces have been working for decades now, but have now reached such a vociferous level that they make India look more like a mash-up of states, rather than a single nation-state.
Coming back to Telangana, it was originally a separate state, even during the period of British rule. Telangana only merged with Andhra after a Gentleman’s agreement in 1956, thats not even 50 years ago. But the fight for a separate state has proved fruitful: K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s fast in December 2009 made the Congress promise a separate state of Telangana, carved out of Andhra Pradesh
But why? I’ve always believed that we are Indians first, and state citizens second. So let me limit the purpose of this blog post * today to understand the various motivational factors behind separatism. Of course there are many, but I’ll limit myself to the four most important ones.
Before we move ahead, let’s just define the separatism I’m talking about. Its quite obvious though, that Separatism is separation from a larger group, usually on the basis of ethnic, racial, religious or linguistic grounds. Most of them are followed by demands for greater political autonomy, maybe going as far as a separate state.
So lets start with the first motivational factor:
1. Resistance by Victims of Oppression
Technically, India is a separatist state. After all, we broke off from the British Empire. The independence movement started because Indians were victimized. Many Britishers were found guilty of abusing local customs. Reports state that some Britishers used whips in local bazaars (markets) to clear a path so that they could walk through. Racial discrimination was also practiced: well-qualified and deserving Indians could only rise to a certain level in the Government, above which only whites could hold posts. Sepoys in the army were mistreated. The famous case of cow- and pig-fat in rifle cartridges provided the spark that led to the Revolt of 1857.
Under the rule of the British, Indians were victims of oppression. The resistance movement fought for an equal treatment of Indians, among other things. In this case, the motivation for a separate state arose from the reluctance of many Britishers to part their oppressive-colonial streak.
Moving on to the second motivational factor:
2. Preservation of Religion, Language and Culture
In this case, I can talk about the Khalistan movement, a fight for an autonomous state for Punjabi-speaking people.
For that, we must dive into a little bit of history. During the 1940s, when it seemed eminent that Britain would pull out of India, various groups started fighting for separate nations for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs (the three largest religions at that time). But for the sake of partition, the Hindus and Sikhs were clubbed together, forming India. Do note this is a controversial statement (every religion was clubbed together to form India; and all religions are treated equally in the eyes of the law). Still, there were some Sikhs who felt they were “tricked” into joining India.
But there is an important point to note here. Sikhism was not a majority in pre-independence Punjab (except for one district: Ludhiana). In fact there was a greater percentage of people speaking Hindi, as compared to Punjabi, in Punjab itself (somewhere around 60%).
The problem blew over in the 1950s and 1960s, when Hindi was declared the national official language of India. The Punjabi-speaking population felt they were a minority in “their own state”! Numerous parties then fought for an independent state, carved out of Punjab, that would be called Khalistan.
We all know how that ended. Operation Blue Star. While Punjab remained as one, it was a disaster that would, perhaps, be another blog post.
3. Resentment of Rival Communities
We can trace this very motivational factor back to the Telangana episode mentioned earlier. Its a known fact that in Telangana, 9 out of 10 districts are backward, and it has a less developed economy than its neighbour Andhra.
But, comparatively, it has a larger revenue base (from tax collections). Many people feel that the money from this region is being shared all over Andhra Pradesh (and not being fully utilized to develop the backward districts). There are other claims too: that Andhra-ites are taking over government jobs that should rightfully belong to those from Telangana, etc.
Such resentment breeds separatist feelings. People from both regions start haggling over common resources (like river water) and trouble-makers easily incite the situation. Somehow, the illusion of a separate autonomous state seems to solve the “problem”.
This brings us to the last motivation factor:
4. Protection from Ethnic Cleansing / Genocide
A great example of this is the Kosovo War, in Serbia-Montenegro (erstwhile Yugoslavia). Separatist Albanian forces in Kosovo began to increase violence in 1998, fighting for a separate state. The Serbian military conducted a large-scale genocide, singling out ethnic Albanians and killing them. NATO (led by the US, of course) waged a war on Yugoslavia, and gained control of Kosovo. Finally, they retreated after securing Kosovo political autonomy from Serbia-Montenegro.
The motivation for a separate state for Albanians was driven, amongst other things, by the need to protect themselves from ethnic cleansing. Extremely upsetting.
To Sum Up
We attempted to list some motivational factors behind separatist uprisings. Its a difficult problem, no doubt, one that is politically sensitive and has far-reaching consequences.
But we must understand the motivation in order to prevent it. Our goal should be to nip the problem at its bud, attack the factors mentioned above, rather than the groups that claim to fight for a separatist cause.
That might be difficult, but atleast that’s a start.
* – This actually didn’t start off as a blog post, but as a speech! I had talked on the above points as my 3rd Toastmaster project. The goal here is to start off with a “purpose”, which in my case could be jotted down as:
“To educate the audience on the various motivational factors behind separatism, as a means to tackle the same problem”
But this had special relevance today, on India’s Republic Day. When we look back at recent events, the Telangana episode, and possible future episodes (Gorkhaland, etc) stand out as ugly protruding thorns. And I don’t like thorns.