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Republic Day Special: What Motivates Separatism?

26th January, 2010

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.

Can we remain as one?

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 26th January, 2010 10:17 PM

    Well served the purpose kartikay! Great summation with relevant details. The very thought of separatism comes at the cost of a vested interest of few selfish politicians. Now the whole issue of Telangana has gone into the hands of civilians and any statement on the issue is treated sentimental now. So, it is really a tough task to find an amicable solution which pleases everyone. There is an intense debate going on my blog post related to Telangana & Andhra. Wish you had read through the article and comments to add more points to your speech 🙂

    • 27th January, 2010 10:30 AM

      hehe .. I remember reading that post when it was just posted – but now you have some 148 comments!! wow!!

      I seriously wish I had gone through your blog!

  2. kartikthum permalink
    27th January, 2010 1:20 AM

    I feel we as Indians always make a big mess in differentiating unity in diversity from homogeneity! You need to understand that India is about unity in diversity and not homogeneity – we don’t want to have one single culture in the end, that’s just not India.

    People of Telangana constitute a region comprising 40% of AP. Since a majority of people in that region feel that a new state is the only way out, not going by that would be a gross violation of democratic values. Now, if people ask me about the opinion of the remaining people in other regions of AP, article 3 of the constitution clearly states that it’s the center that creates new states and not the state itself, there by protecting the minority’s opinion from that of the majority – there by stating that what counts is the opinion of the people of the specific region in question (Telangana in this case)

    • 27th January, 2010 11:10 AM

      Hi Kartik, thanks for stopping by.

      You know, in writing the above post I made the assumption that we wanted to stop further division of states. I went on to talk on what factors we should counter, etc etc.

      I think you’d like to question that assumption: pretty valid if you ask me. We certainly need to dig deeper into this.

      But I’d like to say this: does statehood help? Would a separate state solve ALL the problems faced by the people? And if statehood indeed does help, why not fight for a separate nation? (eg. Taiwan & China)

    • kartikthum permalink
      29th January, 2010 6:12 AM

      A nation? All I said is that an administrative unit be created within the realms of the constitution of India!! If you blindly question the purpose of creating states (or a demerger as in this case), you are indirectly questioning the constitution of India!! Do you think article 3 was created just for the sake of it?

      Also, please understand that India is not about homogeneity, it is about unity in diversity! Once you understand this, you will not question creation of smaller and better administrative units. It’s really childish and immature to think that creation of states within India will lead to a national integration crisis! We need a lot of people (especially the middle class) to ‘grow up’ and adapt to think out of the box!

    • 29th January, 2010 9:32 AM

      1, I agree with you that we need to think out of the box; like I said earlier that we certainly need to dig deeper into this.

      2. Also, I’d like you to de-couple the concept of “better administrative units” from “unity in diversity”. (Both are obviously what we want – I dont doubt that).

      I would like some factual proof that splitting states on the basis of whatever identity actually PRODUCES better administrative states!

      Theres always a big overhead in the creation of a new state, and the cost must not be larger that the (apparent) benefit in economy that the separate state will produce!

  3. archana145 permalink
    28th January, 2010 6:34 AM

    This should have been last think you should have thought to do.

    What are you talking about? You mentioned “settlers”, what are you talking about. In India, do we need to use that term for Indian, when people move to find jobs at different cities, do we need visa and work authorization to work and freely move between the cities.
    The word “settler” is the last thing you should be talking about and people of India should be listening to you about that word “settler”.

    This is the last this a fellow Indian should be listen to call others settler…………..Are you from Pakistan? Are you puppets of them?

    How do you define the “local” and “settlers”, what is the context, did your grandfathers from 100 generations stayed in same home.. or on tree…..
    So you are local, if you moved out of your home, you are also damn “Settler”.

    What are you talking about, do you even have any idea. What is “Settler” means for Indian, can you damn define that………….

    If you writing this blog that means you are at least educated.

    Define me the word settler for your common Indian man….

    You have move to different cities to fulfill your aspirations alike like many of the people move around India to find jobs and to better lively hood and you guys are talking about this.
    Really it is shame on you and you’re upbringing.

    What position do you stand to talk about his issue?

    Just because some politician told you some damn reason you are talking about this……..

  4. archana145 permalink
    28th January, 2010 6:34 AM

    Why not for a change, people supporting Telangana……….. Think about this …………….

    You are in democratic country and you have been elected your local representatives and selecting your local leaders thought the voting process and you have been doing this for years.

    They have equal say in assembly or should have say in assembly…. Right ?

    They are not able to do good job and not fight for actual problems in Telangana and if government allocated them they put that money in their personal pockets and banks and did not do the required development work or anything which is usually for common man.

    And now these politicians cannot that blame on themselves and now instigate you that somebody from outside has robbed you guys and you believe in that and now fighting for different state.

    Is this really reasonable, why are you not holding them up or ask your politicians, why are they were so week and not able to fight for your rights.

    Am I missing something there or you are missing something here.

    Take a movement to think about this. Do not fight for something you do not know the root cause of it.

    They have robbed all the time and now they are completely taking advantage of you and they will get back to power again and do the same thing.

    They are making you puppets.

    My basic question is why you are not holding them responsible for not fighting for you, when you have so many politicians from your region. Why did they not do anything in their life time?

    Why tell me, why

  5. archana145 permalink
    28th January, 2010 6:36 AM

    Telangana is not regionalism, it can be called as concept/trend/lifestyle.
    Anybody can be called Telangana, need not be born in that region.
    Just follow the some basic principles.

    Do not change with the changing trends and blame others for your weakness, drawbacks and failures in your life on somebody, so that you feel better at end of day and could sleep.
    Try to eliminate competition to succeed in life.
    To much bitterness you sow in your generations to come, do not teach them how to be positive and grow positive and rather teach how to blame others for your failures.

    Then please do call your self “Telangana”.

    But if you are hard working and think positive and you have changed according the changing world and you learned new skills as time changes and think positive and live loving life. And do not sow seeds of hatefulness in coming generations, then you are not “Telangana”.

    Even if you are from that region, please do not call yourself “Telangana”.

  6. Anantharaj permalink
    26th October, 2010 10:44 AM


    “The problem blew over in the 1950s and 1960s, when Hindi was declared the national language of India”


  7. 4th August, 2013 11:07 PM

    Good way of telling, and pleasant paragraph to take data concerning my presentation subject matter, which i am going to present in college.|

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