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Account for the Growth of Regionalism in one State of South Asia

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Account for the growth of regionalism in one state of South Asia.

The growth of regionalism in Punjab can be accounted for by looking at the relationship between the centre in Delhi and the state of Punjab. More specifically we can attribute this growth to the Punjabis resentment towards the centre in failing to compromise and find resolution to demands such as linguistic reorganisation and resource allocation. Regionalism is defined in this paper as the interests of one group within a region looking for a greater degree of autonomy and power within that region, without a strong central state determining all of their activities. Regionalism does not necessarily refer to secessionism from the state but recognition of a certain group as with the Sikh Punjabis in Punjab. The early demands, in the 1950's, of the Sikh Punjabis was based on the desire for their own distinct linguistic region and was met with opposition by the state. Punjab was viewed as bringing religion and politics too close together. This presented a challenge to Delhi and in turn determined the response to the Punjabi Sikhs demands. This paper will attempt to demonstrate the raw and conflicting relationship between the Indian Government and Punjab and how this resulted in the discontentment of the Sikh Punjabis and in turn provoked the growth of regionalism. We will begin by discussing the motivation behind the Punjabis demands for separate linguistic region and how the centre interpreted this linguistic demand. We will then discuss the further conflict between Punjab and the centre based on concessions they felt were unfulfilled. Finally we will discuss in more detail why the centre perceived Punjab to be such a challenge. The term Punjabi in this paper refers to the Sikh Punjabi speaking population of Punjab, who were a linguistic minority in the state.

In the decade following Independence the new Congress government went through the process of the reorganisation of states under linguistic boundaries. The premise as Ganguly discusses was that 'reorganisation and the creation of additional states followed the basic principle that major ethno linguistic groups ought to have separate states within the Indian union', (2007, p47). The language issue needed to be dealt with in newly independent India in order for national integration and the unity of the state to occur. Yet in Punjab the linguistic reformation of the state was not without struggle and took much longer to implement then other Indian states. The reason behind this was the basis of why the Sikh Punjabis were seen to want their own state. In 1961 there were two leading figures from the political party the Akali Dal, Master Tara Singh and Sant Fateh Singh, who presented demands to the government with the objective of creating a Sikh majority state in Punjab (Punjabi Suba). Although sharing this sentiment the reasons underlying this demand were of disparate reasons.

As Brass discusses the first leader, Master Tara Singh felt that at the time of Independence the Sikh Punjabis had been deprived of determining their own future, his claim was based on religious and cultural grounds, (1988, p171). The second of these leaders was Sant Fateh Singh who maintained that the demand for a new state was drawn on linguistic lines and religion played no part.

"the cementing of territoriality into Sikh identity started

soon after the inauguration of an independent India, when Sikh leadership called for the setting up of the 'Punjabi Suba'

a state within the Indian republic, where the Punjabi- speaking population would be in a majority. This was a legitimate demand, because during the nationalist era, the Indian National Congress had firmly accepted the principle of linguistic states for Free India." (Oberoi ,1987, p38)

In response to these demands the Congress leadership with Nehru in the centre and Pratap Singh in Chandigarh refused Master Tara Singh outright as his politics were viewed as secessionist. This may have affected the response to any demands for a Punjabi Suba regardless of their basis.

Nehru and the congress leadership 'were clear that they would not accept any demand for the creation of a new state in religious or communal grounds', (Chandra, 1999, p102). In fact, the central government had four very strict rules regarding new state formation and these rules demonstrate quite clearly the opposition to any feeling that the Sikh Punjabis may have wanted to separate for a reason other then linguistic. The rules stated the following: the government did not recognise groups which made secessionist demands, they did not accommodate regional demands based upon religious differences, a region needed to have a real basis not just 'objective grounds' and finally the state would not agree if demands were made by only one of the important language groups concerned (Brass, 1994, p151). The last rule is of important note here as Punjab had a majority Hindu speaking population and any accommodation to the Punjabi speakers would have been seen as not only favouring one side but also souring the relationship between Sikhs and Hindus.

In contrast with Tamil Nadu in which Tamils dominated the area and were the majority linguistic group, Punjabi Sikhs were a minority in Punjab (Kohli, 1998, p24) It is argued by Leaf 'that the Sikhs felt that the reasons why the needs of the central tract were not being met stemmed in part from religious intolerance towards the Sikhs, and that a new state would protect Sikhs from such discrimination', (1985, p477). Following Sant Fateh Singh's fasting protests and his attempt to downplay religion being a basis for a new state, it was not until 1966 that 'Sant Fateh Singh's linguistic criterion was finally accepted as the basis for the division', ( Leaf, 1985, p477) Although a Punjabi speaking Suba was finally administered the protracted, often bitter, struggle to attain the Punjabi Suba established an undeniable nexus between the Punjab and Sikh consciousness' (Oberoi, 1987, p39). The road in achieving a Punjabi Suba took great determination and struggle in comparison to other states. This only seemed to provoke a stronger Sikh identity and sense of regionalism. The centres incapability and unwillingness in finding a fast resolution in Punjab can be see as contributing to the growth of regionalism.

Within the new Punjab state created along linguistic lines there remained other divisive issues amongst the centre and the Akali Dal. The Akali Dal were the political party to which both Tara Singh and Fateh Singh had belonged. They held the belief that religion and politics naturally correlated (Sant Fateh Singh eventually started a break away faction due to the religious

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