Recently Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s social media posts where he advocated the need for ‘cultural and financial’ autonomy for the region (South Indian states) has been capturing the headlines. DMK’s working president MK Stalin’s comment for supporting the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu reopened the old debate on an independent nation comprising the four (now five) South Indian states.
First time since the DMK formally relinquished the demand for a sovereign southern nation in 1963, the movement seems to be gaining pace once again. This time the discontent is not a result of some sort of Aryan hegemony or threat to the linguistic identity of the South from Hindi, as it was during the time of ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramaswami and Annadurai, but an outcome of various economic and political measures. Essentially a belief that South Indian states pay more taxes and receive less grants.
While redistribution of taxes or wealth is an inherent idea of governance in a democracy, and thus the concern can be rejected as undemocratic, let us analyse this claim and see how valid it is. Since the integrity of India is at stake here, the issue needs scrupulous scrutiny.
The central government’s order to the 15th Finance Commission to use the 2011 census data for allocating the taxes among the states instead of conventional 1971’s has worked to spark the fire. Since both the regions (North & South) shared nearly equal population in the 70s, the tax allocation was at par till now. But the gap in population between the north and the south has become much wider since then.
It is argued that due to better measures of birth control taken by the southern states, the population growth of the south region since 1971 has been far better (lower) than the three major northern states, (UP, Bihar and MP) where population has grown really fast. The outrage of the South in this context seems justified as they are apparently being penalized for something they should be rewarded.
Further, the Lok Sabha seat allocation, that was frozen by the Vajpayee’s government on 1971 census basis for another 25 years in 2001, will need reconsideration in 2026 which will result in South losing a bit of electoral clout in future. The insecurity of the politicians in the south is evident as they fear to lose the place in the central politics that is already dominated by the North. This is a predicament for the south politics and has certainly fanned the flames.
The northern region, house to an enormous amount of resources, has hardly seen stability in the course of history. Frequent invasions and unstable governance led to the destruction of much of its economic and more importantly, cultural identity. On contrary, the southern part, with relatively more stable history and ideal geographic location, has seen more development compared to the North. This leads the south to believe that they are subsidizing the north which goes against their interest.
The feeling of discontent partially owes to the regional politics that is prevalent in this part of the country. Evidently, the fear of the so-called North hegemony is much more among the politicians than the local people. The separatist movement in the 50s and 60s broke down for not being able to draw much support from outside Tamil region as the others considered it Tamil hegemonic.
This time the quest, as it seems, is to first be united in the political front. This apparently seems less feasible as the differences between the southern states over various issues like Cauvery water dispute, are never-ending and the rapport, that needs to make a significant impact of the demand, on the surface, seems hard to attain.
The secessionist demand for a south nation needs to consider wider perspective. As the history suggests the idea of separation has never been a judicious one and seemingly that’s what common people tend to believe. The Indo-Pak secession saw the appalling slaughter of innocents for no good which only added insult to the injury. Had the separatist movement in the south been successful in creating a sovereign southern nation (‘Dravidistan’ as suggested by Mohd. Ali Jinnah) at that time, the Balkanization of India would have been ineluctable. Though India has not been under any stability crisis since its independence, the Indian federation is yet to ‘come together’ rather than to ‘hold together’.
The very idea behind the formation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was to form a separate Dravida region. While the idea was prevalent in Tamil speaking region in the 50s, still the political success of the DMK was by and large nugatory. But as the party’s focus shifted from the concept of Dravida Nadu to other issues like Anti-Hindi agitations, the politics in the state saw a sharp turn. Political scientist Sten Widmalm writes, “It seems that the more the party distanced itself from the demand for Dravida Nadu, the more it was supported.” It was quite evident that south people identified themselves more as Indian than as Dravidians despite having strong cultural and linguistic identities.
Further, we need to look at other aspects than the economic measures. The Central and the South-East Asian countries are looking up to India, for whether it can balance the ascendancy created by China in the region. A secession within India will make the quest for the regional dominance much weaker. North India contributes much more to the Armed forces than the south which will raise concerns for the south. We share a bitter history with our ‘not so friendly’ neighbors and the moment of the division of India might be seen as a potential time to destabilize it even further. The resulting asymmetrical power distribution in the Indo-pacific region will make a potential threat to the entire planet.
The demand for Dravida Nadu, therefore, seems neither a discreet nor a prudent idea. Today India stands at the top as the world’s fastest-growing major economy, owing to unity among its various parts. The collective interest of the Indians thus lies in the Integrity and solidarity of India. The whole Indian subcontinent shares the same great history and that’s where our national identity lies. The politicians of the south, therefore, need to think out of the box and are required to believe in altruistic egoism. ‘Akhand Bharat’ as dreamt by our ancestors, apparently seems to be the only mean by which we can achieve a strong and affluent status in the world.