People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXVIII

No. 23

June 06, 2004

   CPI(M) to Oppose Break-up of Linguistic States

 

Harkishan Singh Surjeet

 

ONE of the contentious issues in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of United Progressive Alliance is that of a separate Telangana, and it is known that the Left cannot agree to any bifurcation of the existing linguistic states. As we know, the way the previous BJP led regime created three new states only fuelled the demands for break-up of existing linguistic states that had materialised after long struggles. And now the UPAís promise to consider the demand of a separate Telangana may boost the demands of a separate Vidarbha and the like.

 

A PRODUCT OF FREEDOM STRUGGLE

ONE may recall that the idea of linguistic states was a product of our freedom struggle. We know that after conquering large parts of the country, the British created an administration on the basis of their own convenience and not on any sound principle. This caused a lot of trouble to the people speaking various languages, most of which were well developed before the British raj. As language binds people together in their day-to-day intercourse, this artificial break-up of the people of a linguistic group hampered their coming together. This only served the British imperialist interests.

 

Leaders of our independence struggle recognised the importance of linguistic principle for drawing the people into a common anti-imperialist struggle. As early as 1922, the Congress organised its branches on the basis of linguistic groups and not in line with the British system of presidencies and provinces. Then, in 1928, the report of the Nehru committee, with Motilal Nehru as chairman and Jawaharlal Nehru as secretary, clearly laid down that, after independence, India would be reorganised on linguistic basis. All major parties of the time endorsed this idea even if they differed on some other recommendations of the report.

 

But after independence, the bourgeois-landlord regime went back on its word and refused to form linguistic states. The reason was that, now in power, the Congress had no care for the aspirations of various nationalities inhabiting India, nor did it care for the unity of diverse nationalities in a federal set-up though the idea of federalism was incorporated in our constitution. The earlier system of provinces was kept by and large intact, with minor changes here and there. The difference was that, under the pressure of struggles launched by the All India States Peopleís Conference, princely states were merged in neighbouring provinces and then these provinces were divided into Group A, B and C states. Even then, the PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union), Hyderabad, Travancore, Cochin and some other princely states were maintained as separate entities.

 

PROBLEMS OF MERGER

 

THE merger of princely states in India, in itself, did not pose much of a problem. The autocratic rulers of these 560-odd states, some of whom did not stretch beyond a few miles, saw which way the wind was blowing and felt the pressure of their peopleís struggles. Hence they merged into the Indian Union without resistance, on the condition that their privy purses (perks and privileges etc) would be maintained. These privy purses were later abolished in 1969, under the pressure of a different political situation.

 

At this stage, three states --- Hyderabad, Junagarh and Kashmir --- refused to merge with India. These wanted to take advantage of a mischievous provision in Mountbatten award that after the British left India, the princely states could merge with either Indian Union or Pakistan, or remain independent. This was a clever British imperialist move to have a foothold in the subcontinent even after they left.

 

Of these, the merger of Hyderabad and Kashmir proved difficult. The Communist Party was then waging an armed struggle against the Nizam of Hyderabad, and one of our demands was that the state should merge with India. Finally, on the plea of forcing the Nizam to merge, the Nehru regime sent its forces to the state, but one of its aims was to break the growing strength of the Communist Party and Andhra Mahasabha. The Nizam yielded.   

 

Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir also wanted to have his separate rule though the people wanted to merge with India. But then the events took a serious turn. Soon after partition, rulers of the newly created Pakistan sent into Kashmir valley armed raiders who soon reached the vicinity of Srinagar. Pakistanís flimsy plea was that the state had a Muslim majority population and therefore should come to Pakistan. But, led by the National Conference, the stateís people rose against the raiders and fought them for months together. Pressed between the Pak-backed raiders on the one hand and the peopleís movement on the other, the Maharaja sent an SOS to the Nehru government which then sent its forces to Kashmir. The raiders were repulsed though Pakistan had by now occupied (and still holds) a good part of the state. The Maharaja perforce signed a treaty of accession to India, and the peopleís dream of becoming a part of secular India became a reality.

 

A telling part of this history is that, at that time, the RSS was active in Kashmir under the guise of Praja Parishad, and this so-called nationalist outfit was unashamedly supporting the Maharajaís game to remain independent. Nay, the Praja Parishad men were not fighting the raiders but murdering those who were striving for Kashmirís merger with India.

   

A NEW WAVE OF STRUGGLES

 

BUT Indiaís rulers still refused to reorganise the country on linguistic lines. This gave rise to a new wave of struggles in various parts of the country for linguistic reorganisation of states. The struggles for Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra were the main struggles of this period. The genuine character of these demands can be gauged from an example. In British days, the Malayalam speaking people were divided between Travancore, Cochin and Madras presidency. This naturally hampered their development as a distinct nationality. Hence the slogan of Aikya Kerala. Similarly, the Marathi and Gujarati people were forced to remain in one entity, the Bombay presidency, a creation of British rulers.   

 

These were powerful struggles, and the Communist Party led several of them. A K Gopalan, EMS and their comrades played a leading role in the formation of Kerala, P Sundarayya and others had a no less leading role in the formation of Andhra Pradesh, while Dange and others were in the forefront of Samyukta Maharashtra struggle. To recall, while the glorious Telangana struggle had started before 1947, one of its important demands was that the Telugu people, scattered in the princely Hyderabad as well as Madras and Bombay presidencies, must be brought together into a distinct unit. Though the changed situation after independence necessitated the withdrawal of Telangana struggle in October 1951, this struggle not only forced the recalcitrant Nizam to merge with India but also brought the issue of Indiaís linguistic reorganisation on the countryís agenda with such force that the demand could no longer be ignored. The rulers were now forced to constitute a States Reorganisation Commission whose recommendations led to the formation of linguistic states. The task was by and large completed in 1956.

 

The struggles the Communist Party waged for the formation of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra brought immense prestige to the party, and it won many seats in these areas in first Lok Sabha polls in 1952. Similarly, the party made significant gains when the newly reorganised states went to assembly polls in 1957. That year a communist government, led by late Comrade EMS, came to power in Kerala.  

 

THE GAME OF THE PARIVAR

 

THUS the present linguistic states were won at the cost of heavy sacrifices; for instance, during the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation, a police firing claimed more than three dozen lives on a single day. But the RSS (which never took part in the freedom struggle) and its political platform (Jan Sangh, which was the BJPís precursor) never recognised this identity of the people, as it went against their unitarian concept of nationhood. And the reason was that they never recognised the unity in diversity for which India has always been known. As we all know, ours is a country with numerous languages, religions, ethnic groups, cultures, festivals, dressing and food habits, etc, and that was why the framers of our constitution incorporated federalism and secularism as the pillars of our body politic.

 

But all this is anathema to the Sangh Parivar that seeks to impose a contrived unity on this diversity, without realising what dangers the consequent killing of the aspirations of any section of our people may pose to our unity. Little do they realise that real unity can grow only out of diversity, when all sections of people get an equal opportunity to develop and feel that they all are parts of a single great whole. The Parivarís Hindutva can prove fatal to our national unity. It is yet to learn a lesson from the experience of Pakistan where the suppressed aspirations of East Pakistanís people led to the birth of Bangladesh. 

 

It was thus not surprising that after coming to power, the BJP sought to dismantle the linguistic states and, for this purpose, its government appointed a constitution review commission. It is another thing that the BJP game faced tough resistance. To make the goings easier for it, the party cloaked its game under the idea of administrative convenience that really means convenience for a totalitarian centre to control the whole country. But the fact is that such administrative convenience can only be at the cost of aspirations of various linguistic groups that constitute India. The BJPís hope is that in case smaller states are there, it would be easier for it to win polls by misleading people on caste and communal lines. Though the Parivarís game has failed for the time being, one cannot be certain as to when it will raise the same divisive slogan again. The RSS and its outfits have already talked of the division of Jammu & Kashmir into three and four parts on communal lines. 

 

THE ISSUE OF BACKWARDNESS

 

THIS brings us to the issue of backwardness, as divisive forces of all hues seek to mobilise sections of people on the plea of their backwardness. Today, there are certain states in the country, and certain areas within a single state, that are more backward than others. Even in an otherwise advanced state or area, certain sections (like the scheduled castes or tribes) are more backward than others.

 

This unevenness is a product of the bankrupt path of capitalist development, and it is clear that our bourgeois-landlord system is unable to solve it satisfactorily. Nor are the bourgeois-landlord parties interested in seeking a durable solution to this bane of our collective life. On the contrary, they seek to exploit the discontent the continuing backwardness of sections of the people is generating. The post-independence history of our country is replete with instances of divisive politics.

 

The demand to break the linguistic states is one example of such divisive politics. But while a thorough remedy of backwardness is urgently needed to protect our peopleís fighting unity and cement out national unity, it is certain that a break-up of linguistic states is not going to provide any such solution. On the contrary, we see in case of Uttaranchal and Jharkhand that though these were formed by breaking the existing states, no semblance of development is visible there. If anything, divisive forces are active in these states to deprive the genuine residents of their rights in the name of domicile, etc. In Jharkhand, the BJP state government is out to kill the Chhota Nagpur and Santhal Pargana tenancy acts and, if it succeeds, this will only add to the tribal peopleís backwardness, on which plea the state was created, and ignite their discontent to unmanageable levels. It is clear that break-up of linguistic states can only add to the problems instead of solving them.

 

But, sadly, some parties seem eager to lend their weight behind the slogan of a separate Telangana or separate Vidarbha, little realising the dangers of this slogan. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti that stands for a separate Telangana. Though the Congress has been opposed to bifurcation of Maharashtra, at one time it showed signs of vacillation on this issue.

 

THE CPI(M)íS STAND

 

WE of the CPI(M) are aware of the dire need to address the issue of backwardness of Telangana and other areas. But we are also aware of the dangers the divisive slogans pose. That is why we say that giving up the principled stand in defence of linguistic states can only kill the interests of future for the sake of some temporary gain. The linguistic states are a product of long struggles and a must for preserving Indiaís unity, and the need to preserve them cannot be overlooked. It is also certain that in case states are bifurcated, they will lose their weight in a federal set-up.

 

With this consideration, we of the CPI(M) stand not only for the statesí autonomy but also for genuine devolution of autonomy to lower levels. Hence we have been advocating the formation of autonomous councils for backward areas in the states where the problem is acute. Not only that, we have put this idea in practice in Tripura and West Bengal. Long back, in late 1970s, the Left Front government of Tripura created an autonomous council for backward tribal areas, and this council has done a lot of commendable work in solving the tribal peopleís problems and thus cementing their unity with the non-tribals. If Tripura is facing the problem of secessionism, it is not because of any discontent among tribals but because certain imperialist-aided forces are trying to break the tribal-non-tribal unity in order to destabilise the state and the region as part of the imperialist game of balkanising India. In West Bengal, which for years witnessed a violent struggle in northern parts, the creation of an autonomous council has gone a long way in tackling the problem of development.

 

This is the approach the CPI(M) advocates for the problem of backwardness in states, and we are of the firm opinion that this approach will not only satisfactorily address the problem but also safeguard the unity of people and nation. We are therefore resolved to present our viewpoint with full force and mobilise the people along this line.