People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 03

January 17, 2010

The Question of Linguistic States and Its Historical Setting

 

K Veeraiah

 

THE state of Andhra Pradesh recently plunged into a severe political crisis following the centre’s mishandling of the developments. The statements made by the union home minister fuelled a prolonged agitation in the state, with those demanding a separate Telangana on the one hand and those standing for continuation of the existing state of Andhra Pradesh on the other. With occasional statements coming about the viability and validity of a new commission for reorganisation of states, these developments have led many to question the linguistic basis of states itself. In this background, in order to have a proper perspective on the ongoing developments, it will not be out of place to go through the processes and circumstances in which the concept of linguistic states emerged and the role the then Congress government played in this regard.

 

FREEDOM STRUGGLE

& LANGUAGE ISSUE

The language question in India goes back at least to the last decade of the 19th century when people agitated against the Act of 1894 and the viceroy’s notification curtailing the freedom of expression in vernacular languages. Inspired by the role language played in the emergence of nationalism in European countries, stalwarts of the freedom movement grasped the efficacy of Indian languages for mass communication in the very early phase of the struggle. In Europe, by carving out monolingual nation states, nationalism helped in the speedy expansion of the capitalist system of economy and the nation states’ integration into it. Capitalism used language as a tool to unite vast swathes of land into one administrative territory. At the same time, in the mid-19th century, these linguistic linkages caused the mass mobilisation to develop into revolutionary movements by enabling the people to share their grievances and make common cause.

In India, Lokmanya Tilak was perhaps the first national leader to appreciate the diversity of languages and urge the Congress to commence working in vernacular languages; he also advocated reorganisation of the provinces on a linguistic basis. As early as in 1891, he wrote in Kesari, “The present administrative division of India is the result of a certain historical process and in some cases purely result of accident… if they are replaced by units formed on a linguistic basis, each of them will have some measure of homogeneity and will provide encouragement to the people and languages of the respective regions.”

The unity of nationalities in the freedom movement laid a strong foundation not only for the success of the movement but also for consolidation of the multi-national mosaic of India into an Indian nation. In this process the language of each region played an important role by defining nationality in the Indian context. As defined by Stalin, “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” In colonial India, all these elements of nationhood gradually developed in each linguistic region and got consolidated during the freedom movement, thus laying the foundation for the demand of reorganization on India into linguistic states. That is why the CPI(M), in its note submitted to National Integration Council at its Srinagar meeting, reminded the government, “our country comprises of several developed and developing nationalities with their distinct and separate languages and corresponding cultural frames of mind.”

The first generation of freedom fighters realised the importance of linguistic states at the time of the partition of Bengal in 1905. As said above, European capitalism had had good experience of the democratic effects of language based administrative units. As they did not have in India anything like the militant proletarian struggles and national liberation struggles of Europe in the mid-19th century, the British colonial rule skilfully crafted multilingual administrative territories in India. In pursuit of this policy, H S Risley, the then home secretary, submitted a note to the Crown in December 1903, suggesting the division of Bengal, and then Lord Curzon did divide Bengal, a linguistically homogenous unit, into two religiously heterogeneous units, in order to stem the freedom movement. But this colonial administrative action helped the Bengali speaking people to learn to think in terms of linguistic unity. The movement for reunification of Bengal also gave an impetus to a movement to reorganise the provinces on the basis of language in the eastern region of India. Reflecting this popular sentiment, at its Calcutta session in 1905, Indian National Congress opposed Curzon’s decision. Its resolution stated, “This congress recommends the adoption of some arrangement which would be consistent with administrative efficiency and would place the entire Bengali speaking community under an undivided administration.”

 

THE DEMAND

INTENSIFIES

Finally, colonial administration was forced to undo the bifurcation of Bengal on religious basis, but at the same time it carved out Assam and Bihar as separate provinces in 1911 on a linguistic basis. However, the acceptance of federalism by the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress in 1916 inspired the demands for several such states. On April 8, 1917, on the basis of its Lucknow session’s recommendation, the AICC demanded a Telugu-speaking state carved out of the Madras Presidency. The Home Rule movement also emphasised the need for creation of linguistic provinces. In fact, this movement served as an important milestone in the reorganisation of linguistically homogenous areas. In her presidential address in the Calcutta Congress session in 1917, Annie Besant said, “Sooner or later, preferably sooner, provinces will have to be re-delimited on a linguistic basis.” Subsequently, in its 1920 Nagpur session, the Congress accepted in principle the creation of linguistic states. With this spirit, first the Congress took initiatives to organise their provincial committees on linguistic basis, as did the Communist Party later.

The emerging idea of federalism forced the colonial administration in India to appoint a commission on linguistic reorganisation of provinces, headed by Sir John Simon, in 1927. Though diverse claims were put forward before the commission for redistribution of the provincial territories on linguistic basis, the commission followed the legacy of colonialism and observed, “…in no case the linguistic or racial principle can be accepted as the sole test.” But it was in response to this observation that the Nehru Committee submitted its own report in 1928. Consisting of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Sir Ali Imam, Subhash Chandra Bose etc and presided over by Motilal Nehru, this committee represented various trends in the freedom movement, and its report for the first time formally incorporated the demand for linguistic reorganisation of the provinces. The report provided an elaborate justification of the demand, “Partly geographical and partly economic and financial, but the main considerations must necessarily be the wishes of the people and the linguistic unity of the area concerned… Hence, it becomes most desirable for provinces to be regrouped on a linguistic basis.” Meanwhile, at the ground level, aspirations for such states within the territory of India caught the people’s imagination. As B Shiva Rao, a member of the Constituent Assembly, later observed, “This principle was subsequently officially adopted by the Congress and included in its election manifesto. On November 27, 1947, in the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) Prime Minister Nehru on behalf of the government of India accepted the principle underlying the demand for linguistic provinces.”

 

POPULAR

MOVEMENTS

In the interregnum, movements for Ayikya Kerala, Samyukta Maharashtra and Vishalandhra picked up momentum. The Communist Part of India took the lead in forging these movements and popularising the concept of linguistic states in India and its efficacy in democratisation of independent India. A separate linguistic state of Andhra turned out to be a hot issue. In the Constituent Assembly itself, the government of India made a statement that Andhra could be mentioned as a separate unit in the new constitution, thus prompting the drafting committee to constitute a separate committee to inquire into the demands of linguistic states.

It was thus that the Dhar commission came into existence with a mandate to examine and report on the formation of new provinces of Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra. The commission submitted its report on December 10, 1948, stating, “The formation of provinces on exclusively or even mainly linguistic considerations is not in the larger interests of the Indian nation and should not be taken in hand.” The commission went on to say, “bilingual districts in border areas, which have developed an economic and organic life of their own, should not be broken up and should be disposed of on considerations of their own special needs.” The commission asked the government of India to reorganise the states on the basis of geographical continuity, financial self-sufficiency, administrative convenience and capacity for future development. At the same time, the Nehru-Vallabhbhai-Pattabhi committee, appointed by the Congress, shifted the emphasis from language as the basis to security, unity and economic prosperity, thus backtracking on the party’s own election manifesto. This was perhaps influenced by the situation prevailing immediately after the partition. The three-member committee felt that, in Patel’s words, supporting “such federal demands will come in the way of growth of India as a nation.”

This was the time when the Communist Party of India and Andhra Mahasabha were mobilising the masses in the princely state of Hyderabad against the Nizam’s rule. Formation of a separate state of Vishalandhra, consisting of all Telugu speaking people scattered across three regions, was one of the slogans of Andhra Mahasabha. As the movement progressed, this slogan caught the people’s imagination, with figures like Ramananda Teertha, Boorgula Ramakrishna Rao (the first elected chief minister of Hyderabad state) supporting the demand of Vishalandhra. Following the police action, the Nizam’s domain was trifurcated and Telangana was clubbed with the already existing Andhra Rashtram. Rao, as the chief minister, piloted a resolution for merger of Telangana with Andhra Rashtram to become Andhra Pradesh. Thus, history does not support the notion that Telangana was always a separate entity and was unified with Andhra Rashtram against the will of the people. A majority of the landlords and razakars opposed the formation of Vishalandhra and supported the Hyderabad commissionery as it could protect their proprietary interests. The Telangana struggle of 1946-51 brought the key issues of land reforms and linguistic states back on the agenda and the central government had to finally take note of these issues.

 

STRUGGLE

CONTINUES

The whole development proved very costly for the Congress. In the first general elections held in 1952, the Telugu people elected with thumping majorities those who had fought for Vishalandhra. In the Madras legislative assembly, the Congress could get a mere 43 out of the 140 seats falling in the Andhra region, while the Communist Party bagged as many as 40 seats out of the 60 it contested. In these polls, communists had allied with Tanguturi Prakasam and formed the United Democratic Front which bagged 163 seats while the Congress could garner 152 seats only.. Thus Prakasam was the majority leader and should have been invited to form a government. In its stead, however, the Congress dominated centre refused to recognise the UDF’s claim, even though it was a pre-poll alliance, and invited the Congress to form a government on the plea that it was the single largest party in the assembly. The Congress foisted upon the province Rajagopalachari as the chief minister, and thus was scuttled the chances for the formation of a non-Congress government in undivided Madras, which would have been the first non-Congress government in independent India.

Backed by the tremendous support from Telugu people for Vishalandhra, on July 16, 1952, P Sundarayya moved a private member’s bill in parliament seeking the formation of a linguistic Andhra state. In this speech, Sundarayya said, “Rather than with this kind of multilingual states, the country will be more united once the linguistic reorganisation of states is done... If these demands are not met, the situation will be more volatile… Even if for the time being the central government accepted the demand of Andhra State, that is not the end of the matter. As my friend Kotamraju Rama Rao said, we won’t relent until and unless Vishalandhra is formed with Hyderabad as its capital.” Sundarayya also tried to assuage Nehru’s fears about security and integrity of the newly independent India by saying, “The linguistic states, instead of being a threat to the integrity of the country, can support and consolidate national security and integrity in a much more effective way.” But Nehru and the Congress were not convinced and Nehru refused to concede the demand.

On the other hand, dissatisfied with Congress inaction on the demand, Potti Sri Ramulu, a prominent Congress leader from Andhra region, died after 58 days of fast. Sri Ramulu’s death engulfed the entire Andhra in a chaos. The spontaneous protests were so widespread and intense that the central government was forced to give in to the demand and for this purpose brought a bill in parliament on September 2, 1953. The government at that time took enough caution not to use the word “linguistic state.” Speaking in Rajya Sabha on this occasion, Sundarayya criticised the Nehru government severely. He said, “even after 30 years of experience, the government is trying to negate the principle of linguistic states by merely refuting it. People will succeed in getting the linguistic states formed…. The government announced that they will be appointing another commission on this issue. Now the issue is whether the government will announce the formation of Andhra state on the 1st of October or not. Noting short will solve the problem.”

Finally, Nehru had to come to terms with the popular sentiments and announce on the floor of Lok Sabha the formation of Andhra Rashtram with undisputed 14 districts. Thus on October 1, 1953, the new state of Andhra Rashtram came into being through bifurcation of Madras province. This strengthened the struggle for Vishalandhra and also for United Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra under the leadership of the Communist Party which had been waging the struggle outside as well as inside the parliament. During this struggle, Sundarayya gave a clarion call for Vishalandhralo Prajarajyam. With the same title, he published a book substantiating the party’s argument for Vishalandhra in particular and for linguistic states in general.

In accordance with its viewpoint, the fourth congress of the Communist Party (Palghat, April 19-29, 1956) adopted a resolution demanding the linguistic reorganisation of states. It said, “the struggle for linguistic states is an integral part for better life and democracy.” The resolution warned, “under no circumstances, therefore, can the masses be allowed to be divided by such disruptive activities. Such disruptive activities not only weaken the cause of linguistic reorganisation of states, but disrupt the unity of our people so essential for democratic and economic advance.” Yielding to such pressures and mass mobilisation, the Nehru government set up a States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), also known as Fazal Ali commission. The commission went into the details of demands for clubbing Telangana and Andhra into a single unit. In paragraphs 369-389 of its report, the commission dealt with the problems and advantages of the two scenarios --- with Andhra and Telangana as independent states and as a united state.

 

COMMISSION’S

OBSERVATIONS

The advantages of Vishalandhra, in the words of the SRC, are as follows: “The advantages of a larger Andhra state including Telangana are that it will bring into existence a state of about 32 millions with a considerable hinterland, with large water and power resources, adequate mineral wealth and valuable raw materials. This will also solve the difficulty and vexing problem of finding a permanent capital for Andhra; the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secundarabad are very well suited to be the capital of Vishalandhra” (para 371). The commission said, “The creation of Vishalandhra is an ideal to which numerous individuals and public bodies, both in Andhra and Telangana, have been passionately attached over a long period of time and unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, this sentiment is entitled to consideration.” Further, “The advantages of the formation of Vishalandhra are obvious. The desirability of bringing the Krishna and Godavari river basins under unified control, the trade affiliations between Telangana and Andhra and the suitability of Hyderabad as the capital for the entire region are in the brief the arguments” (para 381).

At the same time, the commission’s recommendations in favour of Vishalandhra are not without a word of caution. In a chapter titled “The Case for Telangana,” the report dealt in detail with the apprehensions and probable hurdles. It said, “Whatever the explanation may be, some Telangana leaders seem to fear that the result of unification will be to exchange some settled sources of revenue, out of which development schemes may be financed, for financial uncertainty similar to that which Andhra is now faced” (para 376). “Telangana does not wish to lose its present independent rights in relation to the utilisation of the waters of Krishna and Godavari” (para 377). “One of the principle causes of opposition to Vishalandhra also seems to be the apprehension felt by the educationally backward people of Telangana” (para 378). At the same time, it thus warned the central government, “anything short of supervision by the central government over the measures intended to meet the special needs of Telangana will be found ineffective, and we are not disposed to suggest any such arrangement in regard to Telangana.”

The commission also suggested a way out in favour of Vishalandhra: “We have come to the conclusion that it will be in the interest of Andhra and Telangana if, for the present, the Telangana area is to constitute into a separate state, which may be known as the Hyderabad state with a provision for its unification with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in or about 1961, if by a two third majority the legislature of the residency of Hyderabad state expresses itself in favour of such unification.” It also explained the advantages of this arrangement, “while the objective of the unification of the Andhras will neither be blurred nor impeded during a period of five or six years, the two governments may have stabilised their administrative machinery and, if possible, also reviewed their land revenue systems, etc, the object in view being the attainment of uniformity. The intervening period may incidentally provide an opportunity for allaying apprehensions and achieving the consensus of opinion necessary for a real union between the two states.” Thus the commission did not stand in favour of a separate Andhra or separate Telangana. It favoured Vishalandhra with necessary cautions and care.

 

GOVT

YIELDS

But the Nehru government preferred Telangana as a separate state. In protest, communist members of Hyderabad assembly threatened to resign. Not the communist Party legislators alone, even a majority of the Hyderabad assembly supported the cause of Vishalandhra. This is the background in which the first Telugu chief minister, Boorgula Ramakrishna Rao, was forced to pass a resolution for the merger of the state of Hyderabad with Andhra Rashtram to form a new Andhra Pradesh. The latter thus came into existence on November 1, 1956. Though he was a critic of the idea of linguistic states, union law minister Dr B R Ambedkar strongly supported it at the fag end of his life. In his book “Thoughts on Linguistic States,” he wrote in December 1955, “The idea of having a mixed state must be abandoned. Every state must be a unilingual state.”

The formation of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka on the basis of language propelled a powerful movement for Samyukta Maharashtra, part of a second series of movements for linguistic states. Refusing to see the reason behind such an upsurge, however, the government tried to suppress this movement by killing 90 agitators on a single day in Mumbai, as Indian bourgeoisie supported Nehru’s idea of keeping Bombay as a separate state.  Soon after this issue was settled, the Punjab problem cropped up, finally resulting in the formation of Haryana and Punjab as separate states. As the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sundarayya submitted a note to the Srinagar meeting of the National Integration Council in 1968. It strongly demanded that the government complete the process of linguistic reorganisation of India, and also warned against denouncing the democratic demand of nationalities for linguistic states as a force of national disruption and disunity and against clubbing it with casteism and communalism. The linguistic reorganisation of India came to a conclusion only after the separation of north eastern states on the basis of language and ethnicity.