July 26, 2020

On the Formation of Linguistic States

Communists had played a pioneering role in the struggle for the formation of linguistic states. Apart from struggle for the formation of Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala, many communist and left leaders played an important role in the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement (commonly known as the Samiti) that led the struggle for the formation of Maharashtra. On the other hand, RSS and its head, Golwalkar opposed the formation of linguistic states. In 1956, the SRC (States Reorganisation Commission) recommended creation of linguistic states, but recommended a bi-lingual state for Maharashtra-Gujarat. The Indian government declared Bombay as a centrally administered territory. Huge protests shook the entire region and solidarity movement was built by communists in other parts of the country too. In Maharashtra, 106 people were shot dead by security forces during the period of struggle. Ultimately, the central government was forced to concede the demand and on May 1, 1960, the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra with Bombay as the capital and the Gujarati-speaking state of Gujarat were formed.

Communist Party’s understanding on this issue was detailed in the memorandum submitted to the States Reorganisation Commission in June 1954. Below are excerpts:

“WE are glad that the government of India has at long last appointed a Commission to enquire into and report on the reorganisation of states. This, in our opinion, is recognition by the government of India of the fact that it is no longer advisable to ignore the growing agitation in the country for the formation of linguistic states.

“However, the prime minister’s statement in parliament announcing the appointment of the Commission wherein he had stated that it will look not merely to linguistic and cultural homogeneity, but also to financial viability, administrative convenience, and national unity and security, has justifiably raised among the public, suspicions that the Commission is intended to find an excuse to deny the demand for the formation of linguistic states, at least in certain cases.

“It is a well-known fact that the present distribution of states in India has no rational basis. As has been stated by the prime minister himself, the present system is ‘largely the result of historical processes and the spread and consolidation of British power in India’. It had nothing to do with the building up of a democratic life and administration. It had only helped to foster conflicts between sections of our people by the British and thereby help in the disruption of the democratic movement.

“It was against this deliberate attempt to foster conflicts and disrupt our democratic movement that the national movement in our country raised the demand for the formation of linguistic provinces. That demand was raised not for purposes of disrupting the unity of India but with a view to draw the masses of our people into participation in all aspects of the political, economic and cultural life of the country, and thereby strengthen the unity and security of India.

“The struggle of our people for linguistic states is thus a part of our struggle for freedom and democracy. The Communist Party holds that the formation of linguistic states is a prerequisite to ensure that the masses of the people take their full part in the democratic reconstruction of the country's economy and life, without which the country cannot take the wide road to progress and prosperity. Moreover, this is essential for the fullest flowering of the democratic culture of all the peoples speaking different languages and the development of their languages and literature. This is also necessary for laying the firm and secure foundation for building the unity of India on the basis of democracy, for an equality of all the various peoples who would voluntarily co-operate in the common endeavour of building a prosperous, progressive and democratic India.

“With the removal of British rule from August, 1947, it is natural that the people of India should feel the insistent urge that they must have the right and opportunity for full participation in all aspects of the political, economic and cultural life of the country. The growing demand for the formation of linguistic states is, but a part of the democratic upsurge in the country….

“The Central Committee desires to impress on you that no linguistic state can even be formed in the South on a rational basis without the disintegration of the present Hyderabad State.

“The Central Committee urges upon the Commission to recommend that the present distinction between A, B, and C states should be abolished altogether while reorganising the states. There cannot be any distinction in the degree of democratic rights enjoyed by the people of India. The committee further urges upon you to recommend that the institution of Rajpramukh should be forthwith abolished as also their special privileges. Together with it, their privy purses must be stopped and the so called personal property of the former princes, earned out of misappropriation of state revenues, should be taken over by the State.

“The Communist Party considers it necessary to rebut the arguments that are generally raised with a view to negate this demand for linguistic states….This reconstitution of states that we have suggested is on a more rational basis, wherein the administration can be carried on in the language spoken by the overwhelming majority of the people of the state.

“Another argument that is sought to be raised against the formation of linguistic states is the allegation that such a distribution will jeopardise the unity and security of India. This argument is patently absurd and false. The linguistic states are not separate states with their own army and the defence services. Defence will continue to be a central subject….Experience has shown that the continuation of the present set up has only led to conflicts between our peoples which certainly are not conducive to the development of unity of India. It is a remarkable thing that throughout our national struggle neither the Congress leaders nor representatives of other political parties in the All Parties’ Committee, had ever raised until 1947, this bogey of unity and security when discussing this question of linguistic states.

“Another argument that is advanced is that of financial viability….Financial viability of the states is a question of the allocation of the revenues between the centre and the states. Today no state in India, with the present allocation of financial resources, has a surplus or is even a self-sufficient one. The budgets of all them have become deficit.

“Moreover, one cannot shut one's eyes to the fact that there has been an uneven economic development between different areas of India. Surely, this uneven economic development which results in certain areas being backward cannot become a ground for refusing the people of these areas their linguistic state through which they would be able to participate in the administration of the country. Such an argument would only mean that it is only the people of economically prosperous areas that have the right to participate in the political, economic and administrative life of the country.

“In this connection, the Communist Party of India wants to stress the fact that it is the duty of the centre to help the more backward states so that they are enabled to rapidly do away with their backwardness and to help in the even development of the whole country. That alone will cement the fraternal feelings of the people speaking different languages and cement the unity of India. But to make this very backwardness a pretext for denying to the people of these areas opportunity to democratic development will only lead to the strengthening of disruptive forces.

“Consistent with the formation of linguistic states, we urge upon you to recommend the following procedure be adopted when demarcating the boundaries of the new linguistic states:

“Village is to be taken as the unit. Demarcation line to be drawn on the basis of majority of villagers speaking a particular language in that village and on the basis of contiguity of that village to that particular linguistic state.

“It should be understood that, however carefully the demarcation line is drawn, both in these boundary areas as well as in the interior of every one of these states, there will be linguistic minorities. These must be guaranteed that their education will be in their mother-tongue, both in elementary and secondary stages. The question of whether college education is also to be given in their mother-tongue and if so, to what extent and under what practical conditions, is to be left to the states concerned. It is only then that these boundary areas, instead of being seats of discord and disunity, will become seats of mutual bonds between linguistic states.

“When demarcating boundaries of these states, there may be tribal areas within the boundaries. The tribal areas, wherein a particular distinctive tribe lives, should be attached to one linguistic state or the other, as per their cultural and linguistic affinity with that of the neighbouring state, as well as on the basis as to which state their economic development is more closely linked and likely to be more naturally developed….These tribal areas included in one linguistic state or the other must be so administratively divided into tehsils, districts or regional units as the case may be, so that their local or regional autonomy can be exercised.

“The Central Committee of the Communist Party of India, therefore, urges upon the commission not to give any cause for anxiety to the people, but to submit an interim report before September 1954 at the latest, recommending the formation of states, primarily based upon languages”.