Redrawing the Map – Linguistic States (from GUHA)
As early as 1917, the Party had committed itself to the creation of linguistic provinces in a free India. A separate Andhra circle was formed that year, a separate Sindh circle the following year.
The rich inheritance of different languages was understood by Nehru and Gandhi. “It is axiomatic that the masses can only grow educationally and culturally through the medium of their own language.”
In 1947, the views were differing. India had already been divided on the basis of religion – now why language? Existing states would provide examples of harmonious living.
A committee was set up, which concluded that in the prevailing unsettled conditions, the first and last need of India was that it should be made a nation – everything which helped the growth of nationalism had to go forward, and everything which threw obstacles in the way had to be rejected, or should stand over. The test was applied to linguistic provinces also, and it was judged that they could not be supported.
The JVP committee held that language was not only a binding force, but also a separating one, and therefore the need of the hour was that it should be discouraged.
Promptly, however, in 1948 and 1949, demands for linguistic autonomy flared up again in Karnataka and Maharashtra. This was especially true of Punjab, where Tara Singh was the principle offender. The most vigorous of movements, however, came from Andhra and the Telugu speakers. Even during colonial rule, the Andhra Mahasabha had worked hard to cultivate an Andhra identity. They undertook street marches, petitions and fasts to urge the congress to accept. One minister resigned. This was vindicated by the elections, where the congress managed to win only 43 seats. Things came to a head when former freedom fighter Sriramulu began a fast unto death, and died. There was general chaos, trains were halted and defaced, property was damaged, people were killed. Nehru was forced to bow, and Andhra Prdesh came into being on 1 October 1953.
The creation of Andhra led to intensification of demands from other linguistic groups. A States reorganisation committee was founded, which travelled across the length and breadth of India.
The next problem happened in Maharasthra. Bombay tried desperately to keep itself out of Maharashtra, while the Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad called for Bombay to be made the capital of the Maharashtra State.
Meanwhile, the report of the Committee was submitted in October 1955. It called for a balanced approach; Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam in the Sough; Bihar, UP, MP and Rajasthan in the North; demands for a Sikh state and for Maharashtra were rejected.
Samyukta Maharashtra was furious; there was seething unrest, which was stoked by the politicians. The leaders of the Samyukta Maharashtra Parishad were arrested, and this was followed by a general strike. Then clashes between the police and protesters began, followed by violent riots. There was further disaffection within the Maharashtrian section of the Congress Party. Finally, when on 1 Novermber the new states came into being, the bilingual State of Bombay was one of them.
The reorganisation of states on a linguistic basis was a victory of the popular will. Language proved to be a far greater binding force than caste and religion. Once the struggle was won, there was great patronage of the arts and architecture. (E.g, Orissa, Mysore).The struggle redefined what it means to be an Indian and, in retrospect, contributed more to unity than to disintegration. (How would you respond to this? Do you think it holds true? Can you link it to the artices you’ve read?)