This article deals with Regionalism’ . This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.

What is Regionalism ?

The phenomenon in which people’s political loyalties become more focussed on particular region in preference to the nation or other parts of the state of which that region is sub-part is called regionalism .

In Indian context, regionalism is rooted in India’s diversity vis a vis caste , religion , language , ethnicity etc. When all these factors get geographically concentrated along with the feeling of relative deprivation, it results into Regionalism.

Is Regionalism a threat to National Integration?

The politics of regionalism has two connotations

  • Positive Connotation  : This type of Regionalism is not threat to National Integration. It is manifested in form of
    1. Desire for preserving identity based on language, culture and ethnicity .
    2. To protect socio-economic interest .
    3. For administrative convenience .
  • Negative Connotation : Any demand of regionalism which acts as a threat to nation building efforts is referred as negative form of regionalism . Like Son of Soil policy & demand of secession.

Second form can be seen as threat while first form is not threat per se.

Characteristics of Regionalism

  • Regionalism is conditioned by economic, social, political and cultural disparities. 
  • Regionalism at times is a psychic phenomenon. 
  • Regionalism is built around as an expression of group identity as well as loyalty to the region. 
  • Regionalism supposes the concept of development of one’s own region without taking into consideration the interest of other regions. 
  • Regionalism prohibits people from other regions to be benefited by a particular region.

Types of Regionalism

  1. Demand for  Separation  : Demand to secede from Indian union and become a sovereign state. Eg : Khalistan , Azad Kashmir , Naga etc.
  2. Supra-state regionalism : Group of states are involved. They share common issues & build common identities . Eg  : North-eastern states for economic development and rivalry between North and South Indian States on language  .
  3. Inter-state regionalismBetween states . It is  issue-specific. Eg : Disputes between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Kaveri  and disputes between Punjab and Haryana over Chandigarh and Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal.
  4. Intra-state regionalismDue to lack of equitable sharing of benefits within state. Eg:  Coastal region vs western region in Odisha and Jaipur (Amer) vs Jodhpur (Marwar) in Rajasthan.

Causes of Regionalism in India

Regionalism is a pre-independence phenomenon. It became predominant in post-independence period. The establishment and role of Justice Party in Chennai, and to a lesser extent, of Akali Dal in Punjab in pre-independence period are examples of emerging regionalism in India.

  1. Linguistic Reorganisation of States
    • After independence, Indian states were  divided on linguistic lines . It  generated sub-national identity  and thus regionalism.
  2. Historical and cultural factors: 
    • History has divided India into two  parts – “Aryans” and “Dravidians”.
    • Different regions have their own local heroes & people tend to mobilise around them . Eg Shivaji in Maharashtra or Periyer in Tamil Nadu or Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab .
    • After independence, there  was integration of the Princely States .  Small states were integrated with the big states. But people continued to nurse loyalties to old territorial units.
  3. Economic underdevelopment : Uneven development generates  regionalism and separatism. It can manifest in form of demand for Special Category Status or separate state or secession . Eg Bodoland, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh, Telangana, and so on. 
  4. Politico-administrative factors:
    • These are used by some region based parties. Eg : Shiv Sena claims to protect Maratha interests and Akali Dal to protect Punjabi (& Sikh) interests  .
    • Undue interference in the affairs of state by  central government gives  birth to regionalism.
  5. Economic Development : Sometimes development of particular community raises regional aspirations of the community . Eg After Green Revolution , Sikh Jatts of Punjab became economically prosperous and they started to demand separate Punjab from other Hindi speaking regions   .
  6. Religion : Religion play a significant role in regionalism when it is combined with dominance and linguistic homogeneity as in Punjab or fed on a sense of religious orthodoxy and economic deprivation as in Jammu and Kashmir.
  7. Disintegration  of Congress Party : After Nehru, central leaders started to impose their mandate on regional leaders. As a result, local leaders moved away to form parties like NCP in Maharashtra  , Trinamool Congress in West Bengal etc. They encouraged regionalism .

Son of the Soil Movement / Nativist Movement

  • “Son of the soil” doctrine argues that state specifically belongs to the main linguistic group inhabiting it , who are the sons of the soil or local residents.
  • The ‘sons of soil’ or nativist movements emerged in the sixties and seventies in some parts of India.
  • Shiv Sena of the sixties and seventies and the Assam movement, which culminated in 1985, may be considered to belong to this genre.

Why son of the soil?

  • Cultural prejudice is the main reasons behind the rise of nativist movements. More dissimilar the immigrant population is ethnically or culturally, stronger is likely to be the opposition.
  • Economy’s failure not to create enough employment opportunity. There remains a competition for jobs  .
  • Rising aspirations of the local middle class .
  • Politicians with vested interests try to consolidate their voting base using this. Eg Shiv Sena in Maharashtra .

Note : In some areas like Punjab , Haryana , Delhi etc. , Son of the Soil theory is not there but in Maharashtra , Karnataka etc. it is present.

Not Present in Punjab, West Bengal, Delhi etc. because

  • Son of Soil theory is for Middle class jobs and not for menial jobs .
  • It is not issue of political parties . Eg : Akali Dal is Jatt dominated party and Communist Party refused to use anti-migrant sentiments in Calcutta because of its ideological commitment.
  • Symbiotic Relationship : Punjabis want cheap agricultural labour . Hence, they don’t raise voice against immigration of cheap labour from Bihar and Eastern UP.
  • In Delhi, culture is purely cosmopolitan.

It is present  in Maharashtra because 

  • Political parties like Shiv Sena, MNS use this as political tool .
  • Competition between migrants and nativists is for middle class jobs.
  • If national party is weak, the native political parties become more assertive.

Various Regional Aspirations

Demand of Dravida Nadu (Supranational Regionalism)

  • It’s genesis lies in Self Respect Movement of  Tamil Nadu started in  1925 .
  • Later it stood against imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi  areas.
  • Demand of  Dravida Nadu in 1960s made it a secessionist movement.


  • Gorkhas are demanding separate state of Gorkhaland by seceding from West Bengal .
  • Reason
    • Gurkhas speak Nepali while West Bengal Government of Mamata Banerjee tried to impose Bengali on them by making it compulsory in schools.
    • Region is under-developed  compared to other parts of West Bengal.

Khalistan Movement

  • It was during the era of 1980s that Khalistan movement with its aim to create a Sikh homeland, often called Khalistan, cropped up in the Punjab . In fact this demand has also the colours of communalism, as there demand is only for Sikhs.

Shiv Sena and MNS Targeting North Indians

  • Shiv Sena & MNS in Mumbai frequently attack North Indians.

Impact of Regionalism in India

Positive Impact

  • It can lead to inter-group solidarity in a particular region. People belonging to a region may feel the need to come together to protect their vested interests, setting aside their differences. Eg : Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council that was formed in 1985 has served to protect an otherwise endangered tribal identity in the state.
  • Due to regionalism, most important basis for the formation of identity was language. Hence, it has kept communalism and formation of political identity based on religion in check .
  • Given the increasing uncertainty in the contemporary globalised world, regionalism has become a source of identity among people.
  • Regionalism has helped in promoting democracy in India. Regional parties like Shiv Sena, DMK, Akali Dal etc. fight to capture power via democracy .
  • It may induce competition among people of a region and propel them to do better to improve the status of their region. Eg. Competitive federalism in India .

Negative Impact

  • Regionalism at times transforms into secessionism .
  • Son of Soil Policy impacts Fundamental rights of Citizens like right to life or right to carry out any profession .
  • It can cause great damage to private and public property
  • Regionalism creates sub national feelings in the people . Eg : Naga Nationalism or Punjabi Nationalism vs. Indian nationalism.
  • Development plans can be implemented unevenly, in order to curb regionalist and secessionist demands.
  • Regionalism, also becomes hurdle in the international diplomacy . Eg : Tamil Parties impact diplomacy with Srilanka & Trinamool Congress with Bangladesh (like in Teesta Water dispute) .

Ways to Combat Regionalism

  • Making India truly federal in word and spirit.
  • Doing away with regional imbalances . 
  • Not imposing single culture on whole nation . Eg : imposing Hindi in whole nation will face backlashes from Non-Hindi speaking states . 
  • Three language formula as suggested by Sarkaria Commission should be strictly implemented.
  • Encouraging ‘People to People’  contact and making people aware of other cultures using TV & Radio.
  • Taking steps to end  the prejudices of Cow Belt against North Easterners & South Indians .

Federalism to Combat Regionalism

  1. Other countries with ethnic and linguistic diversities are facing many problems like secessionist movements as they weren’t able to accommodate regional aspirations 
    • Nepal was recently facing Madhesi Agitation 
    • Pakistan is facing Baluchi & Sindhi movements
    • Sri Lanka has experienced Tamil civil war 
    • Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia 
    • Yugoslavia broke due to various sub nationalisms at play .
  2. But India inspite of such a huge diversity of cultures is still united  .  Reason for this is federalism and devolution of power which gives sense of meeting regional aspirations by various groups.
  3. Indian federalism provides democratic ways to meet local aspirations of people
    • Sovereignty is constitutionally shared. States enjoy significant power  . People feel that they are governed by their own people . Cooperative  and Competitive Federalism is the new watchword in India.
    • 73rd and 74th Amendment  which has led to formation of Panchayati Raj and Urban Local Bodies.
    • Regions under 5th and 6th Schedule enjoy certain autonomy  .
    • Article 371 has special provisions helpful in addressing concerns of some states.

Other factors why India hasn’t faced Regionalism 

  1.  Linguistic reorganization of states
    • Unlike our neighbours, India recognized early that language is the reason behind regionalism & opted for linguistic reorganization of the states in 1956. And by 1966 all major language speakers have states of their own. This led to regionalism problem getting subdued in India.
  2. Economically most backward regions are politically most powerful.
    • India has a peculiar situation  unlike other countries =>  UP is one of the most backward state in India but they decide who will make Government at Union . Hence, they cant complain of political apathy & discrimination  .
  3. Economic interdependence between different regions has necessitated the need for migration to different cities and states, thereby reducing loyalties towards a particular region.
  4. Wave of globalization : Under the wave of globalization, India is becoming homogenous . Regionalism has been subsumed by Globalisation.

Previous year UPSC questions on Regionalism

  1. Growing feeling of regionalism is an important factor in generation of demand for a separate state. Discuss.
  2. What is the basis of regionalism? Is it that unequal distribution of benefits of development on regional basis eventually promotes regionalism? Substantiate your answer.