After five decades, some reckless and irresponsible voices calling for secession are once again being heard in the South. While some southern political leaders have called for a separate ‘Dravida Nadu’ comprising all five southern states but within the Indian Union, some others have said that these five states must break away from the Indian Union because they are getting a raw deal from the North.The debate was initially triggered by Kamal Haasan, actor-turned-politician when he said that if all the southern states imbibed the “Dravidian identity”, discrimination that they talk of would vanish and “our voices would become a loud chorus”.
DMK working president M K Stalin joined the chorus and said he would welcome it if the Southern states were to come together and make a demand for a Dravida Nadu. Pawan Kalyan, a Telugu actor and leader of the Jana Sena Party, has also warned of a North-South divide. He is seen endorsing the idea of a ‘United States of Southern India’ in the hope of getting a better deal from New Delhi.
However, M Muralimohan, another Telugu actor-turned -MP of the Telugu Desam Party has taken this debate to an unacceptable level by talking of secession. He said the South felt discriminated and that if this continued, the five southern states would declare themselves as a “separate country”.
The reason for the discontent appears to be the approach of the 15th Finance Commission to the devolution of funds to states. The southern states certainly have a right to demand fair distribution of funds from the central pool of national resources. While these issues need to be discussed and debated, they cannot become the reason for the break-up of India. These demands for a separate identity for the South are indeed surprising, because one believed that the nation had taken giant strides towards integration over the last 70 years and effectively smothered voices that preached disintegration. After Independence, the first time the nation heard the demand for secession at a formal gathering was during the maiden speech of C N Annadurai in the Rajya Sabha on 1 May 1962 when Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister.
The DMK leader took the first opportunity that came his way to talk about the most controversial demand of his party —secession of Tamil Nadu (then called Madras). Much to the shock of many members, Annadurai said, “Let us have a re-thinking. We have a Constitution, of course ... but the time has come for a re-thinking, for a re-appraisal, for a re-valuation and for a re-interpretation of the word nation.” And what is that re-appraisal?
Annadurai elaborated: “I claim to come from a country ... which I think, is of a different stock ... I belong to the Dravidian stock. I am proud to call myself a Dravidian ... Dravidians have got something distinct, something different, to offer to the nation at large. Therefore it is that we want self-determination.” Further, he said if the South were to separate, it would not cause hardships because it was one geographical unit—the peninsula. Therefore, there would be no migration or refugee problem. He wanted India to become “a comity of nations instead of being a medley of disgruntled units here and there”. Dravida Nadu, comprising the entire South would become “a small nation, compact, homogeneous and united”.
Among those who took strong exception to Annadurai’s observations was Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha a day after Annadurai’s speech, he said the House had heard a “warning bell” the previous day—a demand was being made for the division of India once again an this would spell disaster. “The reason given for separating from India ... is that justice is not being done to Madras. We can go to any state, we will hear the same complaint.” He said such complaints of discrimination could be heard even within states with one region complaining against another. “There can be some truth in these complaints, but these complaints cannot prompt us to challenge the existence of the nation ... and demand the balkanisation of India.”
Vajpayee said, “I feel saddened that this voice is raised in the garb of self-determination. There is an attempt to give it an ideological stance and demand for separatism is placed at a higher pedestal and it was said that India is not a nation but a group of nations and the South can get separated from the North. I do not think any nation can negotiate with this kind of thinking. The Muslim League raised the issue of two nations and we fought against it. We never agreed to the theory of two nations”. Vajpayee’s views were backed by all sections of the House including many MPs from the South.A year later and following the Chinese aggression when national unity became the first priority, the DMK withdrew
the demand for secession, became part of the mainstream political and electoral system and even came to power in 1967 in Madras State. With this, one presumed that the forces of integration had gained the
About 56 years after this debate in the Rajya Sabha, we are once again hearing discordant voices and even talk of secession. It is thoughtless to even suggest this. The unity and integrity of India is non-negotiable. Three generations of Indians have toiled over the last seven decades to bind this nation together. No other society in the world is as diverse and democratic as ours and we cannot allow a few hot-headed delinquents to disrupt this glorious journey of unity in diversity. Every word of what Vajpayee said in 1962 in Parliament holds good even today. We must remind ourselves of his stirring call for unity and the current challenge to India’s unity and integrity must be nipped in the bud.