Ancient symbiotic link between India’s North, South

A senior journalist has recently stirred the hornet’s nest once again, raising the spectre of South India seceding from the India North of the Vindhyas.

Published: 11th May 2023 11:19 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th May 2023 12:43 AM   |  A+A-

Representational Image. (Photo | Express)

A senior journalist has recently stirred the hornet’s nest once again, raising the spectre of South India seceding from the India North of the Vindhyas. Writing for a national financial daily, he opined that a “Republic of South India is not entirely unthinkable”. The timing was curious. Coming as it did just before the Karnataka elections, the nationalists saw it as a dog whistle and were immediately up in arms against what they call the “Tukde Tukde Gang”.

Compounding the controversy was an alleged remark by a senior leader of an Opposition party about protecting the “sovereignty” of Karnataka. Although the party subsequently issued a denial, it gave the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party a handle to attack the Opposition, accusing it of being a repeat offender that earlier questioned, albeit obliquely, the concept of the nation qua a “Union of States”. Luckily it did not find resonance with the public. But it is treading on thin ice.

It is easy to get mired in the politics of the subject. However, it may be useful to first take a dispassionate look at the rationale of these insinuations, no matter how perverted or preposterous they may sound. South India was as much a part of India’s freedom struggle as the rest of India. With the exception of Hyderabad, and the French and Portuguese colonies of Pondicherry and Goa respectively, the unification of the rest of South India was natural and voluntary. Post-Independence, South Indians played an equal role in nation building. All national parties had a fair share of leaders from the South. The only sensitive issue was that of language, with the Southern states being justly proud of their long and strong linguistic lineage and literary heritage. This was a cultural issue and not specific to any particular political denomination.

The pushback against Hindi was probably much stronger in the Sixties and Seventies when the Congress was in power. In fact, today, the voluntary learning of Hindi is probably at its highest in the South as people realise the commercial importance of the language as they travel to other parts of India for work or business. At another level, the present government—especially the prime minister—has done more to affirm the importance of Tamil and other South Indian languages than all previous dispensations in Delhi.

The economic relationship between the South and the North has always been symbiotic. Traditionally, the South has provided a vast pool of skilled human resources to the North. This has been a great boon for states like Kerala, which had a very large educated population without commensurate local employment opportunities. The large presence of Tamilians in bureaucracy and the commercial world is well known. Businessmen from Andhra Pradesh have flourished in the North. The work culture and superior infrastructure have attracted investments from the North to the South. In turn, manufacturing industries from the South have benefited from the vast markets of the North. In short, there is little economic justification for the South to decouple from the North.

In recent times, the South has emerged as the destination of choice for higher education. Students from all over the country flock to medical and engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka. Going forward, the same graduates will become knowledge workers in the multinational tech giants coming to India. The medical tourism industry is a source of major revenue for the South which thrives on treating patients from North and Eastern India. In recent times, the labour-intensive construction and textile industries have developed a high dependence on workers from North India. Similarly, the service industry, especially the hospitality sector, employs a large number of skilled staff from the Northeast. Apart from sporadic disturbances caused by groups with vested interests, the workers’ contribution to the economy of the South is appreciated by all. Thus it will not be in anyone’s interest to create artificial barriers to workforce mobility.

That brings us to the area of culture. The religious ties across regions are ancient. Better connectivity and affordable air travel has only enhanced those bonds. For a long time, Bollywood movies were cited as an example of national integration. But now, it is a two-way traffic. Thanks to OTT platforms, Southern movies and stars are equally popular in the North. With increasing cosmopolitanism, dishes from both regions have made strong inroads into each other’s realms. While Punjabi cuisine and North Indian ‘chaats’ have gained huge popularity in the South, it is no longer idli-dosa, but cuisines from Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala that dazzle across the North. Restaurants in Delhi now have Onam food festivals and serve ‘Sadya’.

So, finally, it all boils down to politics. While the South is wary of the North’s hegemony, the so-called national parties are rebuffed by regional chauvinism. And there are some who love to fish in troubled waters. The answer probably lies in the national parties becoming more inclusive and the regional parties coming out of their parochial mould. Towards this direction, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s ambition of extending its footprint by rechristening itself as ‘Bharat Rashtra Samithi’ was perhaps a welcome move and should not be stymied by others.

The Congress used to be pan-Indian at one time but having lost its foothold in many states and playing second fiddle to parties like the DMK, is falling between two stools, alternately singing the national and regional tunes. The BJP is yet to find its voice in the South and is somewhat schizophrenic in its approach there. What we need are leaders with national vision who can sing ‘Sare Jahan Se Achha’ in multiple languages yet in the same tune.

Sandip Ghose

Current affairs commentator

(Views are personal)


(Tweets @SandipGhose)

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