Murmurs on Tamil Nadu’s bifurcation resurface

The occasional murmurs were so far confined to social media or talks within the power circles.
Illustration: soumyadip sinha
Illustration: soumyadip sinha

CHENNAI: The occasional murmurs were so far confined to social media or talks within the power circles. Ever since the union government bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories by bypassing the State Assembly, there had been speculation that Tamil Nadu, may also be split into smaller states. 

While it was so far only in the realm of speculations, a little known association called ‘Vada Tamil Nadu Makkal Munnani’ revived the demand for creation of a new State of North Tamil Nadu. The association recently petitioned the President, and organised a meeting on Thursday in Chennai. 

The map proposed by the association for the new State covers the industrial northern districts, including Chennai, agriculturally fertile delta region and in the western parts covering the Stanley reservoir and the Bhavanisagar reservoir in Erode. The revival of the old demand is seen as the bud of something that could bring a paradigm shift to the political dynamics in the State and nature of the identity politics. Ever since the dawn of the dominance of the Dravidian parties, the politics in Tamil Nadu revolves around the Tamil identity and assertion of the rights of the States with the Centre that is dominated by the national parties. 

From the past experiences, political leaders, analysts and activists fear that dividing Tamil Nadu into different states is fraught with many uncertainties. Azhi Senthilnathan, coordinator, Tamil Language Rights Federation, says that the demand to divide Tamil Nadu in the present political scenario is dangerous. “Tamil Nadu remains a political challenge to the BJP and it wishes to at least trifurcate Tamil Nadu as North Tamil Nadu, Kongu Nadu and South Tamil Nadu. This party wants to break the Tamil identity and give the State to three dominant castes in these regions - Vanniyars, Kongu Vellala Gounders and Mukkulathor. But the real intention of the BJP is to break the Tamil identity.”A theory that some in the State’s political circles have put forward is that if the state is divided into three, BJP could hope to make electoral in-roads into Tamil Nadu by tying up with the parties or outfits that represent the dominant caste in each of the regions and effectively challenge the dominance of the two Dravidian majors. The saffron party has thus far had limited success in increasing its footprint in TN.

However, BJP State Secretary Professor R Srinivasan flatly denied any ground for such a move.  “The need for bifurcating Tamil Nadu does not arise now for three reasons: First, Tamil Nadu is not such a big State to be bifurcated. Second, Tamil Nadu is one State which creates more number of districts and taluks aiming at efficient administration. Even our neighbour Kerala still has 14 districts while Tamil Nadu has increased its districts to 37. Third, Tamil Nadu is a developed State which gave opportunities to all sections of the society and it is not a backward State.” Professor Srinivasan further said, “Though BJP has long favoured smaller States since growth rate is higher in smaller States than in the bigger ones, the party has no view on this in TN as of now. Maybe after 50 years, there may need to bifurcate the present Tamil Nadu State. The future generation will take a call on that.”  

Asked about the charge that BJP was trying to bifurcate Tamil Nadu on the lines of Jammu and Kashmir and make dominant castes in charge of the newly created States, Srinivasan rubbished this allegation and said “ BJP opposed bifurcation of India on the basis of religion and as such, how can it support bifurcating a State on the basis of caste? It is a charge being levelled against the BJP just to defame the party and there is no truth in it.”

The main reason cited by Vada Tamil Nadu Makkal Munnani for creation of the new North Tamil Nadu state was that the backwardness of the people in the region, despite the industrial growth in the region. The outfit blamed it on lack of political power in the hands of the people of the community. “Though the Vanniars are in majority in the State, they are made to meekly surrender and be a slave to the minority 1% population...” the petition submitted by V Vasan, general secretary of the organisation read. In the meeting held by the outfit in Chennai on Thursday, most of the speakers stressed on the need to assert the rights of the Vanniayars and creation of a separate North Tamil Nadu state is a sure way for it.

Speaking to Express on such demands, Dravidian Historian S Thirunavukkarasu said they are “malicious”. “The motive is to create domination by a caste group, not the welfare of the region. The states were created only for the betterment of a particular region and people speaking particular language. The idea and demand should be condemned and nipped in the bud itself,” he said.In 2002, PMK founder S Ramadoss demanded bifurcation of Tamil Nadu and the formation of separate State out of 15 northern districts where Vanniyar community is concentrated and the party has some support base. The then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa put a stop and termed the demand as “casteist and separatist.” Since then the party never again raised the demand. 

When the party contested alone in 2016 assembly polls with its leader Anbumani Ramadoss as chief ministerial candidate, the party’s manifesto instead promised to make Tiruchy the second capital of the state and division of Tamil Nadu into five zones in order to decentralise the administrative powers.
When asked for an opinion on the issue, PMK president GK Mani said, “Any demand will succeed only if it emerges as a massive demand of the people. Besides, only if the demand emerges from the people, it will be welcomed and there will be support for it.”

Most of the other major political parties were unequivocal in opposing the idea of dividing Tamil Nadu. VCK general secretary D Ravikumar said, “At present, there are 39 MPs representing Tamil Nadu in Parliament and hence the views of the State has a bearing on the Centre on key issues. Even now Uttar Pradesh determines to a large extent which party captures power in the Centre since it sends the largest share of MPs to the parliament. When the next delimitation exercise happens, the share of UP may further go up due to increase of its population. At this juncture, if Tamil Nadu is bifurcated, we will further lose the bargaining power on key issues.”He said the plan to divide Tamil Nadu into separate states belongs to certain “casteist and communal forces.”

AIADMK spokesperson Avadi Kumar said demands for dividing Tamil Nadu into new states will only create restlessness among people. “There is no need for bifurcating the State since already, in the existing set up, all sections of society are getting their opportunities. Just by bifurcating the State, no new opportunities will be created for anyone. The demands are made only for the benefit of certain individuals or organisations,” he said.

The most common reason cited for disturbances during creation of a new State is the sharing of the resources, both natural and industrial. For example, when Telangana was created, the biggest concern was the loss of revenue for the residual state of Andhra Pradesh since the revenue from the industries in Hyderabad would go only to Telangana.

Even more problematic areas will be sharing of the river waters and control over the dams. This at a scenario where the river water sharing disputes with neighbouring states itself have not been settled even after decades of efforts. Also, from the examples of Telangana-Andhra Pradesh and Bihar-Jharkhand, the influential regional parties get restricted to one of the newly created state and thus has command over lesser number of MPs.  

Denouncing the idea as unwarranted, advocate V Kannadasan said Tamil Nadu can instead have a second capital for administrative convenience. He is a spokesperson of the DMK, which, along with it allies, has 38 MPs from the State and third biggest party in the Lok Sabha. “Dividing Tamil Nadu will only hinder the economic growth as well as the development of the State. There were much cultural differences between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (for creation of new state). But among people of Tamil Nadu, there is not much difference,” he said.

However, political analyst Tharasu Shyam looks at this issue from another angle. He says Tamil Nadu had historically been divided into three kingdoms of Chera, Chola and Pandyas kings. Dividing the state will not take away the Tamil identity. He said, though people of Puducherry consider themselves as Tamils, they will never want to merge with Tamil Nadu. In late 1970s, the then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran proposed merger of Puducherry with Tamil Nadu and the AIADMK subsequently faced electoral rout.

What history says?

1In 1976, another Vanniyar leader SS Ramasamy Padaiyachi demanded bifurcation of the State and organised a conference at Thittakudi. At that time, a case was filed against him and he was arrested.
2 In 2008, All India Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam led by N Sethuraman and Vanniyar Peravai president AK Natarajan launched a movement - North and South Tamil Nadu Movement demanding bifurcation of Tamil Nadu. They also demanded a second State reorganisation committee.
3 In 2002, late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has denounced the demand when PMK founder S Ramadoss made a demand for carving out a separate State with 15 districts thickly populated with Vanniyar community.
4 In August 2008, there was a demand for creation of Senthamizhnadu with the districts below Cauvery river In August 2008, with Madurai as its capital. Again, the demand was renewed after nod was given for processing the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2009.
5 During the tenure of former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran, he took efforts to shift the capital of Tamil Nadu from Chennai to Tiruchy citing the difficulties faced by the people in reaching the Secretariat which is 800 km away from Kanniyakumari. But the plan was given up

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