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The Great Divide

Below the Vindhyas the mood is sullen. The South thinks the North is guilty of not only arrogance and ignorance, but also cultural, economic and political colonialism.

The Great Divide
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

IS the North colonising the South? The answer from most southerners would be a loud, vehement, 'Yes'. To put the feelings of the South in a nutshell: the very north Indian mindset of clubbing all southerners as Madrasis erodes the plurality of the South. The North is guilty of arrogance and ignorance simultaneously. Northerners have come to think that India is exclusively their property. What's worse, the Government of India often acts as if it were primarily the Government of North India. 

The map of India, many feel, is the perfect metaphor for the deep cleavage between the North and South. North of the Vindhyas the topography expands, while the South tapers into the Indian Ocean. Six decades ago, the founders of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu created a rallying slogan: "Vadaku vazhgirathu; Theruku Teigir-athu" (North is thriving; South is eroding).

More often than not, the distance between the southern state capitals and the national capital turns out to be more than geographical. All the centres of power are up North and there is a strong feeling of often being outside the pale of things in relation to that enigma called New Delhi. Decisions are made there with the South denied a sense of participation in the affairs of the nation. Despite having a southerner as the Prime Minister. "The North naturally feels the Government functions in its lap and it can caress it and fondle it at will," says senior journalist R. Gopal Krishna.

The first issue that accentuates the divide is the question of language. The strength of the feeling about the language issue was underlined by the experience of one young woman from the South, who, on encountering some problems at New Delhi railway station, went to a policeman for help—only to be informed by the upholder of law and order that if she wanted to make a complaint, she should first learn to speak in Hindi. "Imposing Hindi as the national language shows the hegemonising desire of the Hindi-speaking North. After all, people have been learning languages other than their mother tongue based on their needs," says social scientist M.S.S. Pandian. While Tamil Nadu is articulate in its antagonism towards Hindi, the anti-Hindi feeling is alive but dormant in the other southern states. "If Hindi could get jobs, why is the unemployment more acute in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar?" asks J. Jayar-anjan, an economist with the Madras Institute for Development Studies.

Besides the Hindi domination, the South considers that its culture is being neglected by northern centres of authority, thereby depriving India of much of its heritage. "Penguin and the University of Chicago have done more for ancient southern literature than the Government of India," observes Tamil litterateur Koonangi. National institutions like the National Book Trust and Sahitya Akademi have done little to capture the vibrancy of the literary climate down South. None of the agham (poems on love and relationships) or puram (poems on war and politics), which are some of the world's best, were translated by these institutions. The great epics of Tamil literature—Silapathikaram and Manimekalai, which are about 2,000 years old—are now available in English thanks to Penguin. "The Indian state has failed to recognise the unique position of Tamil, which is the only classical language that continues to be the lingua franca of both literary and day-to-day usage. If 10 per cent of the money spent on Sanskrit was spent on Tamil, it would have made a world of difference, says post-modern critic Nagarjunan.

Doordarshan news readers who take pains to pronounce names like Francois Mitterand, V. Zhirinovsky and E. Shevardnadze, are seen to make little effort to learn how to pronounce the names of south Indian leaders. "Politicians who have been in the scene for more than five decades like former president R. Venkataraman, M. Karunanidhi, V.R. Nedunchezhiyan and E.M.S. Nambo-odiripad are all victims of mispronunciation," says S. Guhan, former economic adviser to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and a cultural observer. According to cartoonist Abu Abraham, who has quite a fan following abroad, the time has come for southerners to ignore the north Indian bias. "If they are ignorant, it's their bad luck. We have the whole world to recognise us. The moment the West accepts us, the North will meekly follow suit."

THE discrimination is felt to be most acute when it comes to the Centre-state relationship and the question of fund allocation for development work. "The Indian Planning Commission has reduced the Centre-state relationship to that of a 'creditor-debtor' one. The natural victims of such a skewed arrangement are the southern states who have become beggars at the doorsteps of the Centre," observes Prof Naganathan, Head of the Department of Economics at Madras University. According to him, none of the official statistics are true. "A north Indian state becomes poor and backward when it comes to the Planning Commission and miraculously transforms into an efficient and money generating one when it comes to the Finance Commission, and thereby gets more projects as well as more money," he says contemptuously. Conversely, the southern states get little from the central kitty. I.S. Gulati and K.K. George of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies point out that budgetary transfers have served to further enrich the economically stronger (read northern) states and weaken the other states. They observe: "The Centre has the funds, the states are burdened with the problems. But because the Centre has the funds, its priorities have prevailed."

The southern states are the worst affected since they have a political tradition of choosing a different party to rule the state from that in power at the Centre. All the non-Congress governments were dismissed at least once. The first dismissal of a popularly elected government took place in 1959 when Nehru dismissed Kerala's Communist government. Since then, Article 356 hangs as a Damocles' Sword over the head of the southern governments. "Unlike the northern states where Article 356 was used because of the collapse of the government or because of the breakdown of constitutional machinery as in the case of the BJP governments in the aftermath of December 6, 1992, the use of Article 356 for dismissing a southern government could never be justified. It was a blatant sign of hegemony," observes Murasoli Maran, MP for over 25 years and the author of a book on state autonomy.

 The role of the bureaucracy is seen as another factor in the subjugation of the South. "No ambitious IAS officer will advise or provide necessary information to the state government to fight the Centre. As long as the possibility of moving to the Central cadre with plum postings exists, the bureaucracy will not let the political leadership be assertive," says Guhan, himself a former IAS officer.

Ramakrishna Hegde, former Karnataka chief minister and senior Janata Dal leader, says: "The attitude (of the Centre) was absolutely hostile. Many industrial projects which we wanted to start in the state and which had been approved by various technical and financial bodies were shifted either to Uttar Pradesh or another northern state." Hegde, who claims that he can give at least 20 such examples, cites as proof of the Centre's discriminatory attitude, the shifting of the manufacture of digital telephone exchange equipment from ITI, Bangalore, to Uttar Pradesh; the non-approval of a Rs 1,000-crore Tata project to manufacture passenger cars in Karnataka; and the refusal of permission for SAIL to take over Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel industries Ltd in Bhadravati which was then facing a resource crunch.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi, all set to become Tamil Nadu chief minister again, has an even longer list of unapproved plans; stalled projects, deferred expansions and forgotten promises of the Centre. Says he: "The integral coach factory in Madras is doing well and one expected its expansion to take place in Tamil Nadu, but it went to Punjab. Hindustan Photo Films went to Uttar Pradesh. The Sethu Samudram project which would alter the maritime trade has been pending with the Centre for four decades. The Salem Steel Plant expansion is as elusive as ever. Even the proposed Southern Gas grid remains a pipe dream." According to Faziludheen, news editor, Kerala Kaumudi, 26 projects meant for Kerala are awaiting Central clearance. This includes the Kayamkulam power project promised by Indira Gandhi in lieu of the Silent Valley power project.

"These issues can't be dismissed under the consideration that we are one country. Why is it that certain areas here are less developed than they should have been while hundreds of crores are spent on projects in a place like Amethi by both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi?" asks B.K. Chandrashekar—a former Janata Dal MLC and an IIM teacher. Delaying assent to projects, a standard practice, has resulted in escalating the cost of 36 projects and even in killing projects like the Vijayanagar Steel plant in Karnataka, for which the foundation stone was laid by Indira Gandhi or the Rs 2,500 crore Aromatics project in Tamil Nadu.

Keralites are concerned about the flight of capital from their small state towards the North. The state, which has less than 4 per cent of India's population and 1 percent of land area, accounts for nearly 30 per cent of the country's foreign exchange through exports of spices, coir, cashew, plantation and marine products and the annual Rs 3.5 billion home remittance of Keralites working in the Gulf. "Yet Kerala fails to get transformed into an industrial capital. The value addition for rubber and coconut never happens within the state. Their procurement prices are determined elsewhere and rarely do the cultivators get their share," observes K.T. Ram Mohan, editor, Kerala Padanangal, a Malayalam journal brought out on the lines of the Economic and Political Weekly. "Kerala gives about Rs 16,000 crore to the Central exchequer while its annual budget is only Rs 2,000 crore. If this is not flight of capital, what is?" asks an economist with the Centre for Development Studies.

The other area of discrimination is seen to be against rice, the major food grain of the South. The late D.S. Tyagi, former chairman of Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ministry of Agriculture, pointed out in his book Managing India's Food Economy, that rice accounts for 41 per cent of the total production of food grains and wheat only 31 per cent. Similarly, the rice crop accounts for the largest area under any single crop—39 per cent. But when it comes to procurement, rice gets a stepmotherly treatment. The quantity of procurement is 30 per cent for rice while it is 42 per cent for wheat. The present subsidy for wheat is about 61 per cent and that for rice 39 per cent. Tyagi was assassinated in Delhi because he argued for the better price for rice," claims a scientist of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Observes Ram Mohan cynically: "In the next 15 years, the Central Government may issue an order that the people of the South should eat wheat instead of rice."

Even the service sector, controlled by Delhi, is seen to be blatantly lopsided, to the detriment of the South. For instance, the Thiruvan-anthapuram-Gulf sector is Air India's only profit-making sector. With one million Malayalis in the Gulf, the sector is always over-booked. Yet, the fare between Thiruvananthapuram and the Gulf is Rs 2,000 more than that between Bombay and the Gulf, through Thiruvananthapuram is closer by 212 nautical miles.

The current feelings of alienation are strong. Says S.V. Rani, 32, Tamil Nadu schoolteacher: "If  MGR and NTR win elections, then southerners are film-crazy idiots. If Rajesh Khanna or Shatrughan Sinha or Sunil Dutt win elections, northerners are sensitive to the political understanding of artistes. Such is their arrogance and stupidity. People who were influenced by two television serials — Mahabharata and Ramayana—and gave life to a dying political party like the BJP (it won only 2 seats in the 1984 elections), are making fun of us. We don't demolish any places of worship." Says S. Krishnan, 56, an economist with a transnational bank: "The North's ignorance about the South is comparable to the South's ignorance of the North. The divide is real. But the efforts to bridge the gap are a farce."

In 1970, the then chief minister of Karnataka, Veerendra Patil, had dryly observed: "It is feared that at this rate there may be urgent demands for more autonomy by the states and a day might come when different houses and bhavans of the states in Delhi are constrained to assume the characters of embassies."

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