We the people of South India...

A Srinivas | Updated on April 20, 2018

Colour of fury: A black flag hoisted at the Opposition party DMK’s headquarters in Chennai during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, to protest the Centre’s delay in forming the Cauvery Management Board   -  The Hindu

New horizons: A growing number of migrant workers from Hindi-speaking States have made a home in Chennai and other cities in the South. Photo: N Sridharan   -  The Hindu

Heady freedom: The rising incidents of violence against women in northern cities is contrasted against the relative safety afforded by a city like Bengaluru, with its vibrant nightlife. Photo: Sampath Kumar G P   -  The Hindu

Differences are out in the open as southern States push back against the ‘bossy’ North through marked assertions of regional identity and pride. An added grouse is the 15th Finance Commission, which is seen as penalising this well-performing half of the country

We may just be getting back to the jallikattu mood of January 2017, when thousands congregated on Chennai’s Marina Beach to protest against a ‘central’ assault on Tamil pride — namely, a move to ban the region’s traditional bull-taming festival. Since then, a perfect storm of developments has given rise to a feeling that the North is bossing over the South, economically and culturally. There is a sense that the Narendra Modi government is pushing ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’ down the throats of the southern States.

So, what are the pain points?

Southern chief ministers have risen against the terms of reference (ToR) of the 15th Finance Commission (FC), saying these are loaded against them. The southern States are bound to get a lower share in the total pie because of their falling share in the total population. This, in effect, penalises them for achieving lower fertility rates through better literacy and health services. Add to this the resource and jobs impact of the growing migration of students and young workers from the Hindi-speaking States to Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and the proposed formula seems all the more unfair.

New horizons: A growing number of migrant workers from Hindi-speaking States have made a home in Chennai and other cities in the South. Photo: N Sridharan   -  The Hindu


Language and gender

Culturally speaking, this migration has also led to a gatecrashing of Hindi into social spaces where Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada ruled supreme. Meanwhile, a nationalism that is bound up with patriarchy and misogyny has come to be associated with North India, as has the violence on dalits and minorities in BJP-ruled States such as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, where perpetrators are either at large or celebrated as heroes. For the working women as well as girls pursuing higher education in the southern States, including those who hail from North India, this may have reinforced the good old view that North India is unsafe for women.

Brazen statements and actions by Sangh Parivar outfits defending crimes against women, including the recent horrific events in Kathua and Unnao, may not go down well in the southern States, where the sex ratio, female education levels and participation of women in the workplace are considerably higher. J Devika, professor at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, however, is critical of North Indian patriarchal customs of kinship and marriage seeping into South Indian families, and sees a link between this trend and the “creeping sanction” of crimes against women in Kerala. “The upper-caste elite in Kerala is playing along. They don’t realise that in a brahmanical social order, replete with Aryan bias, they will not be readily accommodated.”

A political establishment that came to power largely on the basis of seats won in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in the 2014 general election, now faces the challenge of evolving a different idiom to reach out to South India.

That, in fact, includes accepting the possibility that a muscular Hinduism (the saffron portrait of an angry Rudra Hanuman staring out of the windscreens of cars and auto rickshaws, for example) may not find takers everywhere, as the assertion of Lingayats in Karnataka arguably shows. Chandan Gowda, professor of sociology at Azim Premji University, says the current assertion of a homogenising Hindu force attempts to flatten out the diverse religious traditions of many communities. Notably, Lingayats have a dissenting tradition. “It perhaps explains why a number of seers have supported the call for a separate Lingayat religion.”

Given this intriguing backdrop, the Centre’s responses have been remarkably off-key. In 2016, minister of state for the development of the North Eastern Region Jitendra Singh suggested that common, colloquial Hindi be used in routine conversations in government offices in non-Hindi speaking States. In April 2017, former president Pranab Mukherjee accepted the recommendations of the Committee of Parliament on Official Languages, one of them being that speeches by ministers should be delivered only in Hindi if they know the language. Mukherjee ‘accepted in principle’ a suggestion to make Hindi compulsory between Std VIII and X for CBSE schools and Kendriya Vidyalayas. English signage on national highways in Tamil Nadu were sought to be replaced by Hindi ones, while the same was attempted in the Bengaluru metro.

In Tamil Nadu, this stance prompted the Opposition party DMK’s working president MK Stalin to recently declare that the anti-Hindi movement may regain the intensity witnessed in 1965, when the Congress-ruled Centre declared Hindi the sole official language and recanted two years later to include English as well.

Gowda observes: “The official aims of promoting Hindi are as much a source of concern today as they were 60 years ago. The current controversy over the Finance Commission’s terms of reference has only added to the perception of the North prevailing upon the south. The Centre’s emphasis on Hindi might be creating a difficult situation for local BJP leaders and their supporters who are not comfortable with Hindi imposition.”

This situation is, however, not entirely of the Modi administration’s making. In January 2008, exams conducted by the Railway Recruitment Board for positions in Karnataka were almost exclusively taken by candidates from Bihar (Lalu Prasad was then the minister for railways), rather than local aspirants. This raised a furore. Forms at Railway offices, post offices and banks are available in Hindi and English, and not in the local languages.

Population question

All this latent discontent has come out into the open, with the finance panel becoming a rallying point. Kshitija Joshi, Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru says: “Southern states have achieved major strides in infant mortality, literacy and curtailing population growth. They should not be punished on account of roughly 27 per cent weightage to population-related parameters in the distribution of resources between States. This weightage needs to be reduced, so that southern States are rewarded for their performance on human development. ”

The 15th FC, moreover, plans to shift entirely to the 2011 Census as the basis for assessing the population factor. The 14th finance panel, on the other hand, used a combination of the 1971 and 2011 Census, in an attempt to incorporate the latest data. The present ToR incentivises States to achieve a replacement rate of population growth, or a total fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman. However, if the Census 2011 is taken into account, it is apparent that the southern States have gone past this target, and hence will not receive any incentive. They are, in effect, being penalised for having achieved this target over the last 40 years, writes V Bhaskar, in an article titled ‘Challenges before the Fifteenth Finance Commission’ in the Economic and Political Weekly (March 10, 2018). Resources will instead be directed towards just the five States that are way above this level.

The writer quantifies the gains or losses to States under the 14th panel if only the 2011 Census had been used. It corresponds to a redistribution of ₹1.25 lakh crore (see tables).


If the Census 2011 numbers are to be taken into account, the weightage to population should be reduced. Population is also included as a weight in the income distance criterion — namely, the gap between a State’s per capita income and the average per capita income. Income, or the lack of it, along with population are major determinants of resource transfer, the two accounting for a weight of 77 per cent. Southern states lose out on both counts. While equity considerations certainly cannot be cast aside in a federal, diverse polity, efficiency needs to be rewarded as well. North-South disagreements over the FC award are becoming acrimonious with the rise in regional inequalities. The prevailing political climate can hardly help.

Imposition of fiscal discipline

The present ToR has also invited criticism for foisting New India 2022, which is a development plan of the Centre, on the States. The plan talks of a poverty-free India, squalor-free India, corruption-free India, terrorism-free India, casteism-free India and communalism-free India. The moot point here, as Bhaskar points out, is that it can be “seen as a political commitment of the union government that will have to be implemented mainly through the state governments”. Since agriculture, education and health are State sectors, States are likely to worry whether Central schemes will override theirs, particularly if the parties in power at the Centre and the States are in opposing political camps. If the BJP fails to gain traction in the southern States, this could emerge as an additional grievance.

What is truly disturbing is the ToR’s move to impose what is essentially an ideological idea of development, based on fiscal discipline, on all States. It seeks to reward States that desist from populist measures. But as former finance minister P Chidambaram has observed, Tamil Nadu’s midday meal scheme for schools can be seen as populist or an entitlement, depending on how one chooses to view it. It is the State’s prerogative to prioritise such schemes, depending on the mandate given.

Hence, the Kerala model of development, with its investment in social sectors, may not get the present FC’s approval, even if the State government of the day has secured the political mandate to implement such a set of programmes.

In her study on the impact of the 14th FC's recommendations on the southern States, Joshi delineates the effects of three deficit parameters accepted by the panel: keeping the ratio of fiscal deficit to gross state domestic product (GSDP) at below three per cent; total outstanding debt to GSDP at below 25 per cent; and interest payments to revenue receipts at 15 per cent. The results are startling: Kerala is a violator on all three counts, but excels in terms of health and education metrics. Karnataka meets all fiscal benchmarks but is not on the same footing as Tamil Nadu and Kerala in health and education indices. It has, in fact, excelled in GSDP growth and related economic parameters. An overemphasis on fiscal rectitude may hit welfare policies.

That the Centre should decide the path of development by controlling the purse strings of the States does not augur well for federalism or the democratic process. It is also disquieting that the States were not taken into confidence when the ToR was drawn up.

Apart from the FC’s skewed approach, there’s another looming crisis — the restructuring of Parliament after 2026 by possibly taking into account the Census figures of 2031; this is against the State-wise apportionment of 543 seats on the basis of the 1971 Census. Unless policy instruments are evolved, the proportion of seats in Parliament accruing from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will increase, with serious implications for the ‘idea of India’. Chidambaram has wryly remarked that had South India been a separate entity, it would have been a middle-income country.

Decency and safety

More political action can be expected around the issues of resource sharing, caste discrimination, gender and language.

But for those going about their daily business, such as a Bihari security guard in the Gandhinagar area of Chennai, South India is a place where he is treated with izzat and is able to have rice meals. “That’s why I prefer to live here rather than in Delhi, although I don’t know the language. Ordinary folks are treated with dignity.”

A political scientist from Uttar Pradesh, who has been in Bengaluru for six years, says that he has never been ticked off by a bus conductor for not speaking in Kannada. “In the opposite situation of a South Indian travelling by bus in Delhi and not knowing Hindi, the conductor would have been positively unfriendly,” he observed.

“My daughter is able to return at 2 am from a party, which is unimaginable in Delhi. Women can enter a bar without heads turning. These things matter for today’s middle-class,” he added.

Heady freedom: The rising incidents of violence against women in northern cities is contrasted against the relative safety afforded by a city like Bengaluru, with its vibrant nightlife. Photo: Sampath Kumar G P   -  The Hindu


We’re seeing a constant ebb and flow of acceptance and apprehension on both parts of the divide. That’s how it’s likely to be.

Published on April 20, 2018

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