The linguistic reorganization of the states proved to be one of the most uphill situations which the nationalist leaders faced in the post-independence period. The way in which the boundaries of the provinces were drawn in pre-1947 India paid no heed to the linguistic or cultural cohesion resulting in the making of multilingual and multicultural provinces. Separate linguistic states was not an altogether unjustified question, for it must be remembered that India is a land of numerous and diverse languages, each having its distinct script, grammar, vocabulary and literary traditions. Language furthermore it must be remembered is highly linked with culture and thereby to the customs of the people. Moreover the massive spread of education and the growth of mass literacy is to a great extent, conditioned on education being carried out through the medium of mother tongue. In addition to this, democracy in order to become real to common people, it is imperative to conduct politics and administration in the language they understand. However, this language, i.e., the mother tongue, can serve as the medium of education, administration or judicial activity only if a state is formed on the basis of such a predominant language. The Congress, from the very beginning, rather than denying this diversity, sought to give space to it. The cause of linguistic reorganization of states was supported by Gandhi as well, who though highly discouraged all sorts of fissiparous tendencies but at the same time argued that the linguistic redistribution of the provinces was necessary for the provincial languages to grow to their full height.
However, although previously appreciative of the linguistic diversity of the country and also being open to the idea of linguistic reorganization of the states, later in the period following independence, the national leaders grew apprehensive regarding the subject. This may be attributed to myriad reasons. The Partition had resulted in significant administrative, economic and political dislocation that in turn was followed by vital economic and law and order problems. Besides, there was also the constant problem concerning the Kashmir question that had engendered an almost combat situation with Pakistan. Under these circumstances, the national leadership concluded the task of consolidation of national unity to be most important and that any attempt to reorganise the internal boundaries might intensify regional and linguistic feuds, thereby unleashing destructive forces that would inhibit the unity of the country. Hence the question of the creation of linguistic provinces had to be deferred until such a time when India was certainly strong and united. However, the question of linguistic reorganisation of the provinces persisted and soon was raised in the Constituent Assembly as well. Consequently, the Linguistic Provinces Commission was appointed in 1948, which was headed by Justice S.K. Dar. The Commission countered the position of linguistic formation of states on the ground that it might endanger national unity and could also prove to be inconvenient from the point of administration. However, this hardly resolved the problem that continued to persist. Public opinion especially in South was opposed to this decision. Thus to control the situation, the Congress appointed another committee in December 1948 called the JVP Committee, which consisted of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya. However, this committee too opposed the creation of linguistic states and instead concluded the prioritising of unity, national security and economic development to be more essential.
Reorganisation of Andhra
The JVP report engendered popular movements all over the country demanding the linguistic reorganisation of the states. However, the most vigorous movement for linguistic autonomy was undoubtedly that carried out by the Telegu speakers of the Andhra country who demanded a separate Andhra state for themselves. This demand was by no means a new one but rather one that had been popular for quite a long, i.e., almost half a century, and was supported by all political parties. The JVP though conceded that there was indeed a strong logic for the formation of Andhra out of the Madras Presidency, but it nevertheless did not accept the demand then, for the two sides failed to come to a decision as to which state should get Madras city. On 19th October, Patti Sriramalu initiated a fast unto death demanding a separate Andhra. He died after fifty-eight days. This further aggravated the situation. Rioting continued for three days besides there were demonstrations, hartals and violence encompassing all of Andhra. The Government finally gave in, thereby conceding to the demand for a separate state of Andhra that ultimately came into existence in October 1953 whereas Tamil Nadu was created as a Tamil speaking state.
Reorganisation of Bombay
The creation of the Andhra state naturally led to the intensification of similar demands by other linguistic groups. Under these circumstances, somewhat against its will, the government of India appointed a States Reorganization Commission (SRC) in August 1953. It consisted of Justice Fazl Ali, K.M.Pannikar and Hridaynath Kunzru. The Commission was meant to examine the question of reorganization of states of the Union. Following numerous meetings, demonstrations, agitations and hunger strikes over a span of two years, the Commission finally submitted its report in October 1955 whereby it recognised for the most part the linguistic principle and recommended the redrawing of the state boundaries on that basis. The Commission nevertheless concluded against the splitting of Bombay and Punjab. The SRC’s recommendations were finally accepted and the parliament passed the States Reorganisation Act in November 1956. The act did not however go unabated. Maharashtra witnessed widespread rioting whereby eighty people were killed in Bombay city in police firings in January 1956. This was followed by a powerful protest movement organized by the Opposition parties which in turn were supported by many people such as students, farmers, workers, artists and businessmen. Finally, in June 1956, it was decided that the Bombay state would be divided into two linguistic states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, while Bombay city would be forming a separate, centrally administered state. This move too, however did not go unabated and was followed by various protest movements. Given the lack of unanimity on the question of the Bombay city, the government declined to alter its decision and thus passed the States Reorganisation Act in November 1956. However, this hardly resolved the issue as popular agitation persisted for five years. The question was later reopened by the Congress president Indira Gandhi who in turn was supported by the President S. Radhakrishnan. Finally, the government decided to divide the state of Bombay in May 1960 into Maharashtra and Gujarat. Furthermore, while Bombay city was included in Maharashtra, Ahmedabad was made the capital of Gujarat.
Reorganisation of Punjab
The other state which proved to be a major issue was Punjab which was primarily a trilingual state that had speakers of three languages, namely Punjabi, Hindi and Pahari. The people of the Punjabi-speaking part raised demands for the formation of a separate Punjabi Suba. However, soon the issue translated into a communal one whereby the Sikh communalists led by Akali Dal and the Hindu communalists led by Jan Singh utilized the linguistic question to promote communal politics. While the latter opposed the demand for a Punjabi Suba on the ground that Punjabi was not their mother tongue, the Sikh communalists ended up demanding a Sikh state claiming Punjabi written in Gurumukhi as a Sikh language. Most of the national leadership, including Nehru, concluded that this demand for a Punjabi state was, in fact, a demand for a Sikh-majority state in the garb of a language plea, and therefore they declined to accept it as they were quite clear that they would by no means accept any demand for the creation of a state on religious or communal grounds. Though the demand was declined by the SRC, later in 1966 however Indira Gandhi agreed to divide Punjab into the two Punjabi and Hindi-speaking states of Punjab and Haryana, respectively, while the Pahari-speaking part of Kangra and a part of Hoshiarpur district was merged with Himachal Pradesh. Lastly, Chandigarh, which was the capital of united Punjab was made a Union Territory and would henceforth serve as the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.
The movement for linguistic states although initially generated a lot of apprehension amongst the national leadership who feared that it would culminate in the Balkanization of India or the creation of many more Pakistans, many scholars are nevertheless of the opinion that the linguistic reorganisation of the states has in fact consolidated the unity of India and acted as a largely constructive channel for provincial pride. Thus as has been pointed out by some scholars, it may be concluded that language, far from proving as a divisive force, in fact, has turned out to be a cementing and integrating influence.
- Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee. India Since Independence. Penguin Books, 1999.
- Ramchandra Guha. India After Gandhi- The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. Picador India, 2017.