Considering how many different tribes, communities, and ethnicities cohabit in India, conflict is inevitable. If one community feels linguistical, politically, socially or economically ignored, it seeks independence from the motherland or the state it belongs to. There are many such ongoing separatist movements in India, and what’s alarming is that even after years of debate and violence, the end of these movements does not seem near. No one ever wins, lives are periodically lost, treaties barely last and no solutions ever come up.
We’ve identified one of the reasons for this – the lack of proper representation. Let us explain…
1. The Centre Does Not Represent The State
When the problem involves most of the people in a state, the State Government should represent these people and take up the problem with the Centre. But what if the state and Centre are in cahoots, rather than the state government and the people?
Over the years, the people of J&K have lost hope in the Centre addressing their problem and have become antagonistic towards them. Meanwhile, the Central Government has rarely offered to sit down with the separatists to discuss the matter and arrive at a peaceful solution. Ideally, they would rely on the government of the state, elected by the people, to act as the mediator. But more often than not, discussions between the Centre and State have been futile. When the state government belongs to the same party as the one at the Centre, it’s easily persuading to act as the Centre’s representative as is happening with the PDP and NDA. When they are opponents, the State Government ends up representing its party interests rather than the people. As a result, the conflict continues.
2. The State Doesn’t Represent Local Government
Separatism often arises from an interior region when a community feels like it is not getting the rights and attention it deserves. Local parties and governments then fuel these movements hoping to rise to prominence on the backs of the disgruntled community. If state governments made sure to keep close relations with smaller local governments, they could immediately address their concerns and quell or even avoid violence. But this rarely happens.
Case in point, the Gorkhaland movement. The Gorkhas are a community in West Bengal that is demanding a separate state, Gorkhaland, for the state’s Nepali-speaking population. These regions are governed by the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous created by the West Bengal government to administer this community. If the West Bengal government coordinated with the GTA and met its periodic requirements, there would be no reason for the separatist movement to continue. However, considering the West Bengal government recently made a Bengali compulsory in all schools across the state, including GTA territories, they are clearly missing the point of a movement started on linguistic lines.
3. Local Governments Don’t Represent Social Movements
As mentioned earlier, most separatist movements start at a very small, interior level. These movements are often merely local social causes before they turn into full-on separatism. This evolution happens because of local governments, who use the cause to gain a political upper hand without actually addressing any of the problems of the local communities. Dissatisfied and misled by politicians, the people then turn to violence and revolt to make their voices heard.
For example, in Assam, the Bodo community fought for autonomy from as early as the 1930s. In 2003, the government and the representatives of the separatist movement signed an accord that created the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) that was administered by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Thanks to this accord the Bodo community now had an autonomous local government to look after them specifically. However, the Bodos soon realized that the BTC was not fulfilling the goals for which it was formed, and the newly established local government wasn’t along the pulse of the people’s movement. The Bodoland separatist movement was restarted this time fueled with even more discontent and leading to recurring and large-scale violence.
4. Social Movements Don’t Represent The People
With separatist movements, the least you would expect is that the movement would be in line with the views of the people concerned, seeing as most separatist movements are people’s movements. But that’s not always the case.
Like the Khalistan movement. While the movement for an independent region for the Sikhs began soon after independence and was more or less settled in 1966 when the states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were created. However, in the 1970s, the Khalistan movement was renewed and largely funded by the Sikh diaspora in the U.S. and U.K., not the people actually residing in the areas concerned. The movement reached a violent peak in the early 1980s with Operation Blue Star and the Anti-Sikh Riots. In all of this, it was the Sikh in India that suffered, even though they had little to do with the inception of the movement or the execution of the protests and attacks. In this case, the social movement did not even represent the people it was for, instead, it was a representation of what Sikhs living abroad thought their community needed.
In spite of losing multiple lives and a sitting Prime Minister what has survived all these insurgencies are the separatist movements. Moral of the story? If the people fighting for representation are not accurately represented in the fight, it’s going to be a losing battle.