Troubling portents from the South over rising disdain for north Indians

My name suggests, correctly, that I am from Tamil Nadu. But the reality is that I am from Delhi, the city in which I have lived since 1958.

Not just Delhi: I have lived mostly at the south western edge of Delhi that borders Haryana. That is as north Indian as can be.

My Hindi and Punjabi are better than my Tamil, which I can neither read nor write. I can only speak an antiquated version of it. And I cannot understand the DD Tamil news at all. It is like a foreign language to me.


Until a few years ago I used to try and explain to people who asked me about southern politics that I knew only what they did. But then I stopped doing that. It seemed easier to just try and understand the political south.

This is important because the people who live in the north, that is the mainly Hindi speaking states, must pay serious attention to the resentment in the south against them. Truth to tell, most people in the south think that the northerners sponge off the south and west.

I will not go into the boring statistics which you can check for yourself from the Economic Survey. Give or take a few percentages, it is true that without the tax revenues from the southern and western states, the Hindi states would be far worse off, because there are too many unproductive people there compared not just to the southern states but all of the rest of India.

Troubling portents

This did not matter till now. But in the last few two weeks the chief minister of Karnataka, the head of the DMK in Tamil Nadu ond one MLA from Andhra have said that the southern states should re-examine their relationship with the north. Forest fires start with just such little sparks and this is a fire waiting to be lit. Once it catches there is no knowing where it will stop.

That is why it is absolutely necessary that the politicians of Hindi speaking states do not conduct themselves as if only they matter for India. This has happened because these states have such large populations and, therefore, nearly three times the number of seats in the Lok Sabha.

The northern arrogance that stems from the fact that Hindi is the national language is also a major factor in southern resentment, as is the inability of the people of the North to speak any other Indian language and English, which is the official language.

For this and a variety of other reasons such as economic and social indicators, the new generation is strongly inclined to reject the people of the North as being useless drones. UP and Bihar, in particular, are regarded as being the major culprits.

Structural flaw

A part of this perception is owing to the structural flaw in our constitution which has created a complete disconnect between the economic and political arrangements of our Union. The state and concurrent lists make the states quasi-sovereign but the financial articles make them virtual vassals of the central government which, thanks to the huge populations of the Northern states, has become their servant.

As the 21st century progresses and the stresses and strains on the governing arrangements increase, it is absolutely necessary to have a debate on how the constitution needs to be tweaked to overcome the economic inequities of the Gadgil formula which does not penalise states with large and economically backward populations. Instead it rewards them.  

India is founded on absolutely the right principles that firstly that it is not a confederation but a union of states and secondly, therefore, a strong centre is necessary. But this should not have to come to mean that resources are allocated in the manner that they are at present.

The key message the chief minister of Karnataka, the head of the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the MLA from Andhra are conveying is that the equity aspect of the Gadgil formula can no longer be restricted to the northern states alone. Northern politicians pay heed.

Of course this is largely about electoral politics and elections. But remember: we are a democracy where bad ideas sell much faster than good ones. That is why it is best to be warned.

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