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Friday, December 17, 2010

Regionalism and Politics

In politics, regionalism is a political ideology that focuses on the interests of a particular region or group of regions, whether traditional or formal (administrative divisions, country subdivisions, political divisions, subnational units). Regionalism centers on increasing the region's influence and political power, either through movements for limited form of autonomy (devolution, states' rights, decentralization) or through stronger measures for a greater degree of autonomy (sovereignty, separatism, independence). Regionalists often favor loose federations or confederations over a unitary state with a strong central government. Regionalism may be contrasted with nationalism.

Proponents of regionalism say that strengthening a region's governing bodies and political powers within a larger country would create efficiencies of scale to the region, promote decentralization, develop a more rational allocation of the region's resources for benefit of the local populations, increase the efficient implementation of local plans, raise competitiveness levels among the regions and ultimately the whole country, and save taxpayers money.

In some countries, the development of regionalist politics may be a prelude to further demands for greater autonomy or even full separation, especially when ethnic and cultural disparities are present. This was demonstrated in the late 1980s in Yugoslavia, among other examples.

A regionalist party is a regional political party promoting autonomy for its region; a regional party is a political party with its base almost entirely in a single region. All regionalist parties are also regional, while only a portion of regional parties are also regionalist. Because regional parties often cannot receive enough votes or legislative seats to be politically powerful, they may join political alliances or seek to be part of a coalition government.

Examples of regionalist parties include Regionalist Action Party of Chile in Chile (northern parts), the Savoy Region Movement in France (Savoy), The Friesen and South Schleswig Voter Federation in Germany (Friesland) and Telugu Desam Party in India (Andhra Pradesh). Examples of regional parties include the regionalist parties cited before, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, the IDS-DDI, Alliance of Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Slavonia-Baranja Croatian Party, Democratic Party of Zagorje of Croatia, the NCCL-DWCMP and Midwest Social Regionalist Party in the Middle West of the USA, and almost all Belgian parties.

Regionalism may or may not include autonomism. Examples of autonomist parties include Action démocratique du Québec in Canada (Quebec), New Democratic Macau Association in China (Macau), Martinican Progressive Party (Martinique) and Communist Party of Réunion (Réunion) in France, Lega Nord in Italy (Northern Italy) and Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico in the United States (Puerto Rico).

One must distinguish between regionalist parties which support autonomy and nationalist/independentist movements which support independence. In the latter are included the likes of Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda (FLEC) in Angola (Cabinda province), the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie and the Vlaams Belang and in Belgium (Flanders), the Basque Nationalist Party (Basque country), Convergence and Union (Catalonia) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (Catalonia) in Spain and the Scottish National Party (Scotland) and Plaid Cymru (Wales) in the United Kingdom. Sometimes, the Lega Nord has formerly been independentist too.

To be sure, regionalism is rooted in India’s manifold diversity of languages, cultures, tribes, communities, religions and so on, and encouraged by the regional concentration of those identity markers, and fuelled by a sense of regional deprivation. Regionalism in India has been rooted in India’s manifold diversity. India, demographically speaking, is the second largest country (its population over a billion now) after China, and socially and culturally the most diverse in the world. India’s one billion plus people live today in 28 States (federal units) (doubled since the inauguration of the Constitution in 1950) and 7 Union Territories (centrally ruled). Formed over many thousand years as a country of immigrants who brought their own cultures and traditions, India’s diversity is proverbial. Although predominantly inhabited by the ‘Hindus’ (over 80 per cent) who are, however, regionally specific, plural in beliefs and practices, and divided by castes, and languages, India contains large proportions of Muslims (about 13%) spread over the country with more than a million in as many as 13 states (out of 28), Sikhs, Buddhists, Christian, Jains and so on .

India’s linguistic diversity is proverbial. By one estimate, there were some 1,632 languages spoken in India (Basu 1997: 187). So far, 22 languages have been ‘officially recognized’ and placed under the 8th Schedule of the Constitution as a symbolic recognition of identity . Today, the speakers of such 22 language constitute about 91 per cent of the population. Many of India’s languages are very ancient with strong literary traditions. Some of the so-called regional languages, most notably Tamil (a south Indian language), are, in fact, older than Hindi, spoken by the largest (but not the majority) number of Indians.

Regionalism is a very important factor that affects society in India at every level.Political Science students have to study it from different angles.

Lecture notes prepared by Biju P R,Assistant Professor in Political Science,Govt Brennen College Thalassery

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