Idea of Linguistic States

MidnightBreakfast happened to come across this short book, Thoughts on Linguistic States,  by none other than Dr. Ambedkar. Extremely relevant in the current scenario of creation of Telangana, possibly India’s 29th state.   

In the book, Dr Ambedkar starts off with how language is a uniting factor that binds a state together. He refers to ‘One state, one language’ feature. He cites the example of countries like Germany, France, Italy whereby the rule applies and how instances where there was a departure from this rule resulted in the break  – up of the state, eg. Old Austrian empire and the Turkish empire.

The reasons why a unilingual State is stable and a multi-lingual State unstable are quite obvious. A State is built on fellow feeling. What is this fellow-feeling ? To state briefly it is a feeling of a corporate sentiment of oneness which makes those who are charged with it feel that they are kith and kin. This feeling is a double-edged feeling. It is at once a feeling of fellowship for ones own kith and kin and anti-fellowship for those who are not one’s own kith and kin. It is a feeling of ” consciousness of kind ” which on the one hand, binds together those who have it so strongly that it over-rides all differences arising out of economic conflicts or social gradations and, on the other, severs them from those who are not of their kind. It is a longing not to belong to any other group.

The existence of this fellow-feeling is the foundation of a stable and democratic State.

This is one reason why a linguistic State is so essential. But there are other reasons why a State should be unilingual. There are two other reasons why the rule ” one State, one language ” is necessary.

One reason is that democracy cannot work without friction unless there is fellow-feeling among those who constitute the State. Faction fights for leadership and discrimination in administration are factors ever present in a mixed State and are incompatible with democracy.

He highlights the problems the faced by multi – lingual states of Bombay & Madras here.

The present State of Bombay is the best illustration of the failure of democracy in a mixed State. I am amazed at the suggestion made by the States Reorganisation Commission that the present Bombay State should be continued as it is to enable us to gain experience of how a mixed State flourishes. With Bombay as a mixed State for the last 20 years, with the intense enmity between the Maharashtrians and Gujaratis, only a thought less or an absent-minded person could put forth such a senseless proposal. The former State of Madras is another illustration of the failure of democracy in a mixed State. The formation of a mixed State of United India and the compulsory division of India into India and Pakistan are other illustrations of the impossibility of having democracy in a mixed State.

He thus highlights two reasons why India should have states based on language, To make easy the way to democracy and to remove racial and cultural tension.

However, he also points out the danger of establishing a state based on language is highlighted here;

A linguistic State with its regional language as its official language may easily develop into an independent nationality. The road between an independent nationality and an independent State is very narrow. If this happens, India will cease to be Modern India we have and will become the medieval India consisting of a variety of States indulging in rivalry and warfare.

He provides the solution to the above threat. He says that the official language of these states based on linguistic lines to be Hindi or even English and not the regional languages.

The only way I can think of meeting the danger is to provide in the Constitution that the regional language shall not be the official language of the State. The official language of the State shall be Hindi and until India becomes fit for this purpose English. Will Indians accept this ? If they do not, linguistic States may easily become a peril.

One language can unite people. Two languages are sure to divide people. This is an inexorable law. Culture is conserved by language. Since Indians wish to unite and develop a common culture it is the bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their language.

Any Indian who does not accept this proposal as part and parcel of a linguistic State has no right to be an Indian. He may be a hundred per cent Maharashtrian, a hundred per cent Tamil or a hundred per cent Gujarathi, but he cannot be an Indian in the real sense of the word except in a geographical sense. If my suggestion is not accepted India will then cease to be India. It will be a collection of different nationalities engaged in rivalries and wars against one another.

He talks about the need to reduce the domination of large states with greater population by providing equal representation to each state (equality of units) irrespective of its size and population.

Regarding the question of North vs South India. North India, with its large population and Hindi as the sole language got consolidated and South India with its relatively lesser population and more languages got balkanized. He refers to how this situation may grow into hatred if the North remains consolidated and the South becomes disintegrated and if the North continues to exercise a disproportionate influence on the politics of India.

He summarises as under;

(1) The idea of having a mixed State must be completely abandoned.

(2) Every State must be an unilingual State. One State, one language.

(3) The formula one State, one language must not be confused with the formula of one language, one State.

(4) The formula one language, one State means that all people speaking one language should be brought under one Government irrespective of area, population and dissimilarity of conditions among the people speaking the language. This is the idea that underlies the agitation for a united Maharashtra with Bombay. This is an absurd formula and has no precedent for it. It must be abandoned. A people speaking one language may be cut up into many States as is done in other parts of the world.

(5) Into how many States a people speaking one language should be cut up, should depend upon (1) the requirements of efficient administration, (2) the needs of the different areas, (3) the sentiments of the different areas, and (4) the proportion between the majority and minority.

(6) As the area of the State increases the proportion of the minority to the majority decreases and the position of the minority becomes precarious and the opportunities for the majority to practise tyranny over the minority become greater. The States must therefore be small.

 States must be created based on language as it the common binding factor. Principle of ‘One state, one language’ must be followed while creating new states. However the principle of ‘One language, one state’ is a different notion altogether. It means that people speaking one language must be clubbed and brought under one government irrespective of the area, population etc. This is practically not possible. People speaking one language may be grouped under many States as is done in other parts of the world.


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