India has faced insurgencies in some of its states over the past decades, though the issues that gave rise to these have to some extent been resolved.
Sikh nationalists began to agitate for a sovereign state of their own, Khalistan, in the northwestern state of Punjab. The region has been the traditional homeland of the Sikhs, and ethno-religious people, and they ruled the Punjab for some eight decades before being subdued by the British in the mid-19th century.
In 1947 the Muslim parts of the Punjab became part of the new country of Pakistan, while the eastern half, comprising Hindus and Sikhs, remained in India. In 1966, owing to the demands made by Sikh organizations to create a Punjabi-speaking state, the Indian government divided Punjab into a Punjabi-speaking state of the same name, and the Hindi-speaking states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Today Sikhs form about 60 per cent of the population in the Punjab.
But for many this was not enough. In 1984, extremists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale occupied the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), in the Sikh city of Amritsar. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi eventually had the army storm the temple, killing perhaps as many as 2,000 people. In turn, she was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards a few months later. Massacres of Sikhs throughout the country followed.
There were still thousands being killed in the Punjab in the 1990s, but the crackdown on extremists, coupled with some accommodation to Sikh aspirations, have greatly minimized the problem. In recent years, Sikh extremism and the demand for Khalistan has all but abated.
In the far eastern state of Assam, almost cut off from the rest of the country by Bangladesh, a similar movement for self-determination was fuelled by neglect and resentment at the fact that immigrant Bengalis from West Bengal were moving in and occupying key positions in business, industry and government.
An armed struggle, led by the United Liberation Front of Assam, ensued in the 1980s and in the past two decades some 18,000 people died in clashes between the rebels and the security forces.
Assamese natives have now been given a greater say in the running of the state and the ULFA suspended
operations in 2011.
Various tribal peoples have also had states carved out of Assam over the decades, including Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. This too has led to a diminution of conflict. There are still demands for statehood for a state of Bodoland in Assam and Gorkhaland in neighbouring West Bengal.
India’s southern states have also experienced dissatisfaction with rule from the predominantly Hindi-speaking north, and many have at times been governed by regional parties. A Dravidian party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is currently in power in Tamil Nadu.
This past July, the Congress Party unanimously passed a resolution to recommend the formation of a separate Telangana state from Andhra Pradesh, and it will become India’s 29th state. Proponents of a separate Telangana state have in the past cited perceived injustices in the distribution of water, budget allocations, and jobs.
No one ever thought it would be easy to govern such a vast and multi-ethnic land.
By Henry Srebrnik
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.