North India-South India Divide – Is there a Growing Regional Divide in India?

North India vs South IndiaIs there a Growing Regional Divide in India? The North India-South India Divide became a topic of debate recently when former Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah raised the issue of North developing at South’s expense.

This is what Siddaramaiah had said

Historically, the South has been subsidizing the north. Six states south of the Vindhyas contribute more taxes and get less. For example, for every one rupee of tax contributed by Uttar Pradesh that state receives Rs 1.79. For every one rupee of tax contributed by Karnataka, the state receives Rs 0.47. While I recognize the need for correcting regional imbalances, where is the reward for development?

North India vs South India Debate – Questions raised

  • Is South India subsiding North India? (Reference – ZeeNews)
  • Is North colonizing the South? (Reference – Outlook)

North India vs South India – The Geographical Division

North India-South India Divide – Is there a Growing Regional Divide in India?
North-South India is generally represented by states to north and south of Vindhyas.

The Hindi-belt of Uttar Pradesh, Madya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana is generally considered as the heartland of North India.

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Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala is considered mainly as South India.

This imaginary distinction between north-south India has a history that goes back to the pre-independence era. From time to time, this fault line becomes active, leading to the polarisation of North-South India.

The Polarization of North-South India: What we will analyse in this article?

Politicisation of this fault line has lead to many consequences for India as a nation. Political parties of both North and South India have made this imaginary separation a plank for their political entrepreneurship.

This North-South divide is characterized by various fault lines like geography, economy, politics etc. Spatially and temporally, these fault lines had been activated at various times.

Currently, there is a resurgence of Dravida Nadu concept in South India. We will analyze the reason behind it. Fifteenth Finance Commission(FC) has been constituted by the Central government. But there is a lot of brouhaha regarding the Terms of Reference of this FC. We will examine the issue and how it relates to the question of the North-South divide.

Finally, we will see the implications of the North-South divide and consequences caused by the frequent politicization of the issue. We then conclude by emphasizing the need for unity of North and South, and more importantly for India and steps to be taken to ensure this unity.

History of the N-S divide: The Dravida Nadu Concept

Dravida Nadu Concept

Dravida Nadu is the name of a hypothetical “sovereign state” demanded by Justice Party led by E. V. Ramasamy and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led by C. N. Annadurai for the speakers of the Dravidian languages in South Asia.

  • The concept of Dravida Nadu had its root in the anti-Brahminism movement in Tamil Nadu which demanded social equality, greater power and control in government administration. Later it had taken the hue of a separatist movement, demanding a sovereign Tamil state.
  • Dravida Nadu as a political idea was first floated by Periyar E.V. Ramasamy. In 1925, he launched the Self-respect movement, and by 1930s he was formulating the most radical “anti-Aryanism”.The rapport between the Justice Party and the Self-Respect movement of E.V.Ramasamy (who joined the party in 1935) strengthened the anti-Brahmin and anti-North sentiment. He came out with the slogan “Tamil Nadu for Tamils” in 1938 in response to the plan to introduce compulsory learning of Hindi across India.
  • The demand, which was limited to Tamil Nadu in initial times, was expanded to include other Dravidian speaking states viz. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana. “South India”, “Deccan Federation” and “Dakshinapath” were other names used for Dravida Nadu. Movement of Dravida Nadu was at its peak in 1940s-60s.

Post Independence, the demand for such a pan Dravidian state declined due to various reasons:

  • Due to the fear of Tamil dominance, the demand was not taken up by other southern states.
  • State Reorganisation Act 1956, which created states based on linguistic criteria, eased off the demand for separatism. Also, the government of India declared secessionism as an illegal act.
  • Both DMK and Justice party began to reorient their demand for Dravida Nadu to cater to their own local population than giving it a pan south Indian character.

Though the demand for Dravida Nadu was faded away post-independence, the North-South fault line was not erased into oblivion. Even though it remained dormant, many issues were cropped up during the Post-Independent era which made these fault lines bleed. Also, from time to time, political parties rekindle various fractures along these fault lines to cater to their short-term political ambitions.

Fault lines along the North India-South India Divide

Fault lines along the North India-South India Divide

The North-South divide is characterized by various fault lines like geography, economy, politics etc.

1. Geographical

North India has had very different historical experience than south India. Many of the invasions coming through passes of Hindukush have constructed and re-constructed the historical experience of North.

While South India was relatively immune from such invasions, the proximity of sea and trade through them had given South a distinct culture vis-a-vis North, which was influenced largely by trade through land routes, manifested in Silk Road.

2. Constitutional

Constitutional dimension of the North-South divide is largely subsumed in the larger issue of Centre-State relations and issues relating to federalism in India. These two fault lines, North-South divide and centralization of power in union government, have intertwined to make the matters more complex. Some of the provisions of the constitution that have created controversies on this front are:

  • President’s rule
    • Since south Indian states are historically dominated by regional parties which were different from national parties occupying at centre and North Indian states, President’s rule had been used arbitrarily against South Indian states. Eg: The First communist government in Kerala was removed through President’s rule in 1959.
  • Schedule 7
    • States have a huge responsibility with meagre financial resources. This has affected all the states irrespective of the North-South divide.
  • Article 351: It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule.
    • This article has created a rift between North and South, repercussions of which are still being felt across India. More on this is elaborated in the section on the cultural fault line.

State’s claim for autonomy is persistently increasing as the political-economic axis of development is shifting towards regional level. After successfully ‘holding together’ for 75 years due to the flexibility of constitutional provisions, a question raises for the need to re-balance distribution of power between centre and states based on evolving socio-political and economic climate. This claim is shared by both North and South, but more vigorously by Southern states.

3. Political

Political leaders from South are not given adequate representation in political milieu of centre vis-a-vis political leaders from North. This creates a dichotomy as the economic centre of gravity is shifting towards the south at the same time the political centre of gravity is shifting north.

While South is contributing economically to the nation, they don’t occupy centre stage politically and are marginalized culturally. If these issues are not confronted, the fault lines of Indian federalism could deepen.

4. Social

  • India is slowly cleaving into two countries – a richer, older South and a poorer, younger North. According to Census 2011, southern states are showing a faster decline in the population growth rate as compared to the northern states. As a result of this, there is a scarcity of unskilled labour in the south which is currently filled in by migration from other parts of the country. This was also pointed out by Economic Survey 2015-16. Changing demographic patterns and migration of unskilled labourers from North to South has the potential to generate a cultural conflict in the country. For peninsular states, demographic dividend will peak in 2020. Whereas in Northern states it will peak in 2040.
  • Urban section of the population with rapid demographic change resulting in higher female labour force participation would follow lifestyles different from other sections. This may lead to conflict between North and South. Increasing violence against migrants like that of Maharashtra by Shiv Sena is an example.

5. Economical

  • Economic Survey 2015-16 have pointed out that: spatial dispersion in income is still rising in India in the last decade (2004-14) despite more porous borders within India than between countries internationally – the forces of “convergence” have been elusive. This spatial dispersion in income is mainly occurring along North-South divide or more broadly, along peninsular and hinterland India.
  • Beyond the more familiar Bharat/India divide, it is the north/south divide that may prove consequential. Post-1990 reforms, there was an increase in inter-state inequality. This was mainly along the axis of the North-South divide. Thus states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh made use of the opportunities provided by reforms to develop, states like Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh left behind.
  • This fault line has been recently energized on account of Terms of Reference of 15th FC. This will be discussed more elaborately in the end.

6. Cultural

Language – It was and is the main axis of the divide that is charged with a great emotional appeal. There was a lot of agitation and violence around the issue of national language during post-independence times like anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu 1960s.

The question on national language surfaced during constitutional assembly debates. Then a compromise based on Munshi–Ayyangar formula was adopted in which constitution did not specify any “National language” and only mentioned “Official languages” of the Union as Hindi in Devanagari script.

But there were many provisions related to official language in the constitution, in Part XVII that left open the fissures for future confrontation. Such provisions include:

  • For fifteen years, English would also be used as the official language for all official purposes. (Article 343).
  • A language commission could be convened after five years to recommend ways to promote Hindi as the sole official language and to phase out the use of English (Article 344).
  • Official communication between states and between states and the Union would be in the official language of the union (Article 345).
  • English would be used for all legal purposes – in court proceedings, bills, laws, rules and other regulations (Article 348).
  • The Union was duty bound to promote the spread and usage of Hindi (Article 351)
  • The 8th schedule included in the constitution to recognize various languages.

Parliamentary standing committee on first language commission report in 1957 opined that Hindi should be made the primary official language with English as the subsidiary one. Rajaji convened an All India Language Conference to oppose the switch to Hindi and declared “Hindi is as much foreign to non-Hindi speaking people as English is to the protagonists of Hindi”. Amidst this, Nehru’s assured that English will remain as additional Official Language till non-Hindi speakers decide otherwise.

All over India, there was a vigorous promotion of Hindi as the deadline of Art343 came closer. Tamil Nadu started Anti Hindi agitation. There was counter agitation by angry pro-Hindi activists in North India. Members of Jan Sangh went about the streets of New Delhi, blackening out English signs with tar.

Official Language Act passed in 1963. The act provides for the continued use of English (even after 1965), in addition to Hindi, for all official purposes of the Union and also for the transaction of business in Parliament. Notably, this act enables the use of English indefinitely (without any time-limit). Further, this act was amended in 1967 to make the use of English, in addition to Hindi, compulsory in certain cases.

Thus the violence was temporarily controlled through Official Language Act and amendment act which guaranteed the “virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism” (English and Hindi) in official transactions.

But Article 351 re-energizes the issue periodically when centre tries to promote Hindi and South Indian states opposes such imposition. Eg: the opposition to Hindi signboard in Namma Metro stations in Bengaluru.

7. Regionalism

  • The growing regionalism has created 28 states in India, double the number that India had in 1956 when the States Reorganisation Act was passed in Parliament.
  • Regionalism and threat of successionism have affected many parts of the country: Punjab-Khalistan movement, Nagaland-Nagalim – there are so many examples.
  • The regional aspirations of South were the most strongly articulated among all other regional claims. But after the State Reorganisation, the claim for secessionism declined. Nevertheless, regional aspirations are still strong in southern states than northern states: demand of separate state flag by Karnataka.
  • The assertion of cultural and linguistic hegemony by the north, like the promotion of Hindi in an aggressive way, has also resulted in the heightened regional aspirations in South.

Thus below the Vindhyas, the mood is sullen. The South thinks the North is guilty of not only arrogance and ignorance but also cultural, economic and political colonialism. There is an increasing alienation between North and South in political discourse. Thus politically-articulated cultural rift between the North and South is growing.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta opines that there is a risk of a magnifying N-S divide in the current situation, as there is a national political formation that is inadequate to manage cultural difference, simultaneously party structures in states are becoming fragile.

  • The rise of Hindutva in North India is creating a political dominance in the centre which is generating counter pressures from South. But politics in the south is also stagnant with entrenched caste politics, internal divisions etc. In this situation, South will try political mobilization based on North v/s South axis to carry forward their political agenda.

As levers of political power are skewing towards the demographic might of north India, South is fearful of economic and cultural hegemony by North. The manifestation of this tug of war is seen in the resurgence of demand for Dravida Nadu.

15th Finance Commission

15th Finance Commission

Recently union government constituted 15th Finance Commission, headed by N.K.Singh, which will make recommendations for the five years commencing 1 April 2020 till 31 March 2025.

Some of the terms of reference of the commission:

  • The Commission shall use the population data of 2011 while making its recommendations.
  • Recommending a fiscal consolidation roadmap by factoring inappropriate levels of general and consolidated government debt and deficit levels.
  • Measurable performance-based incentives for states based on their effort in areas including expansion and deepening of tax net under GST and ease of doing business.
  • FC is required to review the devolution formula and ascertain its impact on the fiscal capability of the Union government. (14 FC recommended devolution of 42% of taxes to states)

The discontent of Southern states

Till now population data of 1971 census had been used in devolving taxes. Though 14 FC used population data of 2011 census along with 1971 census, the weight assigned to the same was lower. Reason for using 1971 census rather than 2011 census is to make sure States that have worked on population control do not lose out on benefits. As mentioned earlier, Southern states have a declining trend of population, so they will be at a disadvantage if 2011 census is used for devolving taxes. Southern state sees this as though they are subsidizing the growth of the north. They consider this Term of Reference as penalizing states done well on family planning.


There are other discontents shared by States in common, irrespective of the North-South divide, but vociferously being put forward by Southern states. Some of them are:

  • Finance Commission should consider the effect of double policy blow of the demonetisation and GST on state finances while considering devolution to states.
  • The Centre is stretching constitutional mandate of Finance Commission. FC has no role in deciding the path of fiscal management or imposing policies that are perceived as good for the state. The centre is using FC to impose their political-economic agenda.
  • In terms of reference, there is an exclusive privilege for ‘committed expenditure’ of centre.
  • 15 FC is also mandated to recommend performance based devolution beyond fiscal responsibility, population and devolution to Local Self Government. This is an effort of the centre to micro-manage fiscal domain of states by meddling in the day-to-day governance of states. FC doesn’t have the capacity to decide what will be a ‘populist’ measure for different states.

Redistributive role of centre can’t be discounted so resources should be efficiently transferred from developed to developing regions for more balanced development. Also, the population is not the only criteria for determining devolution by FC. Good governance and other developmental matrix are also considered by FC. So no state will be at a disadvantage. However, it is to be ensured that the redistributed resources are properly utilized by all states. Also, a state’s voice should be incorporated while deciding the Terms of Reference to avoid unnecessary controversies.

The Resurgence of the concept of Dravida Nadu

In 2017, when the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change issued a notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter, Twitter users from the Kerala state (where beef dishes are popular) protested by trending the hashtag #DravidaNadu.

The hashtag also received support from Twitter users in Tamil Nadu.

In early 2018, Telugu Desam Party MP Murali Mohan expressed his dissatisfaction over the Union Government’s supposed neglect towards South Indian states and warned that South India would form a separate country if the issue persisted. Further, when several heads of South Indian states expressed dismay over the Union Government’s arrangements of tax revenue distribution to various states, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. K. Stalin expressed his support for a sovereign Dravida Nadu state, should all the other South Indian states ever share the same notion.

South’s opposition to Terms of Reference of 15 FC should be seen in this backdrop.

Critical analysis of the Resurgent Aspiration of Dravida Nadu

Indian National Flag

Please understand, Your Excellency that India is two countries: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. The ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near the ocean is well-off. But the river brings darkness to India.

-“The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga

  • Economic Survey 2015-16 (ES) had mentioned Redistributive Resource Transfers (RRT) – gross devolution to the state adjusted for its share in aggregate GDP.
    • As Southern states are economically more developed than Northern states, RRT for Southern states will be relatively lower than Northern states.
    • But the distributive role of the centre is of utmost importance for nation-building. So it is natural that resources from developed states are shifted to less developed ones for holistic development. Haphazard development neither suits North nor South. Furthermore, it cannot be assumed that the development of South is the result of efforts of the South alone. Policies like Freight Equalisation Policy had negatively impacted resource-rich states like Bihar, Chattisgarh etc. at the expense of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh etc.
    • But the bigger problem is that there is no evidence of a positive relationship between RRT from the centre to states and various state outcomes, including per capita consumption, GDP growth, development of manufacturing, own tax revenue effort, and institutional quality. There is even suggestive evidence of a negative relationship. This situation can be perceived by the South, as they are subsidizing the growth of the North.
    • The suggestion given by ES is to tie RRT more strictly to fiscal and governance efforts on the part of the states as provided for by the Thirteenth Finance Commission.
  • ES also points out that, despite rapid overall growth, there is striking evidence of divergence or widening gaps in income and consumption across the Indian states. This raises the possibility that governance traps are impeding equalization within India. So North should try to improve their governance rather than depending on RRT through FC. Sign of progress is visible, as shown in the case of development of Rajasthan.
  • Southern states and the more prosperous northern states depend upon migrant labour as well as on resources and commodities that come from the less-developed parts of the country—mainly the large northern and central states. Moreover, as the demography of South is declining, southern states will require young labour force from north to carry forward their development agenda and also for looking after the senior citizens. So South needs North as much as North needs South. And as poorer Northern states have demographic dividend ahead, it can decrease the disparity between states. So in place of needless squabbles, the need of the hour is to make suitable policies that will cater for smooth internal migration like the portability of social securities across states. This will necessitate cooperation between North and South.
  • Question on delimitation is the big white elephant that nobody is trying to acknowledge. Before the 42nd Constitutional Amendment of 1976, the calculations behind the number of Lok Sabha seats was based on “population as ascertained at the last preceding Census of which the relevant figures have been published.” But the 1971 Census figures showed a dramatic increase in population, after which the concept of family planning was introduced at the policy level. This meant that States that complied with the policy would lose out on all the areas where the population was taken into account. Hence, the 42nd Amendment picked the 1971 Census as the base for all calculations and froze it till the 2001 Census. The 84th Amendment further extended that to the first Census after 2026, which will be the Census of 2031. Even if the total number of Lok Sabha seats are increased after 2031 census, South is going to lose out on its presence in parliament. A multi-stakeholder discussion is needed to face the situation and devise a solution before 2031.
  • The concept of Dravida Nadu can’t stand on its own as inter fight between southern states are common, like the Cauvery issue between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. So Dravida Nadu is nothing more than a plank to oppose the North and centre, to take political mileage out of the issue, than a meaningful grouping of Southern states.
  • North should be sensitive to the aspirations of South and should not create a cultural hegemony through the unintended promotion of Hindi in non-Hindi states, especially South. The cultural domination, if ever occurs, should be a result of an automatic process rather than government action. Amendment of XVII part should be done, if needed, taking into account of the aspirations of all stakeholders.
  • General mistrust between centre-state is also an issue in the recent escalation of discontent among southern states. Cooperative federalism as envisaged in GST council should be the way forward than over-centralization of Indian federalism.
  • Political leaders should not only be fixated on short-term gains. Political leaders of Southern states should make development as a plank for contesting elections than imaginary North-South divide, like addressing the growing trend of intra-state inequality in Southern states.

Thus the unity of India depends on mutual trust and cooperation of all states, facilitated by the centre. Labour, resources, capital, geography, all the determinants of development is available within the borders of Indian territory. We need to leverage these through cooperative federalism, rather than mobilizing around divisive and arbitrary fault lines, through proper policy actions.

References: The Hindu, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Wikipedia, Livemint, The Wire, Scroll

Article by: Sethu Krishnan M

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