Secessionist movements in the Indian sub-continent have so far been on the basis of identity. In 1947, religious identity mattered. Later in independent India, there have been movements for Khalistan, Nagaland, Dravida Nadu, Kashmir and a few others — some serious and some fringe movements — that have been based on ethnic grounds. These conflicts have always risen out of the separatist’s sense of being oppressed by the Indian state in some sense or the other; rightly or wrongly.
Now, there is a conflict in the horizon that appears very different. This is going to be a struggle between the disenfranchised and impoverished heartland versus the relatively prosperous and over-represented southern part of India. Particularly, Kerala and Tamil Nadu versus the rest of India. The contours of this conflict was discussed in a slightly different context elsewhere. The main thrust of it is: owing to freezing of the delimitation exercise in 1976 by the Indira Gandhi government and because of fertility rates in KL and TN falling well below replacement rates since then, the two states have a disproportionately large representation in the Lok Sabha compared to their current populations. The extent of this skew is shown in the chart below,
Further, bear in mind the other calculation we made to estimate the impact of each citizen in an election across these states. Typically, in a contest in Tamil Nadu or Kerala, the individual citizen has a probability of about e^(-350) in impacting the outcome. In UP, Bihar or Madhya Pradesh that would be about e^(-450). This is over and above the representation advantage that the two states enjoy and that’s about 30%.
This problem is only going to dramatically worsen. The fertility rates of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and UP are currently 3.1, 3.6 and 3.4 respectively; still well above replacement levels. More importantly Tamil Nadu and Kerala have fertility rates of 1.7 and 1.8 respectively; pointing to an already shrinking population in a generation. If the same trend continues, a quick back of the envelope calculation extending the above assumptions estimates that in another 40 years under the same conditions, the typical Tamil or Malayalee person will be twice as important to India’s polity compared to a Hindi speaking one. And this person would very likely extend the already accrued social advantages quite dramatically too. This phenomenon affects the three poor states of UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh the worst. However, even the mediocre and relatively well off states like Gujarat and Maharashtra stand to lose.
In the not too distant future, especially when the BJP is in power, they will figure this out. After all the BJP has the most to lose in such a scenario. The cleavage of such disenfranchised rest of India vis-a-vis Keral & Tamil Nadu means that India’s problems of the future are likely to be pre-empted by the prosperous few than the impoverished many. The AIADMK manifesto already vociferously opposes the redistribution of wealth across states that’s proposed by Raghuram Rajan Committee; it may well be just a precursor.
The two states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu also lead the country in every single social development indicator that is measured among large states. Their per-capita income happen to be well over the national average and their tax base is reasonably high as well. They are also culturally distinct from much of India. After all neither Tamil nor Malayalam derive from Sanskrit. Unlike the secessionist movements in Nagaland — where shockingly the Indian state bombed its own citizens into submission using the IAF — or Kashmir, this cleavage in political relativism will be from a position of strength. A Dravida Nadu was sought by the Dravida Kazhagam in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. But that was from a narrative of victimhood and a reaction to MK Gandhi and INC trying to impose national assimilation through Hindi imposition in 1937. This, if played well, could be analogous to some of the separatist movements in Spain that put forward arguments that are remarkably similar to that of the AIADMK.
A reasonable bet to make at this time will be: a political entrepreneur, in Andrew Wyatt’s terminology, will come up with such a secessionist movement in the next decade and a half. If that entrepreneur is from South India, it’d be largely peaceful. If the demand instead originates from the victimised North India, the results will be ugly. It’s better the rich person walks out from a bad marriage before the poor one sues both to bankruptcy. Isn’t it?