Colombo, June 24: With its government at the Centre in conflict with several States run by opposition parties, and with a number of elections in the offing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to woo the States.

But the method it has chosen to do this smacks of a desire to centralize the country on the basis of Hindu nationalism, disregarding States’ identities and sentiments.

This is starkly reflected in the Center’s diktat dated May 11, directing State Governors (who are all appointees of the BJP government) to celebrate States’ Foundation Days as expeditiously as possible. Governors could celebrate other States’ Foundation days also. And the dates chosen need not coincide with the real foundation days.

The timing of this new scheme and the hurry in which it was to be executed made many wonders about the purpose of the venture.

The ostensible purpose was to celebrate the creation of States and thereby celebrate federalism. The idea was also to display and celebrate “unity in diversity” and thereby correct the growing impression that the BJP abhors diversity and seeks to road roll uniformity based on the credo “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan.”

Interestingly, the Governors were not obliged to consult or involve the State governments.

State Days are best observed by the governments and the people of the States rather than their Governors who are the Center’s imposition, and often in conflict with the State governments. Since many of the States were established after a struggle by the people, their Foundation Days are imbued with emotions, which are best expressed by local governments and local people.

Both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana came into being after a long and bitter struggle. Andhra Pradesh came into being on November 1, 1956, after a Congress worker, Potti Sriramulu, fasted to death in Madras. Telangana was created on June 2, 2014, after five decades of struggle for separation from Andhra Pradesh, the longest struggle for Statehood in South India.

Bombay State was divided into Maharashtra and Gujarat on May 1, 1960, after a violent struggle. Mizoram and Nagaland were the result of a long and violent separatist movement. Present Punjab had to go through not only the India-Pakistan partition in 1947 but a two-decade-long Punjabi Suba movement before it was established in November 1966. Under these circumstances, State Days observed by local people and governments acquire a distinctive flavour and display a sense of fulfilment.


Banerjee-Bose Faceoff

The West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, took up the cudgels against the Foundation Day diktat in a most telling fashion. In a letter to Governor C.V.Ananda Bose dated June 20, Banerjee said the observance of the day (on June 21) would be without the consent of the State cabinet or the legislature.

“It would hurt the sentiments of the people and insult and defame the millions of people in West Bengal,” she thundered.

Banerjee also said that the people of West Bengal have “never rejoiced over, or commemorated, or celebrated” any day as the Foundation Day of West Bengal because the State came into being in the midst of communal bloodletting as a result of the partitioning of India on Hindu-Muslim lines.

However, the Governor was not entirely wrong. It was on June 20, 1947, that the Bengal Legislative Assembly voted in favour of dividing Bengal into a Hindu-majority West Bengal and a Muslim-majority East Bengal (or East Pakistan). The BJP claims that West Bengal was the brainchild of a Hindu nationalist Bengali leader, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, one of the founders of the Jana Sangh in the 1950s which later on became BJP. It was Mukherjee’s idea to create a Bengal where the Hindus would be in the majority, and that meant partitioning Bengal.

The BJP might well portray Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, as the founder of West Bengal in the 2024 parliamentary elections and rake in votes. In fact, the State unit of the BJP has been observing the ‘Paschimbanga Dibas’(‘West Bengal Day’) for the past few years, paying homage to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.

Not surprisingly, State BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari tweeted: “This contribution of Dr Shyama Prasad Mukhopadhyay (Mukherjee), the creator of West Bengal, can never be forgotten. Thanks to his efforts today we, especially the Bengali Hindus, have the honour of being citizens of this great country of India and live with dignity.”


This has put Banerjee is a spot. However, her objection to the Governor’s arbitrary action is valid. He should have consulted her because constitutionally, he should act on her advice.


Hindutva Posturing in Tamil Nadu  

On May 16, the Governor of Tamil Nadu R.N.Ravi observed “Sikkim Statehood Day” with a few Sikkimese in Chennai in attendance. The date on which it was held coincided with Sikkim’s actual founding day, namely, May 16 (1975). But Ravi’s speech was loaded with BJP’s ideology. He downgraded political identities and spoke of the need for a uniform religious identity.

“Sikkim was part of Bharat, where people used to go for pilgrimages. Unfortunately, some of us have forgotten that, besides (Buddhist ) monasteries, there are very old places of (Hindu) pilgrimage in Sikkim. Kirateshwar Mahadev temple is in western Sikkim, on the bank of the River Rangeet. Mahadev, in the form of Kirat ( hunter), is a very ancient temple, and people used to go on pilgrimage there. Close to Gangtok is Ganesh Tok, the old Ganesh Temple. Subsequently, other strands of our civilization, such as Buddhism, also went there.”

“We came to know about the different parts of the country, but we knew them only politically. Earlier, people moved across the country for pilgrimages to Puri, Rameshwaram, Kanchipuram, and Dwarka. People were well connected. But the socio-cultural interaction was weakened during British rule deliberately. After the British, we have given too much emphasis to political identity and politics. We know about the geography of the country, but we don’t know about the people,” Ravi said.

Observing Telangana Day in Chennai, Ravi said that the idea of state identities is “divisive and dangerous for the idea of India.” He said States were created for administrative efficiency, but “all kinds of fictional identities have been created” to justify them, he added. He brushed aside Telangana’s basis, the Mulki identity of Nizam’s Hyderabad.

Tamil Nadu prides itself on having a distinct “Dravida” identity, and the DMK government led by M K Stalin has consciously projected this. It is held out as an alternative to the BJP’s Hindutva ideology. Ravi had stirred the hornet’s nest earlier by saying that the Dravidian identity is purely political, fictitious and divisive.

He has also said that Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were all created from the Madras Presidency for administrative efficiency not to promote ethnic identities, ignoring the popular movements which led to their creation.

“There are variations from place to place. Even within a state, there will be variations in our dance, performances, and rituals. What is common is our mythology, our heroes, gods and goddesses. We see that Shiva, Rama, Krishna, and goddesses are all-pervasive. What unites us is our rich cultural heritage, with its enormous and stunning diversity, in terms of language, and cuisine. We see the underlying unity.”

There was no mention of the States’ religious minorities their cultures, festivals and rituals in this speech. For Ravi, the only permissible identity is religious, or more precisely, Hindu religious identity.

K. Chandru, a retired Madras High Court judge told the Indian Express: “Ravi’s statements reflect his limited understanding of culture. He does not understand that culture stands outside religion. We know that the RSS never endorsed the linguistic division of States as it wanted a single State, a single language.” He accused Ravi of incessantly “debunking Tamil consciousness”.

Ravi had earlier said that there is nothing like the “Dravidian model of governance” (which, according to the Dravida Munntra Kazhaga (DMK), is secular, equalitarian and social justice based). He had even suggested that the name of the State should be “Tamilaham” (“home of the Tamil language) and not “Tamil Nadu” (“land of the Tamils), which has a geographical connotation and therefore smacked of separatism.

In an effort to de-link the Governor’s office from the Tamil Nadu government, Ravi’s invitation card for the last Pongal celebration at Raj Bhawan had the Central government’s logo, not the Tamil Nadu government’s. Obviously, the idea was to de-link the Governor’s office from the State government and make it clear that it represented the Center.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Vaiko (V.Gopalaswamy) is conducting a signature campaign to oust Ravi from his post.