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Is autonomy the best answer to combat balkanization? II

The difference between Yugoslavian dissolution and the soviet dissolution is: Soviet republic dissolved only when leeway in terms of freeness (glasnost and perestroika) was granted by the government and the dissolution was not too bloody a struggle; whereas on the other hand Yugoslavian dissolution was a completely messy and bloody affair- a direct opposition to centralized power. The above two states of affair show balkanization occurs when there is heavy centralization in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation.
Now let’s see the other side of the coin: The relationship of autonomy and balkanization. The best example of a large republic granting autonomy to its state is the USA. USA is a federal state in which there is full autonomy of the states. The autonomy extends to many spheres including the law of the land also. United States of America seems to be exemplary model of how autonomy can curb balkanization. Each of the 50 states in America has their own set of law which, in many cases, is entirely different from the others – capital punishment, gun control, drinking age etc. The states are also at complete autonomy to formulate and execute their laws. However, the reasons for non-cessations movement may not lie in autonomy alone. Consider the fact that the American economy – industry, agriculture, services are highly decentralized over the entire area of the country. The states also compete with each other to lure the industry to establish in their zones. Besides, the ethnic conflicts based on origin, language are almost non-existent since apart from the native Indians, the ethnicity and origin of people is similar. Balkanization of America is generally presented as a call against US immigrant rights to keep ethnic and religious origin intact. Largely responding to the growing Latin population in Northern America which succeeds in keeping its language autonomy, those calls echo racist calls for forced assimilation by spreading fear from emerging claim for difference. Balkanization here is particularly aimed as an accusation against Mexicans, who in the minds of racist movements do not belong to ‘Whites, Yellows and Blacks’ and are thus subdividing perceived monolith of the Caucasian race. Hence we cannot say in a definitive voice that autonomy restricts the tendency towards fragmentation; especially in the back drop of two diametrically different outcome of autonomy in the erstwhile USSR and today’s USA. Many different factors are responsible for the occurrence or non-occurrence of balkanization.
Ayn Rand quoted in Global Balkanization: “As to the stagnation under tribal rule -take a look at the Balkans. At the start of this century, the Balkans was regarded as the disgrace of Europe. Six or eight tribes, plus a number of sub-tribes with unpronounceable names, were crowded on the Balkan Peninsula, engaging in endless wars among themselves or being conquered by stronger neighbors or practicing violence for the sake of violence over some microscopic language differences. Balkanization – the break-up of larger nations into ethnic tribes – was used as a pejorative term by European intellectuals of the time. Those same intellectuals were pathetically proud when they managed, after World War I, to glue most of the Balkan tribes together into two larger countries: Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. But the tribes never vanished; they have been popping up in minor explosions all along, and a major one is possible at any time.”
Now we can discuss the concepts of autonomy and centralization: as the cause of balkanization from Indian perspective. Like the USSR or Yugoslavia or the USA India is also large multi-ethnic country. India also faced the problems of balkanization many times in last half century; be it the Khalistan movement or ULFA uprising or the present Kashmir tension. We need not go into exploring the reason for such divisive movements rather we should concentrate on the methodology to combat it. Our main thrust will be either autonomy or heavy centralization. Let’s consider the case of centralization scenario first. Centralization can curb the impending balkanization as a short term measure. Heavy centralization means a strong centre always looking down on the weaker states. Any slightest dissention is being dealt with a heavy hand by the centre. This will surely intimidate the divisive forces to take any revolutionary step but at the same time it will pile up their dissentions within themselves which will explode sooner or later. The concept of balkanization in India is multi-dimensional – lingual, ethnic, religious and ideological. Centralization can curb the impending balkanization as a short term measure. Heavy centralization means a strong centre always looking down on the weaker states. Any slightest dissention is being dealt with a heavy hand by the centre. This will surely intimidate the divisive forces to take any revolutionary step but at the same time it will pile up their dissentions within themselves which will explode sooner or later.
A government that uses an iron clad hand for enforcing the ‘nationalism’ on its states and its people would perhaps be looking down the barrel of revolution in long term. There can be no question regarding decentralization of economy. The after-effects of localization of economic centers are already visible in Mumbai – the call for return of people from UP & Bihar to their own states and voices of Marathas first. Implausible, though it may seem to many, the centralization of economy has also taken the government’s focus from traditionally agricultural zones like Vidarbh and Rayalseema. Some special cases like Punjab’s Khalistan, Kashmiri Separatist movements also exist which have to be considered specially, for there is/was a presence of external element in these states. The agitation took the form of violent struggle and is considered terrorism. Such cases only advocate the presence of capable, strong centre. State autonomy is unthinkable in nations where the cessation movement has assumed the flavor of terrorist sabotage. For example autonomy will fail to prevent balkanization, in fact gather momentum for it, if granted to countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we stand at a point where neither autonomy nor heavy centralization is of any good help to prevent the evil of balkanization.
The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life. In a set up like ours where the nation is characterized by so many difference in social, economic parameters, the forces of separation cannot be left unchecked. The smaller parties may gradually call for higher independence from the Indian union for electoral gain which might not be the favorable situation for us. Autonomy is a double edged sword if not used properly it will harm in more ways. And to reap the benefits of this weapon one has to have a certain level of maturity and a favorable political set up which, unfortunately India lacks.
There are some scholars who advocate autonomy to combat balkanization. But autonomy is no God. And in Indian concept total autonomy will result in utter disaster. Why so? For the same reason as that of heavy centralization. For example autonomy will fail to prevent balkanization, in fact gather momentum for it, if granted to countries like Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan etc. So we stand at a point where neither autonomy nor heavy centralization is of any good help to prevent the evil of balkanization. The only way to combat the evil of balkanization is to attack it at the level of human brain. It can be tackled by developmental administration. The development activity – be it on an autonomous stare or a centralized state always work as a force against balkanization. Whenever there is development people begin to understand that the government is working for them and they will not have the courage or any valid reason for ceding away from the union.
So, it can be said that, in Indian perspective the present administrative set up is appropriate in the present scenario. At present we have a quasi-federal set up. This is a mid way between full autonomy and full centralization. The states have been provided autonomy in many important matters but there is provision for central control of the states through some administrative machinery. In this way the states cry for more power has been answered so also the control of the states when the state government becomes wayward. But the quasi-federalism as practiced is not the appropriate method. We need to address issues like equitable distribution of industrialization, removing regional disparity, spread of education and awareness throughout the country. Of course there will be some tension among the states(mainly created by the regional political parties) but hey can be effectively dealt with the central administration in a strong manner provided that the central government has the moral authority to do so. And from where does this moral authority come? It comes from peoples’ acceptance of the union government. In this way the states cry for more power has been answered so also the control of the states when the state government becomes wayward. But the quasi-federalism as practiced is not the appropriate method. We need to address issues like equitable distribution of industrialization, removing regional disparity, spread of education and awareness throughout the country. (Concluded)
(The author is pursuing his post graduate course in Political Science at Jamia Millia Islami, New Delhi)