Even before independence, linguistic identity mattered to Indians. In fact, the independence struggle became a mass movement because leaders even before Mahatma Gandhi adopted their native tongues to rouse the masses. Gandhi himself ran three newspapers, one in English, another in Hindi and a third in his native Gujarati.
Chopra argues that India’s earliest self-conception is a union of diverse cultures. The British divided the country into 11 provinces for administrative convenience. Linguistic considerations did not matter to them. Of course, there were over 500 princely states as well.
In 1947, India inherited nine provinces from the British. The incorporation of princely states by this young country was a feat of extraordinary statesmanship by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. For a while, the country retained the borders of the imperial states until linguistic identity asserted itself.
This identity led to new linguistic states. Most recently, the formation of Telangana after splitting up Andhra Pradesh has boosted the demand for smaller states.
The formation of states is a story of the growing democratization of Bharat, as Sanjeev Chopra’s book, We, the People of the States of Bharat. You can buy the book here.
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