ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Ambedkar and the Linguistic States

Ambedkar consistently argued that the proposed linguistic states would become socially more homogeneous and politically democratic in due course of time. His proposals about the formation of linguistic states emanated from his democratic impulse to accord political and cultural recognition to the term region, otherwise defined predominantly in a geographical spatial sense. He gave importance to the size of the population of a state and had suggested the creation of present-day Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in his writings. He wanted Bombay to be a separate city state, while Maharashtra would remain representative of Gujaratis and Marathis. The idea of one state, one language that he defended over one language, one state was predominantly guided by his quest for development, justice, equality and freedom for the untouchables and dalits who could perhaps learn the language of the new state and participate in its political and administrative affairs.

Ambedkar and the Linguistic States

A Case for Maharashtra

Ambedkar consistently argued that the proposed linguistic states would become socially more homogeneous and politically democratic in due course of time. His proposals about the formation of linguistic states emanated from his democratic impulse to accord political and cultural recognition to the term region, otherwise defined predominantly in a geographical spatial sense. He gave importance to the size of the population of a state and had suggested the creation of present-day Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in his writings. He wanted Bombay to be a separate city state, while Maharashtra would remain representative of Gujaratis and Marathis. The idea of one state, one language that he defended over one language, one state was predominantly guided by his quest for development, justice, equality and freedom for the untouchables and dalits who could perhaps learn the language of the new state and participate in its political and administrative affairs.


n the year 2000, three new states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal were created out of the then existing states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively, and made part of the Indian union. The ideological and political justifications for the creation of these states rested on their having a specific social, cultural and geographical identity, distinct from the states that they were earlier part of. It was also believed that these new states would be economically viable, administratively efficient, culturally integrative, socially homogeneous and politically representative.

Since the reorganisation of states in 1956, the demand for newer and smaller states has been on rise. Whether it is the demand for Telengana, Vidarbha, Marathwada, Bundelkhand or Harit Pardesh in recent years or the earlier demand of Khalistan, Bodoland or Gorkhaland, various political parties and groups have periodically intensified their political struggle for the creation of new states by demanding to redraw the territorial boundaries of the existing states. The coalition politics and political reality of the last three decades in India can best survive by impressing upon the regional identities, which are based on a curious mix of land, labour and language. However, such an exercise needs to take into account a proper understanding of the histories, traditions and cultural pluralities of different regions of the country, as well as knowledge of the consequences resulting from restructuring social and political space, and its territorial reconfiguration in the economy and polity of the states likely to be reconstituted. Over time the process of territorial redemarcation of states affects the powers and privileges of the ruling elites – old and new – and their domains of political authority and leadership. It radically alters the existing political alignments and their social and cultural bases of consolidation dependent on ties of caste, religion, language and region predominantly. Within this context, it is instructive to locate the rationale of the reorganisation of states on the linguistic basis through B R Ambedkar’s numerous writings. His critical observations and concerns for the minorities in the newly constituted states after independence and his erudite, judicious and pragmatic approach to the question of multilingual social heterogeneity, within the federal state structure, provide a kind of blueprint for the political formation of the Indian state and its constituents. Unfortunately, Ambedkar’s writings on the language question have not received much attention despite the emergence of a vast scholarship centred on Ambedkar’s own writings in the last two decades.1

Ambedkar differed from Gandhi, Nehru and several other nationalists over the language question. He often contested the Congress Party’s ideology of linguistic nationalism during the years 1920-40. What guided Ambedkar in his call for the linguistic states was his predominant concern for the unity and integrity of the country immediately after Partition. In order to understand Ambedkar’s proposals for the linguistic states along with his deep-seated fears and apprehensions in creating them, it is helpful to ask the following questions. How did Ambedkar resolve the tension between minority languages and their decisive inclusion or exclusion in determining the linguistic composition of a state? Didn’t he too like Gandhi and Congress, who were willing to recognise Muslims, Christians and Sikhs as distinct communities, want untouchables to be treated a distinct cultural community? If so, how did he define their linguistic-cultural identity? Ambedkar’s emphasis on the just political order within the framework of constitutional democracy ensures certain requisite safeguards for cultural and linguistic minorities. In this context, I would like to problematise Ambedkar’s notion of the linguistic states, which for him reconcile the tension between cultural pluralism and political democracy, as well as between social heterogeneity (multilingualism) and political authority (federalism). However, the focus on the conflict between linguistic majority and minority communities remains underemphasised in his characterisation of the linguistic states, which in the last 50 years have been overburdened with the problems of linguistic minorities. I examine the question of linguistic states in Ambedkar’s writings by closely following the arguments that he develops in four important papers and pamphlets. These could be considered his representative texts on this question.

Ambedkar and the Linguistic States

In States and Minorities: What are Their Rights and How to Secure Them in the Constitution of Free India, Ambedkar compiled detailed notes and tables about the scheduled caste population in all states and its numerical minority status to other communities then existing.2 It was a memorandum regarding the safeguards for scheduled castes submitted to the constituent assembly on behalf of the All-India Scheduled Castes Federation in 1947. The memorandum listed and defined several fundamental rights, minority rights and safeguards for the scheduled castes in general. In order to emphasise the need for special protection and representation of the scheduled castes, Ambedkar in this memorandum elaborated upon the articles as they were supposed to be part of the Constitution of India – then in the making. He suggested that the constituent assembly had to face two difficult problems at that time – the problem of minorities and the reorganisation of Indian states. Regarding the latter, Ambedkar had wished to be elected as a member of the states committee for his interests pertaining to the reorganisation and reconstitution of states in independent India, but unfortunately he was not made a member of either the Dhar Commission or the JVP Committee, both of which were set up to consider proposals for the linguistic reorganisation of the states soon after independence. In spite of this, he continued to express and explain his views on this question through his numerous writings, written during the decade of 1940-50.

Ambedkar thought that the demand for the creation of linguistic provinces was primarily based on the idea of nationality defined in terms of the differences of languages and cultures among people of different regions.3 For him, any reorganisation of states in India on the linguistic basis has to be accommodated within the broader framework of the federal structure of the government. He alerts us to the dangerous separatist tendencies that could potentially inhere in the creation of nations and nationalities founded on the basis of race and language exclusively, without a certain degree of rationale for political progress and development. The second important aspect that Ambedkar emphasises while considering the proposal for linguistic states is to ensure that there is one language of communication between the centre and the states. This could be possible, he argued, only if the provincial language of each province does not come in the way of the official language of the central government while establishing communicative and administrative order with each of its provinces. Such an arrangement, he hoped, might avert an unwarranted surge towards linguistic nationalism spurred on by the dominant linguistic communities, which would like to enthrone their respective languages as the languages of rule and control at the centre. In this case, Ambedkar suggested that the “central government will have to communicate in as many languages as there are linguistic provinces”. What this entailed was that provincial languages should not be made official languages of the linguistic provinces but still be considered part of the governmental and administrative rationality only if the centre decided to communicate with them at the provincial level. He justified his objection to the language of the province being made its official language on the assumption that the “linguistic province has nothing to do with the question of what should be its official language” or that “language has to play the part only in terms of the demarcation of the boundaries of the province”. According to him, “danger lies in creating linguistic provinces with the language of each province as its official language. The latter would lead to the creation of provincial nationalities. For the use of the provincial languages as official languages would lead Provincial cultures to be isolated, crystallised, hardened and solidified.”4 The fight over provincial versus official language could result in the war of languages, Ambedkar thought, and this could be a healthy development since “there may be a healthy competition between the official and non-official language. One may try to oust the other. If the official language succeeds in ousting the non-official language from the cultural field, nothing like it. If it fails, there cannot be much harm. Such a position can be said to be intolerable. It is no more intolerable than the present position in which we have English as the official language and the provincial language as its non-official language. The only difference is that the official language will not be English but some other.”5

With his predominant concern for the unity of the country, Ambedkar supported a powerful centre to ensure the survival and strength of different languages and their inclusion or exclusion from the administrative and political realms at the centre and the states. He too realised that such a proposal would pose administrative, judicial, political and economic difficulties. Nevertheless, one can see how Ambedkar’s administrative rationale crept into the thinking of later day statesmen and administrators of independent India in allowing the use of provincial languages along with English and Hindi languages while managing the affairs of the Indian state.

Despite these constraints, Ambedkar pointed out numerous advantages that linguistic provinces could pragmatically bring forth ushering in the democratic polity and social homogeneity in the newly independent India. In his view,

History shows that democracy cannot work in a State where the population is not homogeneous. In a heterogeneous population divided into groups, which are hostile and anti-social towards one another, the working of democracy is bound to give rise to cases of discrimination, neglect, partiality, suppression of the interests of one group at the hands of another group which happens to capture political power. The reason why in an heterogeneous society, democracy cannot succeed is because power instead of being used impartially and on merits and for the benefit of all is used for the aggrandisement of one group and to the detriment of another. On the other hand, a state which is homogeneous in its population can work for the true ends of democracy for there are no artificial barriers or social antipathies which lead to the misuse of political power.6

But how does Ambedkar reconcile this vision of a democratic social order with the existing social inequalities of caste, race, class, religion, language, gender and region? Does he suggest any political policies and programmes for achieving such a social homogeneity? Would it be voluntary or enforced? What would be the legal and political domains within which the ideals of political equality and social-cultural homogeneity could be achieved? How would the state ensure that this homogeneity does not turn into enforced uniformity as an ideology? Even while posing an equation between democracy and social homogeneity, Ambedkar could have thought of a more fragmented and heterogeneous social order that democracies have been part of historically in different parts of the world. An enforced cultural homogeneity in any polity could easily become another form of casteism. The call for homogeneity anachronistically posited could endanger the democratic polity that could otherwise ensure

Economic and Political Weekly January 14, 2006

particular cultural rights of communities conditioned and evolved in specific historical contexts in a socially diverse society. However for Ambedkar, cultural specificity and social plurality can exist along with a democratic polity insofar as “democracy is to function properly, the subjects of the State must be so distributed as to form a single homogeneous group… each province must be homogeneous in its population if democracy in the province is to be successful. This is simply another way of saying that each province must be a linguistic unit if it is to be fitted to work a democratic Constitution. Herein lies the justification for linguistic province.”7

Ambedkar justified the creation of linguistic states on another ground – that of the precedence of earlier states of Assam, Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, United Provinces and East Punjab, which were created arbitrarily by the colonial state disregarding the linguistic, cultural and geographical contiguity of the regions concerned.8 With the Andhra movement gaining ground during this period, Ambedkar recognised and emphasised the immediacy and urgency to meet with the demands for linguistic states from different parts of the country, and admitted that it would be better to subside the issue of linguistic provinces now than to have a break up of the country like the Turkish empire or Austro-Hungary empire. In his view, linguistic provinces were to achieve limited political realisations, and linguistic identity need not be counted as the political ideology of the nation state. Therefore, the creation of linguistic provinces does not have to coincide necessarily with the making of provincial language/s as official language/s because there can only be one official language. He seems to be aware of the dangers of linguistic majoritarianism and minorityism arising out of complex processes of political patronage and protection offered to dominant linguistic communities at the time of state formation and consolidation of the national identity.

In another important pamphlet Need for Checks and Balances: Articles on Linguistic States Ambedkar expressed his thoughts over the linguistic states again at a time when the demand for the creation of linguistic states had already been made more vociferously by several states, and the government had decided to constitute states reorganisation commission to put these demands into some kind of a rational order. As a chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution, Ambedkar gave particular attention to the demand of linguistic states during the formative years of 1947-53. He saw how the demand for the creation of Andhra Pradesh had culminated violently in the self-immolation of Potti Sriramaloo that forced Nehru to concede to the creation of Andhra Pradesh as the first linguistic state in 1953 in independent India. Nehru insisted that “we must give the topmost priority to developing a sense of unity in India and anything that might come in the way of that unity might perhaps be delayed a little at time when the world was hanging on the verge of a crisis, it was extraordinarily unwise to unsettle and uproot the whole of India for a theoretical approach or a linguistic division.”9 Analysing the problem of linguistic states, Ambedkar also worried whether these states would be financially more viable and politically better sustainable. He suggested that every such state should choose its capital immediately. Apart from the viability factor, two other factors should be taken into account while considering the case of linguistic states. One was the distribution of castes in different linguistic areas. His main concern was whether linguistic states would be socially and politically advantageous for the smaller communities or they would be trapped in the conflict of majority and minority identity. He was somewhat sceptical about the caste composition of the linguistic states and feared whether they would eventually become communalised.

In a linguistic state what would remain for the smaller communities to look to? Can they hope to be elected to the legislature? Can they hope to maintain a place in the state service?10

Another factor was whether the creation of linguistic state would consolidate into the movement for one language, one state and whether such a consolidation would lead to separate linguistic and cultural consciousness among people in different parts of the country. Ambedkar repeatedly emphasised that one language, one state can never be a central focus in the rationale for creating the linguistic states, rather people speaking or identifying with one language can divide themselves into many states. Even though he supported the idea of linguistic states, he also warned against the dangers of communal majoritarianism that may inhere in the disguise of linguistic identity, and therefore repeatedly emphasised that wherever necessary, dominant language groups and communities should not become communally exploitative.

A close reading of Thoughts on the Linguistic States published in 1955 shows that Ambedkar was particularly concerned about the various aspects of the linguistic states.11 He builds his analysis extensively from the data extracted from the census reports of 1931 and 1941 about the total number of different language speakers belonging to different language families. He also lists the area and population of states of the US to indicate the density of population of each state to emphasise the need for smaller states. Furthermore, he adds a detail table showing inter-provincial immigration and emigration to India followed by a long list of provincial and state revenues. In this long essay, Ambedkar provides two important tables – one on the population of Indian union divided into three main communities – Hindus, Muslims and Others (including scheduled castes within Hindus in each of the states of India) followed by the numerical proportion of chief castes with their geographical concentration in the country. The latter lists the relative size of different communities based on their distribution and enumeration by religion (of 10,000 persons each) in the provinces throughout the country during the 1921 and 1931 Censuses. He suggested that the size of population of a state was extremely important for considering it as a linguistic state and inconsistency in size (too small or too large) would not be very healthy for the long-term. In this pamphlet, Ambedkar strongly supports the creation of linguistic states on the ground that a unilingual state is built on the fellow feeling, which provides the foundation of a stable and democratic state. He gives two reasons as to why a state should be unilingual or why one state, one language is necessary to follow. One is that democracy cannot work without friction unless there is a fellow feeling among those who constitute the state, and cites Bombay as the best illustration for the failure of democracy in a mixed state. He was against the idea of Bombay being retained as a mixed state as was proposed under the recommendations of the states reorganisation commission because such a proposal, he warned, would only intensify the conflict between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis. A second reason for adopting the principle of one state, one language was that it would solve racial and cultural conflicts among different groups and communities in a state reconstituted. While looking at different states in India as either bilingual or multilingual states, Ambedkar considered that the “the genius of India is quite different from the genius of Canada, Switzerland and South Africa because genius of India is to divide – the genius of Switzerland, South Africa and Canada is to unite.”12

He was critical of the Congress Party’s policy on the linguistic states as being somewhat ad hoc and arbitrary in nature. He did not disregard certain dangers inherent in the creation of linguistic states for as he again emphasised that “a linguistic state with its regional language as its official language may easily develop into an independent nationality. The official language of the state shall be Hindi and until India becomes fit for this purpose English.” The only safeguard against such a danger, in his views, is by providing a constitutional provision that the regional language shall not be the official language of the state because “one language can unite people. Two languages are sure to divide people. Culture is conserved by language. Since Indians wish to unite and develop a common culture, it is the bounden duty of all Indians to own up Hindi as their language”. He even suggested that “any Indian who does not accept this proposal as part and parcel of a linguistic state has no right to be an Indian. He may be a 100 per cent Maharashtrian, a 100 per cent Tamil or a 100 per cent Gujarati but he cannot be an Indian in the real sense of the word except in a geographical sense. If my suggestion is not accepted India will then cease to be India. It will be a collection of different nationalities engaged in rivalries and wars against one another.”13 Ambedkar while expressing his unhappiness over partition of India accepted the same principle for its creation. He categorically stated,

I was glad that India was separated from Pakistan. I advocated partition because I felt that it was only by partition that Hindus would not only be independent but free. If India and Pakistan had remained united in one state Hindus though independent would have been at the mercy of Muslims. A merely independent India would not have been a free India from the point of view of the Hindus. It would have a government of one country by two nations and the Muslims without question would have been the ruling race notwithstanding Hindu Mahasabha and Jana Sangh. When the partition took place I felt that god was willing to lift his curse and let India be one, great and prosperous. But I fear that the curse may fall again. For I find that those who are advocating linguistic states have at heart the ideal of making the regional language their official language.14

While defining the linguistic state, Ambedkar stated:

It can mean that all people speaking one language must be brought under the jurisdiction of one state. It can also mean that people speaking one language may be grouped under many states provided each state has under its jurisdiction people who are speaking one language.

But what the Linguistic Provinces Commission, according to Ambedkar, did not pay enough attention to was the disparity between northern and southern states and between the larger Hindi-speaking states and smaller non-Hindi speaking states with possibility in the consolidation of the north and the balkanisation of the south.

Ambedkar even predicted the break up of major northern states due to the sheer size of states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Each of these states, according to him, has to be broken into smaller states to prevent the hegemonic control of north over south. Therefore, he suggested to divide Uttar Pradesh into three states, and each of them ideally having population of about two crores which, he further suggested, should be considered ideal for managing a state efficiently. Three states of Uttar Pradesh, in his views, should have their capitals at Meerut, Cawnpore and Allahabad. He even prepared a small map showing the boundaries of these three states dividing the state of Uttar Pradesh into southern, northern and middle parts. Their dominant regions included present day Uttaranchal, Meerut and Aligarh for the northern part; Cawnpore, Lucknow and Agra for the middle part, and Allahabad, Benares, Gorakhpur and Rae Bareily for the southern part. Similarly, with respect to the state of Bihar, he suggested that it should be divided into two parts with their capitals at Patna and Ranchi, the latter being predominantly a tribal concentration closely resembling the present-day state of Jharkahnd. Regarding the state of Madhya Pradesh too, he proposed that it should be divided into two states – northern Madhya Pradesh and southern Madhya Pradesh with each of these having no more than two crores of the population.

Maharashtra: A Testing Ground

While deliberating seriously on the formation of states in India on the linguistic basis, Ambedkar paid particular attention to the Maharashtra state. In Maharashtra as a Linguistic Province submitted to the Linguistic Provinces Commission set up in 1948, Ambedkar outlined reasons for redefining the territorial boundaries of Maharashtra on linguistic grounds.15 In this, he systematically analysed the merits and demerits of Maharashtra to be considered and reorganised as a linguistic province. Ambedkar wrote extensively on Maharashtra and proposed several options to reconstitute it as a linguistically homogeneous state. Apart from the point of view of its financial viability, geographical and cultural contiguity, he pointed out that Maharashtra should be a unified province. In this case, the main contentious area was the city of Bombay, which had become controversial by the time Ambedkar started reflecting and proposing the changes in the territorial composition of the state of Maharashtra. Emphasising the urgency of the decision to be taken over the future of the city of Bombay, he expressed his views both in support and opposition to the Bombay city’s exclusion or inclusion in the state of Maharashtra, claimed that history did not help very much to decide this issue whereas geography favoured Bombay’s inclusion in Maharashtra. Even historically, the Maratha empire, in his views, did not include Bombay as part of their empire. Similarly, the question of Marathi-speaking either being a majority or minority community had much ambivalence. To consider Gujaratis as natives of Bombay or not was intensely controversial enough to question the nativism of both Gujaratis and Marathis. Hence, he suggested that Bombay as a mixed state consisting of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bombay be done away with, and the state of Maharashtra be divided into four states having Bombay city, western Mahrashtra, central Maharashtra and eastern Maharashtra. Among all of them, the most disputed subject was the fate of Bombay city; whether it should remain a mixed state or be separated out of the then existing Maharashtra and made into a separate state city since both Gujaratis and Maharashtrians had put their claims over it. Despite the claim that Marathis do not form the majority of the Bombay city, Ambedkar insisted on two important factors while recognising the claims over Bombay city for the state of Maharashtra. The geographical contiguity, location and the existence of a large number of immigrants living in Bombay city do not undermine Maharashtrians’ claim over the Bombay city. What is alarming to note, according to Ambedkar, is not that the Marathi-speaking

Economic and Political Weekly January 14, 2006

people are less in number to form a majority but the influx of others into the state due to the job opportunity left Marathis marginalised. However, he wondered why Bombay city’s fate should be any different from what happened to Madras and Calcutta – both of which have remained composite cities and been integral part of the states of Tamil Nadu and Bengal.

Ambedkar wanted to protect Bombay city from undue pressures either by Gujaratis or Maharashtrians in the wake of the demand for Bombay to be included in Maharashtra or Gujarat. He gave another reason for making Bombay a separate state:

The minorities and the scheduled castes who are living in the villages are constantly subjected to tyranny, oppression and even murders by the members of the majority communities. The minorities need an asylum, a place of refuge where they can be free from the tyranny of the majority. If there was a united Maharashtra with Bombay included in it where can they go for safety? The same tyranny was practised over the brahmins, Marwaris and Gujaratis living in the villages when Godse killed Mr Gandhi. All the brahmins, Marwaris and Gujaratis who were once living in villages ran away and are now living in towns and forgetting their experiences are shouting for united Maharashtra, after having reached a safe harbour.16

Though Ambedkar strongly favoured the idea of making Bombay part of Maharashtra state, he was also willing to divide Maharashtra into four separate states. To those opposing the idea of Bombay being a part of Maharashtra, on grounds of non-identity of Bombay with Maharashtra, Ambedkar asks them what kind of identity does Madras city have with Tamil Nadu or Calcutta with West Bengal? If the latter two could continue to be integral cities of the two states, he asked, why couldn’t Bombay be with Maharashtra? To ease out the tension between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis, he proposed to make Bombay a separate city state called a Maharashtra city state, and even suggested that revenues accrued from taxation of electricity should be divided among these four states of Maharashtra. In such a situation, Marathi could become the language of all three states of Maharashtra that Ambedkar proposed. He even suggested transferring of six districts of Maharashtra – then part of the Bombay state – and making them part of Marathwada. Even while proposing the realignment of different regions of Maharashtra, he warned that a single government could not administer a huge state such as a united Maharashtra, and therefore the option of “Samyukta Maharashtra” was not a viable one. Between a separate and single Maharashtra state, Ambedkar opts for a separate Maharashtra state, separate from Gujaratis and Hindi-speaking people. He thinks that a separate state does not necessarily mean a single state, which should cut itself off from other states of the country. A single state meant that only Maharashtrians or Marathi-speaking would form a state whereas they could be spread out in other states or regions as well. He even questioned the consolidation of Marathas as one single homogeneous regional community having similarity of identity and interests. Economic, educational and industrial inequalities among these three parts of Maharashtra too were factors of concern for Ambedkar. Apart from the regional differences among these three parts of Maharashtra, Ambedkar also drew attention to Marathwada, which was a part of Nizam of Hyderabad and remained neglected economically and culturally. Such a backward region should be given special attention and not just be amalgamated with any part of Maharashtra. He opposed the creation of united Maharashtra and feared that Poona and Nagpur brahmins rushing to Marathwada to grab jobs might gradually dominate it.

The word “maratha”, Ambedkar explained, included both linguistic and cultural meanings. It included all those who spoke Marathi language but also those who were maratha by caste. One of the ways to empower maratha – a backward community – according to Ambedkar – was by choosing maratha chief minister in each of these three parts of the Maharashtra along with at least 10 maratha ministers in each of them totalling minimum 30 ministers of the maratha caste. By empowering and educating them politically, there can be some hope for the progress of this backward community otherwise Ambedkar feared that Maharashtra too could soon become a brahmin dominated state. Arguing against Samyukta Maharashtra for reasons of fragmenting the upper caste consolidation and consolidating lower caste or maratha in this case, he stated,

I advise the people of Marathwada or central Maharashtra to have a state of their own so that they have power in their own hands to improve their own lot.17

Ambedkar was more concerned about Maharashtra than Gujarat. He was disturbed about a large chunk of Marathi-speaking areas going over to the non-Marathi speaking areas in the newly proposed reorganisation of states.18 While the initial recommendations of the Linguistic Provinces Commission retained Bombay as a mixed state without going to Maharashtra or Gujarat, it was only after the recommendations of the states reorganisation commission were accepted that the two separate states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were constituted with Bombay being made the capital of Maharashtra. Ambedkar suggested that certain principles should guide the creation of linguistic states in independent India such as the idea of mixed state should be abandoned; every state must be predominantly unilingual (one state, one language); one state, one language should not be confused with one language, one state, and people speaking one language may be divided into more than one state; different states speaking the same language should also take into account factors such as administrative efficiency, emotional need and the ratio between majority and minority, and the smaller states should be more favourable towards their linguistic-cultural minority communities. Through these considerations, Ambedkar wanted to avoid an impending danger of the communalisation of linguistic identity. However, how Ambedkar could have explained the rise of Shiv Sena in Bombay as a “sons of the soil” movement is an intriguing aspect to understand within the schema of linguistic states proposed by him.

Regarding the future of linguistic states in India, Ambedkar emphasised the need for making them financially more viable and politically far more stable. Similarly, the caste composition of these states should be a crucial factor in determining the cultural and political agenda of minority education and progress. The creation of linguistic states, he thought, would certainly sharpen the caste divisions, and minorities might be more disadvantaged. The two dominant forms of majority – communal and political – indicate divergent structures and processes in Ambedkar’s views. The former is rigid and restrictive as one is born into it whereas the latter is more open and continues to grow. The creation of smaller states would provide initial safeguard against this communal majority turning into political majority. The fear of the minorities can only be alleviated, according to Ambedkar, by creating plural member constituencies with cumulative voting in place of the system of single member constituency in the joint electorates system.19 To wriggle out of the north-south conflict over the choice of capital for the country, Ambedkar even suggested to have two capital cities – Delhi and Hyderabad.


Ambedkar consistently argued that the proposed linguistic states would become socially more homogeneous and politically democratic in due course of time. His proposals about the formation of linguistic states emanated from his democratic impulse to accord political and cultural recognition to the term region, otherwise defined predominantly in geographical spatial sense. But how he integrated the caste inequality in his vision of social homogeneity is not clear from his writings on this subject. In fact, Ambedkar somewhat avoids engaging with the question of caste and language hierarchy as a mutually reinforcing one. The upper castes’ control over the elite languages (Sanskrit, Persian and English) as a distinct form of hegemonic control deprives the lower castes from learning these “languages of power”, and thus strategically disengages them from both the spheres of education and economy. Secondly, how does one language, whether Hindi or English, bring cultural unity, if not opposition, is not clear from his position. Ambedkar did not pay sufficient attention to the differences evolving over linguistic loyalties among people and communities in different parts of the country. For him, a theory of nationalism should resolve the tension between majority and minority communities over their cultural- political rights and representation. The linguistic provinces must necessarily deal with these problems along with the tension between regional and national languages and their role in the administration, education, economy and culture of the country. And finally, the demand for linguistic states needs to be contextualised within the logic of capitalist mode of production and economy which radically alters the existing economic and political relations among people and communities. Unilingual states facilitate and bind the communicative order and relations among the bourgeois classes of different regions and states in a manner that the class hegemony and linguistic domination coalesce.20 Ambedkar could have anticipated the conflict between developed and underdeveloped regions growing deeper and more complicated within his problematic of the linguistic states.


Ambedkar’s writings on the subject do not examine adequately a more complex relationship between language and education. Nowhere does he mention how upper castes’ control over languages through Sanskrit, Hindi, English or dominant regional languages extend their hold over education, economy, polity and bureaucracy. It is important to investigate how Ambedkar saw the possibilities for the recognition of lower caste languages and dialects being dominant in these linguistic states composed of different linguistic communities and forming the mixed population of these states. In his statement concerning the state of education of the depressed classes in the Bombay Presidency that he submitted on behalf of the Bahishkrita Hitakarini Sabha to the Simon Commission on May 29, 1929, he argues that the educational policy of colonial rule in the Bombay Presidency



December 10, 2005
Alternating Currents: Introduction to an International Review
of Electricity Restructuring – Navroz K Dubash, Daljit Singh
Of Rocks and Hard Places: A Critical Overview of Recent Global
Experience with Electricity Restructuring – Navroz K Dubash, Daljit Singh
British Experience of Electricity Liberalisation: A Model for India? – Stephen Thomas
Deregulation of Electricity Markets: The Norwegian Experience – Torstein Bye, Einar Hope
A Cautionary Tale: US Electricity Sector Reform – Seth Blumsack, Jay Apt, Lester B Lave
Power Sector Reform in Latin America:
Accomplishments, Failures and Challenges – Jaime Millan
Power Sector Reforms in Sub-Saharan Africa: Some Lessons – Njeri Wamukonya
From State to Market and Back Again: South Africa’s Power Sector Reforms – Anton Eberhard
Electricity Reforms in the ASEAN: A Panoramic Discourse – Deepak Sharma
For copies write to:
Circulation Manager
Economic and Political Weekly,

Hitkari House, 6th Floor, 284, Shahid Bhagatsingh Road, Mumbai 400 001. email:

Economic and Political Weekly January 14, 2006

neglected or ignored the education of masses and the attention was paid to the upper classes and upper castes only. Education in India was subjected to the caste hierarchy, and upper castes and classes deliberately prevented education of the lower castes and classes because, according to Ambedkar, education if provided equally to all would have enlightened and awakened the lower classes and castes against the oppression of upper classes and castes. Therefore the ideology of both British and Indian education then prevalent was to promote the upper caste control over the lower castes. The depressed classes before 1855 in the Bombay Presidency were restricted from the benefits of education to avoid any confrontation by them with the upper castes. In his writings, Ambedkar reflects a great deal about the causes of minorities’ social and economic backwardness within the oppressive caste hierarchy and its degrading effects on the untouchable community. Rather than defining the specificity of the linguisticcultural minorities to argue for their particular protection in the Constitution, Ambedkar was more worried about their subjugation by dominant identities existing in the society at large. The idea of one state, one language that he supported and defended over one language, one state was predominantly guided by his quest for development, justice, equality and freedom for the untouchables and dalits who could perhaps learn the language of the state created and thus could participate in the newly established communicative political order and administrative affairs of the state.

Ambedkar probably thought that the reorganisation of states on the linguistic basis would avert the danger of caste and religious communalisation that had adversely affected political making of the country at that time. For him, an ideal society was the one based on “liberty, equality and fraternity …with multiple interests to be communicated among people”.21Ambedkar’s plea for Maharashtra set the lessons for smaller states that the country had been witnessing in the form of numerous regional autonomy movements in several states since the time of states reorganisation. His concern was not primarily of administrative convenience or governance of smaller states but that of ethno-linguistic and cultural distinction that should be protected while redrawing the territorial boundaries of states in the years to come in independent India.

It is puzzling to note Ambedkar’s silence over the Hindi-Urdu language conflict, which epitomised the communalisation of linguistic identity in India before and after independence. Similarly, the controversy on Hindustani as a secular-syncretic language bridging the gulf between Hindi/Hindu and Urdu/Muslim language communities that occupied a great deal of attention of several nationalists does not get attention in these writings. To locate the discourse of dalit education within the discourse of dalit languages would be a welcome addition to the academic writings on Ambedkar since he categorically emphasised that “what a minority needs is not a mere representation but effective representation”.22 In his views, “it is the fellow feeling which is the basis of unilingual state since this feeling is double edged feeling. It is at once a feeling of fellowship for one’s own kith and kin and a feeling of consciousness of kind which binds together those who have it and overrides all differences arising out of economic conflicts and social gradations…since the dangers of mixed states are greater and beyond the control of statesman.”23 Ambedkar’s reflections and considerations on the linguistic states urge the ruling political elites and policymakers of India not to neglect the relationship between language, economy and culture while redrawing the territorial boundaries of the country.




1 The last two decades have seen numerous academic works published on Ambedkar. Almost all of these writings have been predominantly concerned with his writings on caste, minorities, untouchability and education. His writings on the linguistic states have remained somewhat marginalised in most of the edited volumes as well as scholarly writings published till now.

2 Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, compiled and edited by Vasant Moon, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1979.

3 Ambedkar, ‘Maharashtra as a Linguistic Province’ in Writings and Speeches, Vol 1.

4 Ibid, p 105.

5 Ibid, p 106.

6 Ibid, p 103.

7 Ibid, p 103.

8 Ambedkar’s ideas about the regional linguistic identity and statehood were probably shaped by the preceding examples of states created, aligned and realigned frequently by the British colonial state that followed the sheer logic of administrative convenience and military strength, and deliberately prevented the cultural and political consolidation of the regions concerned. The formation of Assam in 1874, separation of North Western Provinces from Punjab in 1901, partition of Bengal in 1905, separation of Orissa from Bengal in 1919 and the creation of Orissa state in 1936 are a few such cases to understand the arbitrariness of the colonial state in this regard.

9 States Reorganisation Commission Report, Government of India, New Delhi, 1955, p 22.

10 Ambedkar, ‘Need for Checks and Balances: Articles on Linguistic States’ in The Times of India, April 23, 1953, p 134.

11 Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Vol 1.

12 Ibid, pp 144-48

13 Ibid, pp 145-46

14 Ibid, p 146

15 Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Vol 1.

16 Ambedkar, ‘Thoughts on the Linguistic States’ in Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, p 158.

17 Ibid, p 163.

18 Nehru spoke in Rajya Sabha supporting the formation of Maharashtra state on the linguistic basis in 1955-56. He was against the Congress proposal to create Gujarati and Marathi-speaking states along with Bombay city being kept separately as a bilingual Bombay state. He like Ambedkar, favoured the formation of a united Maharashtra with Bombay and other Marathi-speaking regions being made part of it otherwise Bombay would become a “Marathwada of Gujarat” dominated by the capital of Gujarat and labour of Maharashtra. Likewise, Nehru would have liked to retain the state of Hyderabad too.

19 The Poona Pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar in 1932 is a clear example of differences over the political protection of the backward classes in the views of these two prominent nationalist leaders. For Gandhi, having separate electorates for the untouchables would eventually convert them into a class of political untouchables whereas Ambedkar distrusted the upper caste Hindus in protecting the interests of the lower castes. Therefore, by empowering them politically, he wanted to ensure the eradication and the amelioration of the untouchability. See Ravinder Kumar, ‘Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Poona Pact, 1932’ in Jaim Masselos (ed), Struggling and Ruling: The Indian National Congress 1885-1985, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, 1987.

20 Karat Prakash’s work is extremely helpful in bringing out the complexities and contradictions inherent in the demand of the linguistic states situated within the logic of capitalism in post-independent India. For details see, Karat Prakash, Language and Nationality Politics in India, Orient Longman, Delhi, 1973.

21 Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste with a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi, Anand Sahitya Sadan, Aligarh, 1989, p 47.

22 Ambedkar, ‘States and Minorities’ in Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, p 420.

23 Ambedkar, ‘Thoughts on the Linguistic States’ in Vol 1, pp 11-12.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top