Secessionist and separatist movements have littered the history of India throughout the decades. From the Sikhs of Punjab (who sought a "Khalistan") to the Kashmiri Muslims to the Tripuris in the Northeast, many groups of people across the subcontinent have determined that their lives and welfare would improve if they could form their own independent sovereign state.
Indeed, India and Pakistan were themselves born in the violent crucible of Partition in 1947 partly as a result of agitation by Muslims who did not want to live in a Hindu-dominated post-British India.
None of these separatist movements since Partition have succeeded (unless one includes the war of liberation that created the state of Bangladesh out of East Pakistan in 1971), but that doesn’t mean that disparate groups in India have lost their dreams of independent statehood.
Now consider the southern part of India, which is now widely regarded as the most progressive and one of the most prosperous parts of the nation.
What would happen if (in a highly unlikely event) the South decided to secede from the Republic of India?
South India is generally defined as the four states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, plus the territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry. On the whole, South India occupies about about one-fifth of India’s total land mass – 250,000 square miles, or roughly the size of France or Afghanistan.
If South India were an independent country -- let’s call it “Dravida” in honor of the original inhabitants who lived on the subcontinent prior to the arrival of the Aryans and were driven southwards -- it would have a population of about 250 million, less than the United States, but greater than Russia, Brazil or Pakistan.
According to a report in DNA-India, the four states of the South contribute 22 percent of India’s national GDP and generate 28 percent of national employment. The region has a GDP of about $300 billion (about the same as Southeast Asian powerhouse Malaysia). Moreover, South India’s GDP is projected to reach $500 billion by 2016 and edge near $650 billion by 2020 (larger than the current economic strength of Switzerland and just below that of Saudi Arabia).
These "Dravida" people would primarily speak Tamil, Telugu, Kannada or Malayalam (instead of Hindi, Bengali or Urdu, which are prevalent in the north).
The mythical nation’s three largest cities would be Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad – given its size, central location and key information technology industry, Bangalore would likely serve as the capital of Dravida.
As in the North, Hinduism would dominate South India -- some 83 percent to the Dravidian population adhere to Hinduism, followed by Islam (11 percent) and Christianity (5 percent). On this basis, Dravida would actually possess a deeper attachment to Hinduism than India as whole, where Hindus account for “only” about 80 percent of the population.
But Dravida – despite its global image as a center of technology – would remain dominated by an agricultural economy, as indeed the rest of India remains. Nearly one-half of Dravida's workers labor in its fields and farms.
Could South India ever become an independent state? Probably not, since the Indian Constitution basically forbids such a thing from ever taking place. But South India is very distinct from the rest of India in many ways, including language, culture, ethnicity, foods, art, etc. -- and speculation about such a secession is not entirely limited to the realms of fantasy.
In a piece published in July 2007 in Outlook India, cultural journalist Sadanand Menon suggested that if the four states that comprise southern India ever seceded, “you might actually have a new coastal superpower in the region.”
Menon suggested that South Indians, long disdained and ridiculed by the north, have already surpassed the remainder of the country in terms of human development, living standards, literacy, cultural richness, infant mortality, life expectancy, fertility rates and other factors.
While literacy rates are rising all over India, the South leads in the category – indeed, in 2013, Kerala recorded a literacy rate of more than 95 percent, approaching Western standards.
Amazingly, the south now has a fertility rate below the 2.1 percent replacement rate, meaning that by this parameter, South India is similar to Western Europe and Japan in terms of demographics and could witness a gradual decline in its population, or at least stabilization. In addition, whereas the male-female gender gap is ever-widening in North India, in the South, the distribution of the sexes is roughly equal. In fact, Kerala is believed to be the only state in India which has more girls than boys (in northern states like Haryana and Punjab, boys outnumber females by significant margins).
Part of this perceived advancement in the south, Menon noted, can trace its roots to India’s long and often-violent history, referring specifically to the Aryan invasion of northern India thousands of years ago and the Islamic invasion from centuries ago.
“Wave upon wave of invasions, war and plunder seem to have brutalized and coarsened North India’s [civilization],” Menon declared. “In comparison, the south has had a more sedate passage [into the modern age] with palpable historical and cultural continuity.”
The Public Affair Centre, an independent Indian think-tank, issued a study detailing how the “quality of governance and better leadership” has led South India to surge past the north in quality of life measures, including per capita income and poverty alleviation, over the past five decades or so.
Looking at the period 2009-2010, the study’s lead authors Samuel Paul and Kala S. Sridhar found that the average poverty rate in the south amounted to 19 percent, half the 38 percent figure for the northern states. (In contrast, in 1960, the rural poverty rate in the south – 60 percent – exceeded that of the north, which was at 50 percent).
Also, as of 2009-10, on an average weighted basis, per capita income in the southern states came in at 19,531 rupees, more than double the 8,951 rupees found in the north.
“After independence [in 1947], people from the south moved to the north in search of jobs,” Paul told reporters. “Now, North Indians are moving in large numbers to [the] south in search of work. The gap between south and north in terms of per capita income and poverty is widening. Southern states are doing better.”
Sridhar told reporters that the gap in per capita income and poverty between north and south accelerated during the late 1980s and early 1990s. She also noted that the south excels in technical education, electrical power and urbanization – and attributed the various superiorities in the south partially to better leadership and governance and stable government ministries.
In addition, Sridhar suggested that caste differences are not as stringent in the south as they remain in the north, meaning that lower-caste people can access services and facilities provided by government, including education and job training.
“Such movements were absent in the north, where the demand for better governance and entitlements from lower-caste people was either absent or used for identity politics,” she said.
“People in southern states are willing to take advantage of the policies, attract investments to set up new industries and other facilities,” the study added.
Indeed, for example, consider that more than one-half of all engineering graduates hail from the south, even though the region accounts for only about one-fifth of India’s total population.
Dr. Jonah Blank, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, told International Business Times that the south will never secede and that the four states that comprise southern India are fully integrated to Indian nationhood. “They aren't small, remote territories which share little in the way of culture or history with the Indian mainstream,” he said.
“Without its Dravidian south, India wouldn't truly be India. I can't really see these states either deciding, or being permitted to, secede.”
The Dravidian states of India's south, Blank added, are some of the most vibrant and dynamic parts of the nation. “This is true in terms of economy, culture, and political involvement.”
Moreover, one of the many obstacles to an independent South India would be the lack of a national unifying language.
"It's hard to see the four southern states unifying behind any single language -- in the past, and even today, linguistic differences tend to trump ethnic ones in debates over boundaries for southern states,” Blank noted. “Nor would there be a shared homogeneity of faith: [for example] Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have large Muslim populations, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have large Christian populations."
Nevertheless, demands for separation by South India from the remainder of the country have resurfaced over the decades.
Indeed, just before and after India gained independence from Britain, a group of southern politicians agitated for their own independence under the so-called Dravida Nadu movement. Spearheaded by the Justice Party of E.V. Ramasamy and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of C.N. Annadurai, they sought to create a sovereign state for the Dravidian peoples of the subcontinent, including Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), that was quite distinct from the "Aryan" north. That movement died down by the 1960s – in 1963, just one year before his death, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, banned secessionist movements.
One of the most prominent of the South Indian separatists, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, wanted not only the partition of British India, but rather the “trifurcation” of the subcontinent -- into India (dominated by Aryan Hindu Brahmins), Pakistan (Muslims) and Dravida Nadu (Dravidians). Periyar, once a member of the mainstream Congress Party, also led movements to eradicate caste distinctions and promoted women's rights (in stark opposition to views held by the Hindu Brahmins who led the north).
Professor W. "R.P." Raghupathi, program director of information systems at Fordham University in New York City – and a native of South India – told IBTimes that not only does the south have no particular reasons at present to secede from India, but each state is governed by a different political party, making it difficult to agree on things. Additionally, some disputes may exist.
“For example, the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have been engaged in a contentious battle over water rights [over sharing the Kaveri River] for many decades, with little hope of a resolution,” he said.
In the unlikely event that South India ever became a separate state, Raghupathi imagines it would somewhat resemble the European Union – a loosely coupled union of states with the populations speaking a variety of languages and at varying stages of economic development.
Raghupathi also points out that despite the south’s now-global reputation as a center of information technology, the region lacks an abundance of natural resources as compared to the north. While there is high literacy and a knowledge base, there is less entrepreneurship and innovation.
“What the south may need are dynamic business powerhouses," he said.
“The south really does not have any Tatas or Birlas,” he added, referring to dominant family-run conglomerates of the north.
In the meantime, as secessionist movement pop up in various parts of India (and even in Pakistan itself, see Baluchistan), the southern part of India will likely continue to prosper peacefully.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.