Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, February 27th, 2020

Sociological Background of Regionalism in South Asia


Sociological Background of  Regionalism in South Asia

The Indian subcontinent or South Asia incompasses today eight very diverse sovereign states of very different sizes: India, Pakistan Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan. The subcontinent carries the weight not only of its people but also of their ancient history, stretching back five millennia, and a modern history incompassing the experience of British colonialism compressed in tumultuous developments within the past couple of    centuries.  It has 3 per cent of the world’s area, 23 per cent of its population and 2 per cent of its GDP. Within that, India has 72 per cent of the area, 77 per cent of the population and 75 per cent of the GDP. Several regional organisations in different parts of the world had already come into existence before SAARC and were working fairly and satisfactorily. These included the Arab League established in 1945, Organisation of American States OAS 1948, the Association of South-East Asian Nations ASEAN 1967, and the European Union, EU, 1993. The last one is evolved from the six-nation European Coal and Steel Community created in 1952. It is now a 15-member union and is the most perfect and effective of all regional organisations.
Points of difference in South Asia
The region South Asia and its peoples present a picture of diversity in unity, indeed of immense diversity within a very broad contour of unity. Among them there is great diversity in natural attributes–imposing hills and mountains, lush green river plains, arid deserts and brown plateaus. The South Asian societies are marked by their plural character in terms of languages, cultures, regions and religions. The peoples of South Asia speak at least twenty major languages and if we include the more important dialects, the count rises to over two hundred. The very diverse languages and language families of South Asia have made enormous contributions to world literature from ancient to modern times. In a broad historical and cultural sense all states of the region may be viewed to be belonging to the Indian family of nations.
Others alike the region South Asia share certain things in common and they are the religious–cultural heritage of the ancient and medieval times and the administrative, political, educational, economic institutions.  Adherents of major world religions, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism are found in the subcontinent. Hinduism with its ancient roots, modern transformation and multiple interpretations plays a vital part in the culture and politics of the subcontinent. The greatest cultural and political achievements of Islam have taken place in the subcontinent, where more than 400 million of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims live today. Each of the three most populous countries of South Asia–India, Bangladesh and Pakistan has nearly 140 million Muslims, next only to Indonesia as the largest Muslim countries in the world. Buddhism, apart from the formal adherents in the land of its birth, continues to flourish in Sri Lanka and the Himalayas as well as in East and Southeast Asia. South Asia has also significant number of Jain, Zoroastrian, Christian and Sikh minorities.
Social groups and regional co-operation
In spheres of culture, economy, politics and society the modern South Asian history witnessed a number of significant changes in which pivotal role was played by the intermediate social groups in the construction and continuation of British raj. As a result of this social group the colonial state succeeded in intervening the earlier communal and caste categories. They also refashioned the social relations of class by the linking of Indian economic regions to wider capitalist system and thus created a new group in subcontinent’s society for their benefit. The states of South Asia emerged as sovereign entities after their prolonged struggle against colonialism. In the Post-Colonial era, nation building became an arduous task. It was all the minorities challenging for multicultural states to blend the diverse religious, linguistic and ethno-cultural groups into a national mould.  Majority of these states devised the mechanism of a secular democratic order to achieve this objective. But lack of popular participation or the inadequacy of participation have, rather, contributed to political fragmentation. The absence of a political mechanism to settle who will get what and how has given rise to conflicts among ethnic groups.
In Post-World War II phase several unsuccessful attempts were made by India and others to stimulate regional identity and consciousness in Asia and create a basis for cooperation among Asian countries. Initially, South Asia did not have powerful economic incentives to offer to the global forces of market exploitation and coordination. It lacked natural resources and primary products potential for quick, easy and wholesome profits to attract investments from the outside world. For long thirty years regionalism could neither be imposed from the global hegemonic forces on South Asia, nor could it be evolved through autonomous initiatives from within the region. In contrast, the regional politics of South Asia was encouraged to feed on conflict and poverty, but, in fact it presents a case of economic parity as Gunnar Myrdal had put it in 1968”, There is a similarity in the basic economic conditions of the South Asian countries. All are very poor in general, the largest are the poorest...... All have endured a long period of stagnation ...... and the levels of living of the masses are either lower or not substantially higher today than they were before the Second World War.”
Congenial environment in South Asia
The Charter of the United Nations as contained in Article 52, permits, “the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action ..........”, provided they are consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Though no any criteria was set regarding behaviour among the  member countries, in general, any feasible plan promoting the birth of a regional cooperative organisation must satisfy two basic criteria: (a) it must conform to the interests of participating states and (b) it must respect the sovereignty of the member countries.   In case of South Asia the earlier quest for autonomy against dominance proved fatal for region’s integration and interdependence and it prevented, on the other, the evolution and growth of regional economic cooperation. As demanded by the changed situation and pressing needs of the public at large, countries of the region felt the urgency to initiate and institutionalise economic  cooperation in South Asia. For the first time an attempt was made to isolate   economic cooperation issues stemming from the traditionally dominant factor of political antagonism. Thus, formation of the SAARC is premised on three assumptions. First, the promotion and satisfaction of economic goals through cooperative measures will establish the salience of economic issues in intra-regional relations.Second, the realisation of equitable distribution of benefits from the expansion of cooperation in areas of commercial and industrial activity will reduce the severity of hither to unresolved disputes to a manageable level. Lastly, dialogue through the SAARC forum and enhanced transactions will effect a positive change in the attitudes of leadership and help bring about consensus on peaceful means of resolution of conflict.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G. Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India. Email- rajkumarsinghpg@yahoo.com

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