Organized Panel Session
India has a complex language regime, given its immense linguistic diversity and its relative success in maintaining multilingualism. A major component of the language regime is linguistic federalism: most states in India’s federal union are demarcated by a regional majority language. How and why the choice was made to organize India’s federalism primarily on the basis of major regional languages is the focus of this paper. I argue that local traditions, often emanating from pre-colonial politics and reconfigured during colonialism, have been reconciled with India’s postcolonial project of nation-building, resulting in linguistic federalism. This reconciliation has been propelled forward by linguistic mobilization and political compromise. Local traditions prefigured the vernaculars around which mobilization was likely to be generated. The colonial language regime had objectified those vernaculars as languages belonging to territorially demarcated speech communities, further setting the stage for postcolonial demotic politics. Those politics have revolved around accommodating India’s linguistic diversity with linguistic rationalization inherent in the nation-building project. As a result, India’s linguistic diversity has been compromised: only major regional languages—those that are identified with local tradition, objectified under colonial rule, and capable of effecting mass mobilization—are considered a viable basis for statehood in India’s federal union. I will make my argument by drawing upon my own research on language politics in Karnataka, Assam and Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and supplement it with analyses by other scholars on language politics in other states or regions in India.