The reorganization of the states based on language, a major aspect of national consolidation and integration, came to the fore almost immediately after independence. The boundaries of provinces in pre-1947 India had been drawn in a haphazard manner as the British conquest of India had proceeded for nearly a hundred years. No heed was paid to linguistic or cultural cohesion so that most of the provinces were multi-lingual and multicultural. The interspersed princely states had added a further element of heterogeneity.
The case for linguistic states as administrative units was very strong. Language is closely related to culture and therefore to the customs of people. Besides, the massive spread of education and growth of mass literacy can only occur through the medium of the mother tongue.
Nehru appointed in August 1953 the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), with Justice Fazal Ali, K.M. Panikkar and Hridaynath Kunzru as members, to examine ‘objectively and dispassionately’ the entire question of the reorganization of the states of the union. Throughout the two years of its work, the Commission was faced with meetings, demonstrations, agitations, and hunger strikes.
Different linguistic groups clashed with each other, verbally as well as sometimes physically. The SRC submitted its report in October 1955. While laying down that due consideration should be given to administrative and economic factors, it recognized for the most part the linguistic principle and recommended redrawing of state boundaries on that basis. The Commission, however, opposed the splitting of Bombay and Punjab. Despite strong reaction to the report in many parts of the country, the SRC's recommendations were accepted, though with certain modifications, and were quickly implemented.
The States Reorganization Act was passed by parliament in November 1956. It provided for fourteen states and six centrally administered territories. The Telengana area of Hyderabad state was transferred to Andhra; merging the Malabar district of the old Madras Presidency with Travancore-Cochin created Kerala.
Certain Kannada-speaking areas of the states of Bombay, Madras, Hyderabad and Coorg were added to the Mysore state. Merging the states of Kutch and Saurashtra and the Marathi-speaking areas of Hyderabad with it enlarged Bombay state.
The strongest reaction against the SRC's report and the States Reorganization Act came from Maharashtra where widespread rioting broke out and eighty people were killed in Bombay city in police firings in January 1956. The opposition parties supported by a wide spectrum of public opinion students, farmers, workers, artists, and businesspersons organized a powerful protest movement. Under pressure, the government decided in June 1956 to divide the Bombay state into two linguistic states of Maharashtra and Gujarat with Bombay city forming a separate, centrally administered state. This move too was strongly opposed by the Maharashtrians.