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WHAT BRAND IS YOUR NATIONALISM'

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.

One cannot help repeating these lines from W.B. Yeats again and again; they have a prophetic ring that seems so very relevant to our terrible times. In the early years after independence we took pride in our multi-cultural character; our cultural diversity was something of an achievement. Here was a country with a host of completely different languages, with different religions, different social habits, eating different kinds of food, looking so different — and yet it was one country, proclaiming itself to the world as the epitome of the phrase, “Unity in diversity”.

Our national anthem reflected just this: Punjab, Sindhu, Gujarat, Maratha,/ Dravida, Utkala, Banga… and we moved through our country conscious of this unique quality, something of which no other country could boast. We were Indian, being Indian meant all this, and we were one.

So it seemed then, but the diversity in unity, we soon discovered, came at a price. It wasn’t long before the first signs of unrest showed themselves, with the demand for linguistic states. Jawaharlal Nehru may have been a romantic dreamer, but he was also a statesman, and saw where the country was heading: “Each one”, he said in one of his speeches, “has his own brand [of nationalism] in mind. He may use the word nationalism of India but in his mind he is thinking of that nationalism in terms of his own brand of it. When two brands of nationalism come into conflict, there is trouble.”

And there was. In what is now Andhra Pradesh, in what is now Karnataka, in what is now Gujarat and in what is now Maharashtra. And not just in those early years; even in recent years, there has been unrest in other parts, and Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have been formed. And there’s no guarantee whatsoever that this is the end of such demands. Nehru justified the linguistic division of states as being necessary to give people a distinct social and cultural pattern, but this was a specious justification. Was he suggesting that a “distinct social and cultural pattern” was not possible except in a separate state' Were the great writers, thinkers and leaders of India who lived in un-reorganized states the lesser for having done so' What restrictions did they face and from whom'

Anyway, that’s not the issue here. The fact is unrest came fairly early to India, followed by further unrest mainly in the south in the wake of the misplaced zeal of some to impose Hindi as the national language. That agitation nearly put an end to the proud slogan, “Unity in diversity”, and only a very major compromise brought that to an end. Yet the anger continues to simmer under the surface in the south, in spite of what the proponents of Hindi declare earnestly.

Having said all this, it is necessary also to say that the very process of democracy has built within it the seeking of identities by groups and sections of the people. Democracy, as we all know, is about individuals and their rights, and individuals very quickly realize that if they band together, they are more formidable. Hence we have parties, trade unions and the rest. But, inevitably, what it has brought to centre-stage has been caste, community and religion. In order to gain greater influence within the system, appeals have been made to all three, and paradoxically, that has sharpened the awareness of separate identities. As long as these feelings remained within democratic means of expression, one could see it as a part, perhaps not a very wholesome part but nevertheless a part of the democratic process. That kind of separateness does not go beyond the concept of the country itself. It’s more the kind of nationalism Nehru was talking about.

But separatism did not, sadly, stop there. Driven by extreme forces, it took a violent, murderous shape in different parts of the country. The very notion of India was being questioned — in Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, and adjoining regions of other states, in Punjab, and in Kashmir. Most of this has been contained, fortunately, by discussions and compromise, as indeed it should be in a democracy. But in other parts, it has not. Kashmir is a different proposition right now, where Pakistan is deliberately fomenting violence and the voice of the Kashmiri — never a very aggressive one — has been drowned out by the mercenaries and fidayeen sent in from across the border.

Nevertheless, it becomes necessary for us to look at the tendencies that have emerged — how different they are from the earlier assertions of local identity. Now there is a lack of trust and belief in the very concept of India as a country. It happened in Punjab, is still fairly common in the states in the Northeast, and among some of the more extreme, if ineffective, parties in the south. This distrust and lack of belief has become deep-rooted; I have seen it in the young men of Doda and Poonch, and in the Northeast. India is considered the Other; something else. And its origin and growth has been the action, and inaction, of the country as a whole.

If administration is bad in other parts of the country, it is simply dreadful in these parts. The magnitude of corruption and inefficiency has to be seen to be believed. Using that utterly foolish notion of security — against whom god alone knows, since the Chinese don’t really believe in our Restricted Areas Act, to put it mildly — the northeastern regions have been denied the benefits of tourism, industry and trade, of better farming practices and transport. The prosperity of Punjab farmers actually worked to sharpen differences between the marginalized, land-poor farmers and the rich, and between the rich and the rest of the country, leading to the bitterness and anger so easily fanned into hatred by Bhindranwale and his followers.

S.D. Muni of Jawaharlal Nehru University quotes the anguished outburst of the former chief minister of Nagaland, Vamuzo: “The sense of alienation due to the overbearing presence of the army is being compounded by the lack of opportunity. And the denial to the people of the right to govern themselves will ultimately convince the people…they have no hope of a life of peace and dignity under the present dispensation.”

The fault has been, very largely, the myopia of the middle and lower levels of the Central administration, notably the home ministry. Most of these officials are from the cow belt, and assume that the other parts of India are strange, foreign. Yet, it is the cow belt that is, ironically, the most backward region in the country, the one area that is pulling India down economically and socially, and keeping it among the poorest nations of the world. It is the South and West that are growing more and more prosperous; that is where the industries are coming up, that’s where the investment is pouring in, that is where the information technology revolution has happened and is happening even now. Look where most of the best educational institutions are, the best medical facilities, the best management institutes. Now, if in that region, the South and West, feelings of separatism were to grow, and take root, the end of India as a country would be very, very close.

It’s time, then, to look at a bigger picture of India than the one seen by the likes of Mayavati, Laloo Prasad Yadav and their kind, to determine just what breeds distrust in the concept of this multi-cultural nation. The myopia of the babus in the Central government has to be replaced, and rational, well thought out steps to eliminate those factors which breed separatism. It simply must be clear to everyone in the country, Kashmiris, Nagas, Boros, Gujaratis, Biharis, Tamils and all the others that make up India, that, as the national anthem says, the country is indeed all of them together, and nothing at all without them, without even one of them.

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