THE talk about unity and divisiveness has become a sick charade; but what is fearsome is that this charade is moving towards violent and painful resolutions. Resolved, not through conscious and intelligent historicity but in the bloody opportunism of centralising processes. The time has come for us to acknowledge in all humility that India’s is not the mythical oneness of the Mahabharata but that its inputs are Muslim and later, British. It is something like the EEC put together by Atilla the Hun. Which is just as well. For, sheltered behind the Himalaya and the ocean, we are a bowl of inherited historical commonality and given a reasonably tolerant dispensation, could have made a go at nationhood. Twenty or forty Indian nations need not be better than one confederacy, except that perhaps, with forty votes, we might acquire dubious clout at the United Nations. Twenty-five years ago this might have sounded like a joke but is not so any more. Instead of moronic pledges of unity taken at flag hoisting ceremonies, the one serious thing we ought to be discussing is India’s togetherness, the grim alternatives of balkanization or confederacy.
Nor will a consideration of these be at variance with the predictions of the national movement. At no point during the fight for freedom was India conceived of as unitary state, far less as one manipulated into accepting the hegemony of a family.
Right till the transfer of power the Congress had a federal scenario in mind and so did the communists; only the Indian big bourgeoisie provided carping dissent and advocated a centralised state congruent with its centralised market. We enter, now, a hectic interregnum of renegacy and grab, with Gandhi suddenly pushed into the shadows, and the splendrous vistas of rulership unfolding before the erstwhile partisans of freedom. The Congress almost by stealth, jettisoned federalism, the cardinal principle on which half a century of its struggle was based. And most curiously the communists followed suit. The bourgeoisie was satisfied and so was the bureaucracy. From 1947 onwards, the building of the Indian state moved away from the discovery of India to an active inheritance of the Mughul Empire and the East India Company. For three decades effectively and during the fourth partially the Empire and the Company worked, for the country was still in the hypnotic afterglow of the freedom struggle.
Today the glow has failed and against our imbecile silhouettes of leadership the cruel night of reality is darkening. What is nihilistic is that the circus goes merrily on, with trumpets and flourishes and the moronic litany of pledges. And as the reality surfaces in stark relief, the mindless hegemonists strike back much in the same manner as Wellesley enforced his Doctrine of Lapse. That is where we are today, in our inept pursuit of the Doctrine of Lapse.
Phoney patriotism and terror have stilled all debate. It is taboo to re-examine the oddity of depending on the prince’s assent in Kashmir and popular will in Hyderabad as the basis of accession, it is taboo to question the morality of our ingestion of Sikkim into the Union, it is taboo to be aware of the umbilical cord that binds the Indian Muslim to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or the Sri Lankan Tamil to the Dravidian homeland. In less intense forms are other ties of memory and blood, the dormant but now resurfacing heritages from the centuries past. A resurgent nation would have taken all this into its melting pot, like the new American nation did. It did so in its abundance of material opportunity and in a context of less persistent civilizational memory. It is obvious that the melting pot is not for us.
Instead, mindlessly we resort to the terror mechanisms of centralization and hide it futilely behind inane ceremonial pretences. We whip up, or try to, a synthetic chauvinism by means of external adventure. We marched into Kashmir, on the strength of that state’s provisional accession, to repel raiders and stayed put. We marched into East Pakistan on the strength of a legal figment, in defence of the East Bengalee’s right to self-determination and abandoned the new state to intrigue and militarism. We marched into Sri Lanka on the strength of no figment whatsoever to put down the very same urge for self-determination, and are yet to experience the long-term backlash. These are fatal aids to our crumbling core of nationhood, and can do no better than provide hallucinatory comfort. For, behind this front of heroism and self righteousness our internal tragedy grows and acquires chronicity.
Our nation is resting on far too many snug lies. What we experience today is the sprouting of truth beneath their overlay. For we have suppressed legitimate and disparate identities, driven them underground into sullen anger. These identities, had their legitimacies been treasured, would have been the components of a vibrant collage. We have degraded them, and made them charges of potential dissension instead. We inherited an Empire, and sought to rebuild it, instead of building a nation. And, in a most peculiar tragic drive, we have carried the centralization to its ultimate symbolic absurdity – family rule.
The Indian solution can only begin with the recognition of ancient Indian differences; not in an insistence that India is one but that she ought to be one. The instrument of the solution is not the bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie, the intelligence network and the armed forces, but the freedom conceded to the federal components. Keeping them together by threat and deceit would be the replication of conquest and empire-building, and might work in the short run. But all empires eventually disintegrate; and an internal decolonization can be painful and bitter.
Along with the recognition that India is not one there should be an attempt to legitimize the overlapping nationalities of the sub-continent, to celebrate their identities, and simultaneously to harmonize them in a new and larger confederacy.
* Reproduced from ‘India 1987’, Seminar 341, January 1988.