India: a fine idea with implementation flaws

After the unfortunate events of Mumbai earlier this month, popular media is ablaze with articles describing the events as against the Idea of India and pretty much what it calls as the triumph of regionalism over nationalism. Popular rhetoric, which wrongly labels any attempts at the development of and/or protection of the rights of any particular linguistic people as parochial, quickly snowballs into labeling the people and organizations involved as against the Idea of India.

It's a pity that those who think of themselves as the saviors of the Idea of India have no clue what India is all about. No wonder they haven't cared to clarify. These folks have no clue how a correct federal system works, have no clue what to do with all the linguistic and cultural diversity that lives and thrives in India. For them, diversity is but an unnecessary evil, an extra parameter to contend with amidst the "already many". Unknowingly, such people are trampling under their own feet the very India we all treasure.

We will show in this essay how it is not the Idea of India which linguistic organizations oppose, but merely one flawed implementation of that beautiful idea.

The Sublime "Idea of India"

Let's face it. As a political unit, India was carved out as a mechanism for bringing under the same banner hundreds of millions of peoples suffering under British oppression. Before independence from the British, there was no single India as a political unit for any reasonable amount of time under one ruler ever. We have always fought with our neighboring states over things all and sundry. Then what exactly is the Idea of India? Is there anything to India over and above being the sum total of its states? Is there anything naturally common to the different linguistic peoples of India over and above the fact that the constituent states are geographically contiguous and had a common enemy 60 years ago?

Sure, there is. There is no denying the fact that the very diverse cultures and languages of India have a common thread running amidst all the mind-boggling plurality, though there is a large variation in the level to which the thread has found acceptance in the different cultures and languages. Such was the universality of appeal of that common thread that it was received by the various linguistic peoples with open hearts, or sometimes even unawares, with hardly any opposition. Notwithstanding the large variation in acceptance, the common thread basically comprises of religious and spiritual scriptures, cultural customs and common linguistic features - which we will together call as sublime cultural aspects.

In short, the Idea of India at inception involved (a) a common enemy, and (b) sublime cultural aspects as the two adhesives binding us together. After sixty years of independence from the British and the coming of globalization, however, the adhesive property of the common enemy of the recent past has already diminished so much that India is left with only the more sublime common thread of cultural aspects as the only existing natural adhesive.

Flaws in the implementation of the "Idea of India"

Of the two adhesives above, the first one, viz., the existence of a common enemy before independence, had pretty much single-handedly defined the Indian system of governance and the definition of political India. It is an irony of India that the exact same system continues to exist even today as if in defiance of changed ground realities and external circumstances.

The positioning of the Hindi language as the only "official (Indian) language of India", as well as the absence of true federalism and consequent disproportionately high stakes for the central government in internal matters of the subscribing states - both constructs ill-begotten in a hurry - have polluted India.

Hindification has destroyed the very idea of unity in diversity and accorded a higher status and undue advantages to the speakers of that language. This, together with the constitutional right of all Indians to work and settle anywhere in India, has placed speakers of Hindi (and close-by languages) at an advantage over and above other linguistic peoples. When once you declare the knowledge of Hindi as a prerequisite for any central government job, it is natural for the speakers of that language to fill those jobs.

The states subscribing to any federation of states do so for personal material gain and for not any spiritual reasons. It's as simple as that, and India is no exception. In an environment which does not treat the subscribing peoples as equals but instead accords a higher status to one people over the rest, songs of the sublimity of the Idea of India start to sound like the harsh calls of a predatory bird! Who can care to appreciate the beauty of the common sublime thread of culture when the harsh reality is that you are not being treated as an equal? How long can anyone continue to sing the praise of the Idea of India from his heart when the harsh reality is that he is being considered as a second-grade citizen when it comes to employment?

In short, although the Idea of India is fine, there are flaws in the implementation of that idea. It is these implementation flaws which linguistic groups oppose, and not the sublime common thread of culture.

Confusing the idea with its flawed implementation

Most commentators on the Mumbai incident earlier this month in particular, and any event spanning only one linguistic people in general, share one common confusion. That is the confusion between the Idea of India and One flawed implementation of that Idea.

Their intellectual bankruptcy forces them to fail to recognize the two as different. Whereas it is true that the different linguistic states of India are struggling to survive and flourish, it is untrue that an assertion of their rights is against the Idea. It is only against the flawed implementation of that idea which considers them an inferior people who need to change in order to become true Indians.

Among these commentators exist such jokers as can stuff into their Idea of India symbols such as the constitution of India (forgetting that it is amendable), the national flag, the national anthem, as well as the national bird! They argue that because these symbols exist, and because there exists an implementation of the Idea of India (albeit with faults) all diversity should be ironed out. They argue that Kannadigas should be happy for Biharis who take away their jobs because they are Indians too, because both Kannadigas and Biharis have a common constitution, anthem, flag and bird!

It is high time they start appreciating the difference between ideas and implementations. It's high time they start appreciating Maslow's hierarchy of needs: food, clothing, shelter and employment have to come in before sublime theories can be appreciated - especially theories which profess that you have to give up your food, clothing, shelter and employment!

The road ahead

India has a great future. But to get there, quite a few systemic wrongs have to be corrected. The rhetoric that anything related to Kannadigas or Marathis alone is "parochial" does not help us get there. It only hurts. The whole dialogue needs to consider that every state is in the federation expecting a win-win. We the different linguistic peoples of India have many common challenges to overcome. We all have to solve problems of corruption, of bad governance, of education, of employment, of poverty, of developing our own languages. When steps are taken to wipe out diversity, unity itself tends to be threatened in a federation of states which has been formed with the promise of unity in diversity. There is much synergy possible when diversity is celebrated and not ironed out. There is much synergy possible when the good practices in every state are replicated across India.

The Idea of India is in line with this. But is today's Implementation of India?


VP said...

Many don't know the concept of being Indian. If they(the Northies and others- Kongas, mallus and gultis) are so bothered about being Indian or whatever it is, let them get back to their respective states and develop the same.So, India as a whole develops.They just talk about being Indians and thats it and stay back in Bengalooru or Mumbai or wherever there is money.

ಸುಮ್ಸುಮ್ಕೆ said...

As a rule I can comment that Indians (and whoever that encompasses across geographical boundaries) have always been good ideologists and theoreticians, but never good at implementation - which is why there has always been a flawed implementation of every concept that has been thought about after Indian independence.

The whole idea of decentralizing power and governance in this country has failed miserably and is very similar to the flaw talked about here. There is no clear way of defining what belongs to the state and what belongs to the center!! Unfortunately there are things which are explicitly defined as fuzzy stuff!!!

Pannaga Bhushan said...

Well written article. Any solutions to this vexing problem? other than reservations(of linguistic variety).
I have an opinion ... English be the fall back option. But northies will fight this tooth and nail. Their ischools are not good enough on this count. We southies are faar ahead. But yet, this is a fair solution to this problem. wot say?

Anonymous said...

I refer to one of your other well written article (as always ;) in enguru) where they are trying to force hindi as the "national language" (does such a thing exist??...i agree it to be the widely-spoken language in india not the national language...what crap??) to iron-out differences between various states and UTs. This essay should be an eye-opener...
ye thegi nan maklige yeshtu helidru ashte...nee barima...naavu odtivi..odi ivravvan ivrige thili heltivi yaava baashe nalli artha agutto ade baashe nalli ;)) enguru?

Parthiban said...

Nicely etched... you echo the feelings of many of the non-bullshit-hindi speakers.

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