As I have already discussed, India had never been a "united" country or a single political entity till Independence. Moreover, the true meaning of this "Independence" is still not clear to a large number of people of this country. In large parts of Bengal, Orissa and Assam, the people of North India are summarily referred to as "Hindustanis". The same applies to millions of people from the southern states of Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Many South Indians adamantly believe that Hindustan refers to only the north of India, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas alone. The South, for them, is a psychologically separate entity that they refer to as the Deccan or Dravida.
I remember my early childhood when I used to spend my school vacations with my grandmother at Puri in Orissa. The temple town of Puri is thronged by a multitude of visitors from all over the country during the Car Festival of Lord Jagannatha. Millions from what we call "north" India flocked to Puri by train, which entailed an overnight journey in not very comfortable sleeper coaches. Trains were powered by coal or diesel, and it took barely a few hours for even the most spotlessly dressed passenger to get covered in grime and soot. Obviously, by the time these pilgrims reached Puri, there would be layers of dirt on their clothes and tresses and lines of fatigue on their faces. Most of these pilgrims could not afford hotels and lodges, so they piled into the mutts and dharamshalas that lined the road to the temple. Before they entered the temple they used to go for a ritual dip in a small reservoir called "markanda pokhari" in the temple area. Our ancestral house was a stone's throw from the temple and I used to watch the cacophony of ablution every morning. As the yatris strolled down our street for the ritual bath to the beats of the mridangam and the crash of the cymbal, chanting hymns in praise of Radha and Krishna, the locals would smirk and say, "the stinking Hindustanis are off to the markanda (reservoir)". My grandmother would shoo us away from the roadside, saying, "get inside quick, the smelly and dirty Hindustanis are coming…". I later realized that her intentions were not bad; it was hygiene that was her pre-eminent consideration. But, even sub-consciously, dirt for her was associated with people from the North who were invariably Hindustani. Most of Puri's residents also call those from the South "Dakhinis". Geography, for my grandmother and many of her time, was simple enough: India was at least two realms - Hindustan and the Deccan - with people of the East thrown in the bargain.
Many years later I had a similar experience in Madras: I was referred to as a Hindustani because I had come from Delhi. In the North-East, this labelling is taken even further. The entire country, save the tribe to which the local belongs, is India. So, but for members of the tribe, all others are "Indians".
It is a fact that the term Hindustan is yet to be accepted to mean the whole of India by Indians themselves. Most South Indians would claim that Hindustan means the Hindi-speaking North. Most North Indians would label people of all four southern states as Madrasis, irrespective of the fact that there are as many as four southern languages apart from Tamil which find a place in the Indian Constitution. Perhaps aware of this dichotomy, the framers of our Constitution referred to the country in the Preamble as "India that is Bharat" and not "India that is Hindustan". Constitution maker B.R. Ambedkar himself had observed that "Hindu Society is a myth. The name it self is foreign. It was given by Mohemmedans to the natives for the purpose of distinguishing themselves." This was quoted in "The Essential writings of B R Ambedkar" published by Oxford University Press in 2002.
I do not wish to get into this controversy as my primary intent is to find out ways how the whole country can retain its unity and integrity among Indians as Indians. References to Hindustanis keep cropping with a disturbing frequency even today. In Persian Hindostan means "the black place" or "where black people live". Some may argue if we have our own identity, we need not look for one, which was given to us by outsiders with the intent to slight us. My friend Avtar says that in many cases the term Bharat is used to refer to only these inefficient regions, which lag behind in the development indices. "I love my India" is far more popular among our youth than many of our patriotic songs. If India unites more people than Bharat, so be it.
Well, I do not go into the aptness of Hindustani, India or Bharat as an identity. While discussing our identity, a thought comes to my mind that we are yet to have an emotional integration of minds. This is a grave cause for concern. We must be proud of being Indians. This has to be the feeling of every Indian in every corner of this vast country. But it is an irrefutable fact that all Indians do not think of themselves as Indians. I wonder the reason why. But nobody can deny that regional imbalances, a complacent bureaucracy, thriving anti-social elements, unemployment and lack of opportunity fuel the fire of disgruntlement among young Indians. Intelligence reports repeatedly point to the "foreign hand" stoking the fires of insurgency in border states. This may be true, but then why are we Indians supporting and joining hands with outsiders who are pouring into Indian Territory to harvest and whip up anti-Indian sentiment? Is it purely because of the colossal sums of money being pumped into anti-national activity in different parts of the country? Nay, it is because those being targeted are those who are yet to feel proud of being Indians.
While a conspicuous lack of Indianness is a disturbing feature in the border areas of India, we see a different kind of phenomenon in Delhi. Pundits of the Hindi language will not hesitate to say that "if one does not know Hindi one does not deserve to live in this country". Even Delhi's educated elite refer to southern Indians as Madrasis (more often than not in sheer contempt), dismiss Orissa as a state of abject poverty, and refer to Jammu and Kashmir as a "state of mistrust". Little do they pause to understand what this India is? I must say that these different perceptions are held primarily because of three reasons:
* Regional imbalance
* Linguistic chauvinism
* Lack of an emotional integration with the country.
India is not Delhi. But for most Delhi'ites, Delhi is India. Going by the amount of infrast-ructural funds pumped into Delhi, and the accom-panying waste and misuse, it may appear to the lay citizen that the government has turned a blind eye to the rest of the country, especially the starving millions. By any estimate, if the same amount of money that is spent on Delhi's roads, flyovers, sidewalks and parks could be spent on the development of the poorer states, a far greater number of people could have been served.
With massive funds to play with, corruption in government organizations is at its highest in Delhi. The gamut of illegal activity - be it unauthorized construction, encroachments, financial frauds and property deals in laundered money - is probably the widest in Delhi. Corrupt businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats and petty officials do not have to work hard here for easy money. Everybody is out to get his pound of flesh in whatever capacity he is engaged.
I often have this sneaking suspicion that the Union urban development ministry is concerned with the development of only Delhi and a handful of other metros leaving aside so many other cities that have so much potential for development. One can get the best of facilities in Delhi in the field of education, health, legal aid, technology, employment and trade. My question is why can't we make such facilities and services available to Indians elsewhere in the country? I have no issues about having a clean, green and beautiful Delhi. But what about the rest of India? Delhi and Kalahandi in Orissa appear to me as two extreme examples of regional imbalance. Hundreds of examples could be cited like this. Do we have any comprehensive plans for rural development, healthcare, education, services, and roads and infrastructure that are being successfully implemented in the rest of the country, both urban and rural?
Our politicians have a blinkered view of development. To them, it is linked to votes. Hardly has there ever been any development activity purely on the basis of felt need. Plans are guided by constituencies, voting patterns and the winnability factor in the next poll. Some programmes dealing with as literacy, health, education, women and child development and social forestry have begun to do well because of largescale public participation. But there is a lot to be done about infrastructure, or the lack of it, particularly in rural settings.
There is no specific time-bound agenda for infrastructure development for the nation as a whole. Regional imbalances in terms of education, agriculture, infrastructure and industry, and most importantly, judicious management of resources so as to cater to the maximum good are never accounted for in the planning process.
Political parties do not seem to be interested in grooming competent leadership for the next generation. The government does not prioritize the greatest good in the course of mapping developmental activity. Every year thousands of crores of rupees earmarked for rural projects in the states remain unspent. This money is budgeted for building schools and hospitals and providing roads and drinking water to the poor. No one is taken to task for these funds remaining unspent or being siphoned off from the intended projects. Whose inefficiency is it? Why should the officials or leaders concerned who fail to deliver not be di-smissed from service or held accountable? Sometimes I wonder that inefficiency is also harming us just as much as corruption is.
Regional imbalance will continue till a fair balance is struck between rural and urban India. Regional imbalance will remain as long as the system does not evolve. One way to change and better the system is through what I feel "Unit Area Management". Every panchayat, the smallest administrative unit, has its share of natural resources, business opportunity and cultural potential. This has to be tapped. These should be sufficient to cater to the financial needs of the people of that area.
Whenever I talk of Unit Area Management, I am reminded of former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam's idea of "Providing Urban Facilities in Rural Areas," or PURA. The daily Newspaper "The Hindu" in its July 12, 2005 edition carried a report providing an out line of the concept of PURA. Dr. Kalam rightly says, "village knowledge centre is one of the essential components for realising the goals of graduating into a knowledge society and to lead to the transformation of the nation into a developed country before the year 2020. "
Dr Kalam said, "village knowledge centres in these panchayats would empower the villagers with information on agriculture, weather, fishermen, craftsmen, traders, entrepreneurs, unemployed youth and the students."
This is a great idea indeed. It has to be translated into reality. To add to this concept, we need to do sufficient research to find out how the rural masses can be meaningfully employed and imparted with the requisite information so that they can earn their bread with dignity and need not leave their homes and villages in search for employment. Village knowledge centres in fact can play a vital role provided we churn the right kind of leadership right from the village level. We cannot stop migration of our youth to cities for career advancement. But we certainly can stop migration of people, who are forced to leave their village due to dearth of work or food. In the light of Dr Kalam's PURA, we can develop this Unit Area Management System. For this, leadership has to come from within, and its qualities have to be imbibed in the local population.
Linguistic chauvinism is another problem area. It hurts me when I hear a Tamil friend say that he hates having to use Hindi. In fact, it is neither Hindi nor any regional language that is growing in scope and importance in India today. The use of English is promoted in every sector everywhere in the country. Due to large-scale migration of the young workforce from one part of India to another, the language of communication in business and industry has become English. It is a clear breadwinner. We are gradually integrating ourselves with the global market and striding ahead in science and technology.
A language has its own life course and takes its time to evolve. The Hindi that we know today did not exist even 500 years ago. Yet it has surged ahead of all other Indian languages because of state patronage and reach, coupled with the media and Bollywood in recent times. Other vernaculars such as Tamil, Oriya, Bengali or Telugu, though having matured much before Hindi, are enduring difficult times. Be that as it may, India is experiencing a linguistic transition from where may emerge a kaleidoscopic potpourri of spoken voices. But chauvinism regarding one's language causes considerable hurt. In many states language has emerged as a most sensitive issue politically and socially. Promoting one language must not be at the cost of another.
This sheer absence of emotional integration of Indians disturbs me. Ask an Indian who has travelled abroad how dear his passport is to him. He will get emotional trying to tell you how it feels holding the Lion Capital-embossed blue document in a foreign country. This is what we call emotional attachment to our soil. Such an attachment is strangely missing among Indians when inside India.
Take the vast multitudes of Indians in our villages. The people of rural India never understood the transition of an enslaved India into a free democratic nation. They have lived for centuries with only their farms and their homesteads to worry about. What they think about every day is their toil and their harvest. They are not bothered about democracy, civil liberties, rights and duties. In large parts of rural India people do not have electricity, safe drinking water and schools and primary health clinics. Sixty years after Independence nearly 300 million Indians do not have access to the most basic amenities!
Today more than 40% of boys and girls drop out of school before they reach the adolescent age. In many rural Indian families there are many who still swear by the past and find everything wrong with everything in the present. They pine for the value system of the past. "King's rule was better," they say. Such opinions represent the mindset of a large section of the middle class which is disgruntled with the present system of governance even as it enjoys the fruits of the nation's progress and development. Such people are not only complacent and idle but are also concerned only with themselves. While they criticize the system, they conveniently overlook what they can do to change things. Every educated person can share his experience with others. If even a handful of such educated Indians share their knowledge and experience with those less educated than themselves, they cad do their bit for the country.
We talk ceaselessly of corruption and hold the police and politicians responsible. But bureaucrats and clerks at various levels of the establishment are no less corrupt, and we fan this corruption by agreeing to bribe them to get our work done. "A good Rs. 100 as extra income a day will help my child go to a better school," says Bharat (name changed), a clerk at Tis Hazari courts. One day at lunch he launched into a diatribe against corrupt politicians, criticizing a host of them, including some former Prime Ministers, with passionate angst. But when he palmed his "extra earning" he hastened to say that it was only a "tip" for his hard work. "If the government had hiked my salary I would not have to take this while also look after my family better." There are millions of Bharats out there, and they could be babus, teachers, journalists, foresters, supply officers, Customs officials… the list is endless.
People of Bharat's ilk cannot easily accept change, because they would like things to stay as they are. While the tendency to aspire to a higher social and economic standing is understandable, this disdain towards issues beyond personal well-being is lamentable.
Traditionally, the middle and upper-middle class mindset is one of acquisition, preferably of things foreign. This is so deeply ingrained that even today, as always, anything foreign is anything better for millions of Indians. This mindset still continues despite the massive technological and industrial progress that we have made to emerge as one of the world's fastest-growing and most robust economies.
One of the immediate consequences of not being emotionally attached to a sense of nationhood is the absence of pan-Indian movements, or nationwide support for regional initiatives of consequence. And such a mindset is not new. During the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 the participation of the common man in the hostilities was minimal. The revolt was orchestrated purely by soldiers of the British Indian Army and native princes as a reaction to British rule. Even the so-called mass movements of the 20th Century could not rope in the upper classes, particularly those who were employed in government positions. In fact, many educated Indians were actually supportive of British Rule or felt little sympathy for the Freedom Fighters. In many uprisings we find there was someone or the other who would tip off the British against their own brethren.
But despite all odds, a wave of hate against British rule was eventually created during the last three decades of the Freedom Movement. The British were ultimately expelled from the country. Most Indians who took part in the Freedom Movement, notwithstanding their ethnic, religious, caste, culture and linguistic divides, nourished the thought of unity of all Indians as a predominant motif.
In the early days of the 20th Century our Nationalist leaders were gearing up to take on the mighty British. While the educated upper and middle classes were conspicuously loyal to the Raj, our Nationalist leaders tried to fathom the mind of the uneducated "aam admi".
This "aam admi" could not afford to participate in any movement involving violence and bloodshed. In most cases he was the sole breadwinner for his family. In fact a violent method to wrest power from the British would have been a very costly affair in terms of the lives that could be lost. Initially therefore, our leaders thought prayer, even supplication, and appeasement could yield some concessions which would gradually pave the way for freedom from British rule. Thus the "Moderates" among the Freedom Fighters chose the "bhadralok" route to expressing dissent. This was considered to be a step forward in the quest for eventual self-determination. But as we all know, this was not enough.
Probably the greatest contribution of that era to the whole world and, of course, to India was an unpretentious lawyer called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi conceived of two hitherto unimagined weapons, each one more powerful than any other. The Mahatma (as he later came to be known) introduced "peace" and "non-violence (satyagraha)" as two of the most powerful weapons known to mankind. A mass movement could be created with people rallying under his leadership. The movement culminated in Indians winning a nation. The blossoming the flower turned out to be a more deafening than even the explosion of the most thunderous bombs. Peace and non-violence exploded on the face of the earth. The world was stunned.
Indians for the first time in millennia began to look beyond their princely states and kingdoms to profess loyalty to a bigger nationwide political entity. They dreamt of independence for the entire nation. They did it. India achieved political unity, albeit truncated by Partition, in 1947. Emotionally, however, India and Indians continued to remain fragmented.
Sixty years since Independence India has emerged as one of the world's most powerful countries. Now there is also a strong urge from within this emerging superpower to unite. Indians now want to be united more than ever before. India needs integration. And this has to be total!
We all agree with this. And we are capable of forging this unity and integrity. But do we have a workable tool that could unite us emotionally and arouse a sense of oneness in the minds of the countless people of the country? This is possible only by building a new culture … and a new mindset that of loving our nation.